House to tackle Merci's impeachment, RH bill next week

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 09 2011 04:19 PM | Updated as of Mar 10 2011 07:20 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and the controversial Reproductive Health Bill are expected to clash for the House plenary’s attention next week.

While the impeachment may be a foregone formality, that formality may take as much as 2 weeks and come at the expense of the RH Bill, which was sponsored in plenary on 2nd reading on Tuesday night.

Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales said the plenary vote on the justice committee’s report on the impeachment proceedings may be set on Wednesday next week at the earliest or the week after—the last week before Congress goes on summer recess. “I hope the same day we deliberate is the same day we vote on it,” he said.

The Justice Panel is expected to discharge its report to the Rules Committee on Monday. The Rules Committee is then expected to tackle it on Tuesday for inclusion in the plenary agenda maybe Tuesday or Wednesday.

Senior Vice-Chair Rodolfo Fariñas said, “At the earliest, Wednesday next week if we could submit the Com report and Articles of Impeachment to the Rules Committee before our meeting on Tuesday night. Otherwise, week after next (last week).”

Justice Panel Chair Niel Tupas Jr said, “Wednesday next week, the earliest. Tuesday the following week, the latest.”

Rules require that congressmen vote in person in plenary to approve or dismiss an impeachment complaint.

Congressmen may commit publicly to vote either way but that won’t matter if they do not vote in plenary. In previous impeachment cases, congressmen may not just show up during the vote. This usually works in favor of the dismissal of the complaint because there are fewer possible voters.

Gonzales said the impeachment will most likely be prioritized over the RH Bill.

Gonzales added he will still feel the pulse of the congressmen on how to go about the plenary vote. He also has to feel how the minority will deal with the interpellations on the impeachment.

Minority Leader Edcel Lagman said if the RH bill is taken off the agenda, they might impede the other agenda of the plenary. "'Pag hinarang ang RH, baka wala nang ibang pag-usapan. Pwede rin kaming mag-counter-harang. We’re referring to the Speaker and Majority Leader na ma-divide ang oras.”

Lagman said a full deliberation of the impeachment case may work against its approval. “If there’s a full deliberation, most probably [there will be] some difficulty on the part of the majority sapagkat marami nang mag-iisip.”

Rep. Mitos Magsaysay said the impeachment may be the plenary’s priority.

Minority Congressmen for their part told media on Wednesday how fast the impeachment case is being tackled.

Rep. Danilo Suarez compared the majority’s case for impeachment to riding a bullet train.

Magsaysay and Lagman made similar observations.

Lagman said, “This is a rehash of previous complaints filed against the Ombudsman and dismissed during the last Congress. But remember, the superiority in numbers was matched by the superiority in reasoning and numbers….Masyadong nagmamadali eh. I don’t want to preempt the Senate personally.
Mukhang tama si Cong. (Giorgidi) Aggabao. Granting for the sake of argument complaints on specific commissions are true, they will not constitute culpable violation or betrayal of trust."

Call to inhibit

Minority lawmakers today challenged all their colleagues to disclose who among them does not have a case at the Ombudsman even as they renewed their call for congressmen with cases to inhibit.

Lagman said, “Alam naman nila sino may asunto. Sila na magdesisyon kung mag-iinhibit o hindi. I'm just telling members of the House to consider as an expression of delicadeza that they consider inhibiting from plenary discussions.”

Magsaysay for her part called on colleagues to be transparent about their cases.“We cannot force our colleagues to inhibit themselves. I think full disclosure of each colleague must be mandatory if you have a pending case. It's just but proper na in the courts of law may full disclosure."

Lagman, on the other hand, proposed to do it the other way around.

“Another way is for members of the House who have no pending cases to tell and disclose [that] they do not have cases. 'Yung 'di mag-disclose eh may kaso 'yun. (Pati ) immediate relatives ha.”

In a joint statement, the minority dismissed the impeachment as a presidential fancy.

“Once again, this administration has succeeded in undermining our democratic institutions with an orchestrated attempt to abuse the power of impeachment. We are also disturbed by the list of corruption charges pending in the Office of the Ombudsman against many congressmen, members of their families, and close friends.

"If our colleagues are really sincere in their self-righteous quest for 'good governance,' then they should have been man enough to inhibit themselves from the proceedings if their conflict of interest is as obvious as their enthusiasm to drag Gutierrez out of office.  

"More ominous and sinister is that the undue haste with which the Justice Committee conducted the proceedings can only mean one thing: Utos ito ng Malacañang. The President wants a Merci-less government, and like the budget, Congress is set to rubber-stamp another presidential wish.”