Solons eye new weapon vs Ombudsman

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 10 2011 09:57 PM | Updated as of Mar 11 2011 04:08 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Congressmen pursuing the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez have found a new weapon they can use against her in the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee report on the plea bargain agreement with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.

Justice committee chairman Niel Tupas Jr. has convened a legal team studying the possible inclusion of the plea bargain deal in the impeachment case.

The inclusion was the principal recommendation of the justice panel after it terminated its parallel investigation into the deal in early February.

Tupas said on Thursday the deal may be included under the charge for low conviction rate and entering into plea bargain deals from 2008 to 2010—one of the 6 charges for the impeachable offense of betrayal of public trust.

“There is an allegation of low conviction rate and incompetence when we reviewed the pleading of the first complaint. It alleges entering into plea bargain agreements from 2008 to 2010.  The first complaint was filed July 2010.  That’s why we convened a legal team to look into this matter. We might use the Garcia plea bargain agreement to prove the allegation,” he said.

Estrada impeachment as precedent

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, meanwhile, said the Estrada impeachment trial in 2000 set a precedent, wherein he, as one of the private complainants in the Estrada impeachment, was allowed to present evidence that was not included in the original charge.

“Although sa ilalim ng rules, mahihirapang isama yan. Pero titignan pa rin natin. Maganda ring maisama. Tutal, ang pinag-uusapan ay betrayal of public trust. In fact, may precedence na nga tayo, iyung information or evidence. Iyung testimony ni Clarissa Ocampo was not in the original complaint," Casiño said.

Tupas conceded that the Garcia case was not specifically mentioned in the original Gutierrez complaints filed by the Akbayan and Bayan groups.

“It was a general statement of the plea bargain agreement from 2008 till the filing of the complaint, and initially, in our discussions, this is still subject to the final recommendation of the legal team we convened. The committee on justice engaged the services of external counsel for purposes of assisting the committee and drafting of the Articles of Impeachment. It can be done because there’s only one ground,“ he said.

However, justice committee vice chair Rodolfo Fariñas presented a dissenting view, citing criminal rules that bar the presentation of new charges after hearings have already commenced.

“It will violate the right of the Ombudsman to due process. Even in other criminal proceedings, if the other party doesn’t answer, it means she’s willing to fight out of the allegations in the pleading. A person has right to be informed. Natapos na namin. You cannot amend the complaint....Nakapag-hearing na kami lahat lahat," Fariñas said.

He added that this is why he told the Ombudsman before that unless the plea bargain agreement is withdrawn, he will file another impeachment case against her once the one-year bar on the current ones expires in August.           

Minority leader Edcel Lagman said, “It is a virtual admission that the present complaints are weak and could not legally prosper so much so that there is need to supplement the pending complaints or file a new one.”

“The statement attributed to the chairman of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee that the Ombudsman should also be impeached for the 'Garcia plea bargaining deal' fails to consider that the one-year-bar-rule prohibits the filing of another impeachment case against the Ombudsman before the expiration of the one year from the filing with the House of Representatives or referral with the Committee on Justice of the current impeachment complaints,” he added.           

Still, with or without the Garcia plea bargain, lawmakers asserted that they have a strong case.

Pieces of evidence

Among the key pieces of evidence they will be presenting the Senate impeachment court are the fruits of the Senate’s own labor – the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee reports on the fertilizer fund scam, the Mega-Pacific deal, the ZTE-NBN, and the euro generals controversy – where they recommended the investigation and filing of charges by the Ombudsman against certain personalities.

They are also set to present a Supreme Court ruling where the Ombudsman was also directed to investigate the anomalous Mega-Pacific poll automation deal.

Fariñas said the Ombudsman never acted on these recommendations. “They (Senate) should be the aggrieved party here kasi they asked the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman ignored them, not knowing these are the same people who would judge her. Iyan ang foreboding kay Ombudsman.”
Tupas said, “We have a strong case now--the fertilizer fund scam...It's a very strong ground. If we include the plea bargain agreement, it will make it stronger.”

Fariñas, however, found it improper that the Senate issued a statement on the impeachment, noting they will sit as judges.

“I’m taken aback the Senate would recommend impeachment.  They’re the impeachment court. (The) Senators have the sole power to adjudicate the case of the Ombudsman. It may be treading on dangerous grounds. But for them to recommend she be impeached may be a bit troubling.”

Tupas believes that the Blue Ribbon committee reports strengthen the case but are not an assurance of the numbers, since some of the signatories no longer sit in the incumbent Senate.

