Can senators be impartial judges in Merci trial?

By Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 14 2011 09:48 PM | Updated as of Mar 15 2011 06:58 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate Blue Ribbon committee's partial report recommending that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez be impeached may cast doubt on the Senate's impartiality as an impeachment court, at least 2 senators warned on Monday.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said some of her fellow lawmakers who have openly spoken against Gutierrez sacrificed the principle of "political neutrality" required in a semi-judicial proceeding like impeachment.

"The impeachment process, even today, should be entitled 'Apocalypse Me' because they are going to the end of the world of the legal nature of the Congress," she told reporters. "They're apocalypsing themselves into inutility! No one will ever believe that the trial in the Senate is going to be objective if this is the way they present themselves."

Santiago stressed that the impeachment is not a purely political process but also a judicial one.

She even likened senators to judges in regional trial courts.

"How can we be the judge if, to follow the analogy, we as judge direct the fiscal to already file the complaint in our court?" she said.

"So the less you talk about it, the better," she added.

Santiago signed the report, but only agreed to the part recommending criminal and administrative charges against special prosecutors who entered into the plea bargain deal with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.

Santiago believes the liability for the controversial agreement lies with the team of special prosecutors headed by Atty. Wendell Sulit and not the Ombudsman.

She said the liability of the Ombudsman has yet to be proven in a "full, free, and fair hearing."

Committee report prejudges Merci

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also believes the committee report prejudges of the Ombudsman, and may even be used by Gutierrez's defense to ask the senators who signed it without reservation to inhibit themselves from the trial.

"I do not know how he is going to explain his position. He does not have to hear the evidence anymore. He had made up his mind," Enrile said, referring to Blue Ribbon committee chairman Teofisto Guingona III.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the report does not represent the Senate's views as a body.

He said the report's impeachment recommendation may not even reach the Senate plenary because it lacks enough signatures agreeing with it.

"Hanggang media lang 'yan," Sotto said. "Hindi makakarating sa floor 'pagka ganyan."

Guingona, however, is determined to bring the report for debate on the floor within this week.

He also dismissed criticisms against the partial committee report, saying the real issue is the Ombudsman.

Guingona said he will answer these criticisms when they are raised during impeachment trial if it reaches the Senate.

"What is important is we have a committee report and we bring it out as our responsibility to the public," he said.