MANILA, Philippines - Lawmakers on Tuesday cried foul over the revelation of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez's spokesman that at least 50 congressmen, including the 4 top members of the House justice committee, have pending graft cases before her office.
Oriental Mindoro 2nd District Rep. Rey Umali said he was surprised by the statement of Atty. Salvador Panelo, Gutierrez's spokesman, that he is facing a graft case before the Ombudsman.
"I have not received any subpoena or whatever from the Ombudsman and now I am being, his lawyer made mention of these cases. I do not even know of these cases...I could not recall any case where any prima facie evidence were determined against me," he said during Tuesday's hearing of the House justice committee.
Umali, who is vice-chairman of the committee, said the Ombudsman should first issue a subpoena or summons to respondents in the graft cases before announcing it to the public.
He said the timing of Panelo's revelation was suspect since it came out a day before the House justice committee votes on whether or not there is probable cause to submit the impeachment complaints against Gutierrez to the Senate for trial.
"When you want to protect yourself or protect somebody, you withhold information...and then when there is an impeachment proceeding against you, members of the justice committee are reported to have cases before the Ombudsman. I hope this is not to threaten or to give a chilling effect on the part of representatives who have cases," he said.
Marikina Rep. Romero Federico "Miro" Quimbo said he was also surprised that, of the 55 members of the justice committee, the 4 highest ranking members of the committee were identified to have graft cases.
Aside from Umali, Panelo also named Quimbo, Justice Committee Chairman Niel Tupas Jr. and Vice-Chairman Rodolfo Fariñas as having pending graft cases.
Quimbo admitted he has 1 pending case before the Ombudsman that was submitted for resolution 4 years ago.
He said Panelo's revelation could be a trend to scare lawmakers to go slow on the impeachment cases against Gutierrez.
"If the 4 members of the committee are now being hailed before the bar or public opinion, coming up with these Ombudsman cases, what about the rest of the members? The assault is on the committee while the proceedings are going on here. What about the other members of the plenary?" he asked.
He added: "None of us have been indicted. The cases will not disappear. The cases will always be there even if we are given a new Ombudsman altogether."
For his part, Tupas said the Ombudsman was invoking a "very selective confidentiality clause" by revealing the existence of the graft cases against justice committee members.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Nero Colmenares, meanwhile, said he received a certification from the Ombudsman showing that none of the House justice panel members had pending graft cases as of Oct. 5, 2010.
Colmenares said the certification was submitted to the House appropriations committee budget hearing last year and signed personally by Gutierrez. He said he asked Gutierrez to submit a list of names of House justice committee members who have pending graft cases from July to September 2010.
"It seems that the cases filed happened after October when the impeachment proceedings where already ongoing in the justice committee," he said.