House panel votes down Duterte impeachment

RG CRUZ, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 15 2017 03:16 PM | Updated as of May 15 2017 05:38 PM

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

MANILA (UPDATED)- The impeachment complaint against President Duterte was over before it even began, and just on the first day of deliberations.

Allies of President Duterte in the House Justice Committee voted down the impeachment complaints filed by Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano.

Forty-two congressmen voted that the complaint is insufficient in substance. Earlier, out of liberality, the committee voted to find it sufficient in form.

Lawmakers were in executive session for about an hour to decide after Justice Committee vice-chair Vicente Veloso pointed out that the one-year bar against multiple impeachment complaints will only apply if there is a finding of insufficiency in substance. Under the rules, insufficiency in form means the complaint can be returned to 
the complainant to fix the defect.

The ruling came after intensive questioning of Alejano by Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. The House leader got the complainant to admit that he has no personal knowledge of the allegations.

Alejano had wanted to make an opening statement to present his case but the committee disallowed him, preferring instead that he answer Farinas' questions.

"Out of liberality, the committee finds the complaint sufficient in form despite its defect... Any complainant who should come before Congress, must really stand to his oath that all the material allegations of the complaint are true and correct based on his personal knowledge and/or culled from authentic records," Farinas said.

Farinas asked Alejano repeatedly if he has personal knowledge of all his allegations against the president, namely: that the President should be impeached for the killings in the war on drugs and by the Davao death squad, for his alleged ill-gotten wealth as contained in his family's allegedly hidden bank accounts, and his stance on the Philippines disputed territories on the West Philippine Sea, Benham Rise and China.

Alejano answered that he had no personal knowledge, but culled the complaint from authentic reports, documents and public statements.

"I affirm the contents of the verification that i have personal knowledge based on facts culled from authentic records. I went through, the testimonies of the witnesses I checked it and verified it," Alejano said. 

The requirement of form is met when there is a verified complaint and it has been subscribed and sworn to. A complaint is verified if the complainant can attest that the allegations are true of the complainant's personal knowledge.

Substance is met when there is a recital of facts constituting the offense and determinative of the jurisidiction of the committee.

The test of form is the first real battleground in any impeachment proceeding.

With this ruling, Alejano will not even be able to present witnesses or evidence. Duterte will also not be required to submit an answer.

Alejano appears to have accepted his fate and held out the possibility of using the dismissal as an argument for the International Criminal Court to proceed with the case filed against Duterte there.

The ICC can only assume jurisdiction over a case if local courts are unwilling and unable to assume jurisdiction.

As President, Duterte is made immune from suit by the 1987 Constitution, and can only be held accountable once he is out of office.

Umali said that with today's development, the committee will now make its report to the plenary. If one-third of the congressmen overrule the committee, then the complaint goes to the Senate for trial.

"Wala na. We will have to report it to plenary and we will vote upon the committee report again at the proper time sa committee muna and this report will goes to the rules committee for submission to the Plenary," he said.