MANILA - Allies of President Aquino in the House Justice Committe quashed the 3 impeachment complaints against President Aquino for the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, finding them not sufficient in substance.
In separate votes per complaint, 54 congressmen voted to find the complaint not sufficient in substance while 4 voted for a finding of substance.
The vote on sufficiency in substance is the 2nd battleground in the impeachment process. Last week, the 3 complaints hurled the test of sufficiency in form.
The vote came after 4 hours of debates between supporters of the complaints and allies of the President.
The final vote was also interrupted by jeers from the gallery of supporters and complainants, who yelled "Shame on you, Noynoy Aquino. Pork barrel king!"
The hecklers were escorted out of the venue and their posters confiscated. This led to a physical struggle.
Outside the Batasang Pambansa, pro-impeachment protesters showed their support for the complaints.
The hearing began with separate debates on each complaint.
Sufficiency in substance is determined when there is a recital of facts constituting the offense charged and determinative of the jurisidiction of the committee.
Now that the complaints have lost the 2nd battleground, these may be endorsed to the plenary by the committee.
The complaints may yet be sent to the Senate for trial if at least 1/3 of the congressmen or 97 congressmen, vote to support the trial of the 3 complaints. Otherwise, it is dead.
Justice committee chair Niel Tupas Jr. said in a statement: "As far as the committee is concerned, the complaints are dismissed. We will report to the plenary and we are confident that the plenary will sustain the decision of the committee."
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II joined the hearing in a rare move. The chamber's 2nd highest official only joins when there is a crucial proceeding.
The hearing began with Justice Committee Chair Niel Tupas laying down the ground rules.
"Let it be declared that the standards we have followed during the impeachment of Ombudsman Gutierrez will be the same. Same standards we will use today…Ibig sabihin sa recital of facts allegations, minus the innuendos, minus the conclusions, conjectures. We just stick on recital of acts. We will relate it. Is there a culpable violation of the Constitution? Is there betrayal of public trust? Is there graft and corruption? Yun lang po ibig sabihiin noon."
The complaints alllege culpable violation of the constitution, betrayal of public trust and graft and corruption.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, who endorsed the first complaint, said the public wants to hear President Aquino's response to the complaints.
Tupas reminded his colleagues that culpable violation of the Constitution means the violation was intentional, willful and does not cover honest mistakes or violation in good faith.
Betrayal of public trust is a catch-all provision for any act that would render any public official unfit to continue public office.
Each complaint was given 10 minutes for presentation, while congressmen were allowed 2 minutes each to defend for and against the impeachment complaints.
The votes were taken after the debates on all 3 complaints were terminated.
Colmenares warned his colleagues not to return to the practice during the Arroyo impeachment when complaints were dismissed on the sufficiency on substance. He said this was changed during the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
"Let the President defend himself," he said.
Tupas said the committee will not look into the truth or falsity of allegations.
Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas took exception to Colmenares' statements that holding Aquino accountable is what the country wants, saying Colmenares and the endorsers only speak for their groups.
Colmenares responded: "This is our assertion. Sagutin ni President Aquino sa 2nd stage ang mga paratang. Under our rules we endorsers are supposed to advance the cause of complainants. The rule doesn't allow any members of Congress to lawyer for the President."
Farinas explained that the proceedings are akin to the proceedings of preliminary investigation at the fiscal's office, where the fiscal is mandated to protect the process against useless actions.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga notes opposition figures like Senator Jinggoy Estrada and Vice President Jejomar Binay have opposed the impeachment.
This led to a vote to terminate the discussion on the matter so they can proceed with the rest of the hearing. The majority prevailed.
WHERE DID DAP COME FROM?
During their presentations, each of the endorsers maintained that the complaints are sufficient in substance because these have a recital of facts constituting the offense charged determinative of the jurisdiction of the committee.
Colmenare said one reason for the impeachment is to find answers about the DAP, parts of which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Specifically, he said he wants to know if salaries and bonuses of government employees were used for the DAP.
