Merci's allies lose in showdown on impeachment

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 01 2011 03:30 PM | Updated as of Mar 02 2011 10:36 PM

MANILA - Allies of incumbent President Aquino and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had a showdown in the House Justice Committee’s vote declaring the impeachment complaints against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez sufficient in grounds.

Voting 41-12, the committee declared the complaint filed by former Rep. Risa Hontiveros and endorsed by Akbayan sufficient in grounds.

A similar vote of 42-12 declared the separate complaint filed by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan’s (Bayan) Renato Reyes and endorsed by Bayan Muna also sufficient in grounds.

The vote was delayed by a protracted debate on issues raised, debated and voted down in the last meeting where the committee decided to continue with the proceedings following the High Court’s dismissal of Gutierrez’ petition to nullify the impeachment.

Proxy war

The vote boiled down to a proxy war of allies of incumbent President Benigno Aquino III and former President, now Pampanga 2nd district Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Among those who voted in favor of the impeachment are some card carrying Lakas-Kampi-CMD members who sided with Speaker Belmonte in the speakership.

Among those who voted with the Lakas-Kampi still loyal to Arroyo are 3 lawmakers from the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC): Rex Gatchalian, Giorgidi Aggabao and Mark Llandro Mendoza, son of Arroyo’s last executive secretary, Leandro Mendoza.

Rep. Marc Cagas initially questioned the schedule of marathon hearings, sarcastically suggesting that considering the presence of ex-officio committee members who have voting privileges in all standing committees, the committee should just vote on the impeachment today and dispense with the hearings.

”If you want to railroad, maybe there’s no more need for March 2, 8, 9, we  can just rule on this today,” he said.

When the committee was about to approve the minutes of the last meeting, Alagad party-List Rep. Rodante Marcoleta then rehashed the last hearing’s argument--whether or not the committee should wait for the High Court’s final decision on the appeal of Gutierrez.

Marcoleta cited the Rules of Court on Criminal Procedure. “We're not proceeding against a local official...we’re proceeding against a constitutional officer. She has 15 days. The Supreme Court ruled that even a despicable criminal deserves his or her day in court."

Marcoleta was supported by Rep. Pedro Romualdo. “If we approve the minutes, haste is reflected in the minutes itself," he said. 

When the minutes were approved, Cagas moved to reconsider approval of the minutes.

Vice-Chair Rodolfo Fariñas then shot down Marcoleta’s bid, saying  that under the rules, Marcoleta cannot move for a reconsideration since he was absent during the voting in the last meeting.

This was supported by Rep. Elpidio Barzaga. “When a measure is adopted or lost, a member who voted with the majority may move for reconsideration or on same or succeeding day.  It's our own obligation to comply, otherwise there will be disorder,” he said.

'Don't railroad case'

Marcoleta then warned the committee against a railroad of the case. “We will be faulted for rushing something that should not be rushed," he said.

Datumanong then suggested that Marcoleta revise the motion from a reconsideration to a separate motion to wait for the ruling of the Supreme Court.

Rep. Rey Umali then noted time is running out on the committee to discharge the case to plenary for its action.

Rep. Rodolfo Albano then made the separate motion to wait.

Other lawmakers weighed in.

Albano’s motion was put to a vote. It lost, 8-37.

Ombudsman's letter

Tupas then read a letter from the Ombudsman informing the committee she has filed a motion for reconsideration (MR) with the Supreme Court, and that she is requesting the committee to defer action.

Citing this letter, the committee then decided to enter a general denial of the allegations on her behalf.

The committee then proceeded to open the voting for grounds.

But the lawmakers just ended up debating on whether to wait for the High Court’s ruling again.

Rep. Roilo Golez then restated that the House did not yield its exclusive power of impeachment to the High Court.

Tupas noted that in their pleadings, they said that they were just giving the Court the courtesy due to a co-equal body.

Rep. Raul Daza said, “If the Supreme Court reverses itself, these proceedings will be nullified…let's take the risk and meet the challenge of history.”

Fariñas then said, “Supreme Court di po kayo supreme talaga. Supreme ang taongbayan. Mahirap pinapayagan natin justices na hanggang 70 sila dyan, pag dating sa impeachment, di kayo kasali dito. Wala po kayong pakialam sa usapin ng impeachment.”

Fariñas then revealed his plan to file an impeachment case against the justices, citing the issuance of the status quo ante (SQA) even if they haven’t read Gutierrez' petition.

He also told the Ombudsman, “Pumunta ka na rito. You're given the chance. Paano maririnig ang side mo?”

Bell weather indicator

The voting on the grounds is considered by congressional insiders as a bell weather indicator of the plenary vote on the impeachment.

Ninety-four lawmakers are needed to vote in favor of the impeachment during the plenary.

The vote is just one step shy of the plenary vote. Filers of both complaints will have clarificatory hearings Wednesday, making a vote on  probable cause possible by Thursday at the earliest and Monday at the latest. 

In that case, the impeachment will be sent to plenary for action, along with the possible election of the prosecution panel that will face the Senate,  as early as Tuesday.

Both complainants are expected to present some witnesses and additional evidence during the clarificatory hearings.

The Ombudsman will also still be given a chance to defend herself. During the clarificatory hearings, every lawmaker will be given a chance to examine the complainants.

As this developed, Justice Committee Vice-Chair Fariñas virtually declared war on the High Court for allegedly encroaching  into the House’s exclusive power of impeachment in tackling Gutierrez’ petition.

Fariñas said he plans to file a case of impeachment against the Supreme Court Justices by Thursday.