Belmonte: We have numbers to impeach Gutierrez

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Mar 01 2011 12:08 PM | Updated as of Mar 02 2011 04:05 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Speaker Feliciano Belmonte is confident the House of Representatives will be able to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Speaking on the ABS-CBN News Channel's (ANC) "The Rundown" Monday, Belmonte expressed confidence they have the numbers in the House to pursue hearings on the impeachment complaints.

"We are going to go independently. Ultimately, one-third of the House is needed to impeach and I think we can deliver on that. We should we have a huge majority there," he said.

Belmonte had backtracked on his initial statement saying it was better to wait for a final ruling from the Supreme Court.

"We thought that if Ombudsman filed a motion for reconsideration (MR), this might take months. We were concerned that the Constitutional provision that we tackle this in six session days were stated in a mandatory way 'shall,' so all considered, we decided we had better get on with it," he said.

Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares is optimistic that more than 94 congressmen will vote in favor of the impeachment complaint.

House Justice Committee Chairman Niel Tupas, however, doubts Gutierrez will be impeached before Congress goes on recess on March 24.

On Tuesday (March 1), the House of Representatives resumed impeachment proceedings against Gutierrez for betrayal of public trust and failure to act on corruption cases.

Belmonte: Singson out of House soon

Meanwhile, Belmonte said Ilocos Sur Rep. Ronald Singson will be out of office by the end of the week.

Belmonte said he met with Singson's father, Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis 'Chavit' Singson Sunday night at Belmonte's home, where the governor reiterated the congressman's resignation.

Governor Singson is expected to hand carry the resignation letter within the week.

"Two weeks ago, he had indicated that his son will resign. He repeated that last night (Sunday)," Belmonte said on ANC's "The Rundown" Monday.

"Even a handwritten letter addressed to me or the House, in which he unequivocally says he is resigning unconditionally, we will take as resignation and without having to pass thru the ethics committee drop him from the rolls. We agreed it will be this week," he said.

Belmonte said Rep. Singson's salary will be frozen effective March 1, and his office will cease to exist.

Belmonte thinks Singson's Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) worth P70 million may still be intact.

He said he will direct the House Committee on Suffrage to pass a resolution asking the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to set special elections for Singson's replacement.

Special elections

"If it happens in the first half of term, you call for special elections. In this case, it is called for. It is scheduled on March 14 we will do this."

Belmonte said that prior to his meeting with Gov. Singson Sunday night, they already talked about Rep. Singson's resignation in the run up to his sentencing last week.

He added the meeting was at the initiative of Governor Singson.

He said Governor Singson told him he will send someone to Hong Kong to get a resignation letter from Rep. Singson.

Ethics cases

With this development, the Speaker said he will ask the ethics committee to delay its hearing on the ethics case versus Singson by a week.

The ethics committee is set to meet on Tuesday on the ethics cases of Singson, Rep. Eulogio Magsaysay, and Rep. Walden Bello

Belmonte said once he gets the letter, he will report it to plenary and instruct the House secretary-general to drop Singson from the House rolls.

Amid criticism over the seeming slow action on Rep. Singson's case, Belmonte defended the pace taken by the House of Representatives.

"I don't think we acted slowly on this. The only moment we could've acted was after he pleaded guilty. Nobody thought it would take another couple of weeks even at that time I had already committed the DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] to give periodic reports," he said.

"I have requested the DFA to get me copies of the decision and, if possible, of the entire proceedings. That is what is necessary for the ethics committee to do anything. I'm still awaiting the certified true copies of the decision."

LEDAC Meeting

On Monday, during the Legislative-Executive Development and Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting, the Palace and lawmakers reached a consensus on 21 priority measures.

"Even these 23, 21 of which were identified as priority, not one will be certified," Belmonte said.

These include the Whistleblowers Act, and the Reproductive Health Bill, which has been pending for the past 7 to 8 years.

"I'm not going to buttonhole anybody. My position as Speaker is to see to it that the bill which has never reached third reading, I'd like it to reach that point. What I'd like is for it to reach the point where everybody is called upon to vote," he said. "I want members of the House to vote with their conscience."

"I'm very optimistic than when important measures come up on the floor, we will have a quorum," Belmonte added, noting that attendance in this 15th Congress was averaging between 82 to 85%.