"Sa DAP, inagaw ni Pangulong Aquino P157 billion mula sa mga programa at proyekto sa taong 2011, P83.5 billion sinentro 2012 58.7 billion 2013 13.5 ang sinentro ni President Aquino napagkaitan daang daang benepisyo. Sinadyang nilabag Saligang Batas na bawal transfer of appropriations," he said.
"Nilabag ni Aquino ang 3 nabanggit na probisyon ng saligang batas at batas sa technical malversation, 116 na pag waldas na technical 144B labag sa anti graft law di maliit na halaga. Bilyon ang technical malversation di ginawa minsan 116 times."
Kabataan party list rep. Terry Ridon said: "Just as what the chamber adopted during impeachment of Ombudsman Gutierrez, let's apply simple and succinct tests of substance and declare this sufficient of substance."
The call was rebutted by allies of the President.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said there was no sufficiency of substance of the first complaint because it was premature.
Rodriguez cited that the first complaint was premised on the Supreme Court ruling that DAP is unconstitutional. The case is still on appeal.
Rodriguez also argued that the President enjoys presumption of regularity, noting that the court had imposed the doctrine of operative fact in handing down the DAP ruling. He maintained there was no malice on the part of the president.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate maintained that the committee doesn't have to rely on the ruling of the Supreme Court alone.
"Sinasabi natin impeachment proceeding ay sui generis. May karapatan magdetermine ano [ang] culpable violation, ano [ang] betrayal. Di nakaasa sa SC," he said.
Tupas concurred. "Poder ng impeachment pagdefine sa Kongreso yun. Walang kinalaman ang SC. Kahit sabihin SC konstitusyunal kung sinasabi ng committee on justice hindi. Ang masusunod committee on justice."
Deputy Speaker Giorgiddi Aggabao noted that the complainants want to overturn Aquino's 15 million vote mandate in 2010, which is why the standards for judging must be higher.
"Not every violation of the constitution is impeachable."
ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said Aquino is not the most popular president and said then President Joseph Estrada was also impeached at the height of his popularity.
Gonzales said: "Kahit saan natin paikut ikuti,n nagging basehan ng impeachment 1-2 is decision ng SC sa Araullo case."
Colmenares countered it is not yet to be decided at this stage whether the offense is culpable.
"Does it rise to level of culpability di issue yan dito. Inagaw niya poder natin. This is perverse."
Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali noted as many as 58 cases have been declared as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court but not everything resulted in an impeachment.
The debates took a personal turn when Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone raised the matter of Colmenares' alleged DAP-funded projects, which Colmenares had denied.
Colmenares pointed out Evardone is a former Arroyo ally turned Aquino ally.
"Did we say balimbing ka? You received P100 million of DAP. Arroyo siya dati Aquino siya ngayon," he said.
The heated exchange led to a brief suspension. The lawmaker expunged the exchange from the record. Many of the President's allies now were also allies of President Arroyo.
In complaint 3, the endorsers also explained why the complaint is sufficient in substance.
Barzaga countered the SC has yet to rule on 3 cases assailing the constitutionality of the EDCA.
Colmenares noted that during the impeachment of Merceditas Gutierrez, the committee proceeded even if there were pending petitions in the high court.
Rodriguez maintained the EDCA will enhanced the country's defense and it was well within the president's powers.
Tinio objected saying this already goes into the merits.
After the the vote was taken, the 7 endorsers of the complaint along with the complainants vowed to take the battle to the streets.
They also chanted against the decision and presented pork shaped bread as a form of protest.
Malacanang quickly showed appreciation for its allies.
In a statement, Deputy Presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said: "The Committee on Justice of the House, after a thorough review of the allegations in terms of both form and substance, has dismissed the complaints against the President. We take note that the process took place with transparency, not just according to the rules, but to give the proponents every opportunity to make their case."