“It would strengthen, but it depends because some signatories are no longer incumbent members of Senate," he said.

Farinas echoed his statement. “Sa fertilizer fund scam, 20 nakapirma although iyung iba wala na. “
For the Garcia plea bargain deal, 14 incumbent senators signed the Blue Ribbon committee report issued on Thursday.

Incumbent senators and committee reports

Eight incumbents signed the Blue Ribbon committee report on the Mega Pacific deal, 8 incumbent senators also signed the fertilizer fund scam report, and 6 incumbents signed the Euro generals committee report.
Committee Report No. 44, filed on Dec. 12, 2005, or the Comelec modernization scam

1.     Sen. Joker Arroyo, chairman
2.     Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, member
3.     Sen. Richard Gordon, member
4.     Sen. Manuel Lapid, member
5.     Sen. Jamby Madrigal, member
6.     Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, member
7.     Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. , member
8.     Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, member
9.     Sen. Alfredo Lim, member
10.  Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. , member
11.  Sen. Ralph Recto, member
12.  Sen. Aquilino Pimentel JR, ex officio
13.  Sen. Francis Pangilinan, ex officio
14.  Sen. Juan Flavier, ex officio
Committee Report No. 229, filed on Nov. 13, 2008, or the euro generals scandal
1.     Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, chair
2.     Sen. Mar Roxas, vice chair
3.     Sen. Edgardo Angara, member
4.     Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. , member
5.     Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, member
6.     Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, member
7.     Sen. Richard Gordon, member
8.     Sen. Manuel Lapid, member
9.     Sen. Francis Pangilinan, ex officio member
10.  Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. ex officio member
Committee Report No. 254, filed on Feb. 26, 2009, or the alleged P728-million fertilizer fund scam
1.     Sen. Richard Gordon, chair
2.     Sen. Gregorio Honasan, member
3.     Sen. Edgardo Angara, member
4.     Sen. Jamby Madrigal, member
5.     Sen. Mar Roxas, member
6.     Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. , member
7.     Sen. Panfilo Lacson, member
8.     Sen. Loren Legarda, member
9.     Sen. Manuel Lapid, member
10.  Sen. Francis Escudero, member
11.  Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, member
12.  Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, ex officio member
Committee Report No. 743, filed on Nov. 11, 2009, or the ZTE-NBN deal
1.     Sen. Richard Gordon, chair
2.     Sen. Gregorio Honasan, member
3.     Sen. Edgardo Angara, member
4.     Sen. Panfilo Lacson, member
5.     Sen. Jamby Madrigal, member
6.     Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, member
7.     Sen. Mar Roxas, member
8.     Sen. Francis Escudero, member
9.     Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, member
10.  Sen. Francis Pangilinan, member
11.  Sen. Pia Cayetano, member
12.  Sen. Joker Arroyo, member
13.  Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, ex-officio member
14.  Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr, ex-officio member
Garcia Plea bargain agreement
1.     Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, chair
2.     Sen. Franklin Drilon, member
3.     Sen. Francis Escudero, member
4.     Sen. Serge Osmeña III, member
5.     Sen. Francis Pangilinan, member
6.     Sen. Ralph Recto, member
7.     Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr, member
8.     Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, member
9.     Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, member
10.  Sen. Joker Arroyo, member
11.  Sen. Pia Cayetano, member
12.  Sen. Manny Villar, member
13.  Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, ex officio member
Prosecution team

Tupas, meanwhile, revealed that he had a meeting with House Speaker Sonny Belmonte on Wednesday night.

Aside from the initial selection of himself, deputy speakers Lorenzo Tañada III and Raul Daza, congressmen Fariñas, Rey Umali, Eplidio Barzaga, Arlene Bag-Ao, and Neri Javier Colmenares will likely serve as members of the likely prosecution team, with Rep. Miro Quimbo probably serving as impeachment spokesman.

Nominations in the prosecution team will have to be affirmed in plenary after the impeachment vote.

Tupas said 6 lawmakers are being considered for the last 3 slots on the 11-man team, with one of them coming from Lakas-Kampi-CMD.

Daza was a member of the defense team in the Estrada impeachment trial.

Casiño confirmed they already have commitments from 150 lawmakers on the vote to impeach, but it has to be affirmed in plenary because that’s where the vote counts under the rules.

In previous impeachment cases, some of those who committed to vote were actually absent during the vote.

Lagman, on the other hand criticized the Aquino administration and its allies.

“The filing of charges against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other officials of the past administration does not depend on the ouster of the Ombudsman in an impeachment proceeding which could take time,” he said.