'Sufficient grounds in 2 impeach complaints vs Merci'


Posted at Mar 01 2011 12:45 PM | Updated as of Mar 02 2011 02:59 AM

MANILA (UPDATE 2) - The House of Representatives Justice Committee on Tuesday voted there are sufficient grounds in the 2 impeachment complaints filed against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez before the Lower House.

A total of 41 lawmakers agreed with the motion finding sufficiency of grounds in the first impeachment complaint filed by former Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros against Gutierrez. Twelve lawmakers dissented.

On the second complaint, a total of 42 justice committee members said there were sufficient grounds for impeachment while 12 dissented.

"The committee declares the 2nd complaint alleges sufficient grounds for impeachment," Justice committee chairman Niel Tupas said after the 2nd voting.

Tupas said the committee will continue hearings on Wednesday for the presentation of evidence and cross-examination of witnesses for the 1st and 2nd complaints. He added that the Ombudsman will be invited to appear before the committee hearings on Thursday.

He also noted the committee may consolidate the 2 impeachment complaints before the voting on probable cause.

The first complaint against Gutierrez was filed by former Akbayan party-list Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel on July 22, 2010, the second by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and other progressive groups on August 3, 2010.

The complaints said the Ombudsman betrayed public trust for its low conviction rates, failure to act on the $329 million NBN-ZTE deal, failure to act on the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, failure to probe the P1-million dinner of the Arroyo entourage during a US trip, refusal to provide copies of Ang Galing Pinoy party-list Rep. Juan Miguel 'Mikey' M. Arroyo’s statement of asset and liabilities and net worth, and delays on cases that affect the public's welfare. 

Votes to proceed with impeachment

Majority of the justice panel members earlier voted to proceed with the impeachment hearings after the Supreme Court lifted its status quo order.

During Tuesday's hearing, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares brushed aside criticisms that the House justice committee is railroading the proceedings against Gutierrez despite a 5-month delay in the impeachment hearings.

"Some have waited for 5 years to resolve the issues with the Ombudsman...Hindi kaawa-awa si Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. She has protection from lawsuit except for impeachment," he said.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, vice-chairman of the committee, said the House of Representatives is the "Ombudsman" of impeachable officials such as the sitting Ombudsman and justices of the Supreme Court. He encouraged Gutierrez to appear in the impeachment hearings and personally refute the allegations against her.

For her part, Diwa party-list Rep. Emmeline Aglipay said impeachment should not be used as a whip against any branch of government. She said the status quo order issued by the Supreme Court on the impeachment hearings was not a sign of disrespect to Congress, which is a co-equal branch of government.

Fariñas, however, said respect should be a "two-way street" for the 2 branches of government. "They should respect us also," he said, noting that the status quo order stops the Lower House from continuing its mandate to impeach erring officials.

"When it comes to impeachable officers, the Supreme Court has no say because the power is in the hands of the people though the House of Representatives," he said.

Impeachment a momentous occasion: Palace

Malacanang, meanwhile, welcomed the House justice panel's decision to proceed with the Ombudsman's impeachment.

In a statement, deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the impeachment is a "momentous occasion for Philippine governance, as it is the first time an Ombudsman faces impeachment proceedings for the betrayal of public trust due to her inaction on the cases put forward in the complaints."

Valte said the Ombudsman must weigh her options after the justice committee voted to continue the hearings despite Gutierrez's pending motion for reconsideration asking the Supreme Court to suspend the impeachment proceedings.