'Blackmail' text on Merci impeachment spreads

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 20 2011 01:20 AM | Updated as of Mar 20 2011 09:20 AM

MANILA, Philippines - On the weekend before the crucial plenary vote of the House of Representatives on the impeachment of  Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, a text message purportedly blackmailing lawmakers into supporting the impeachment was circulated among lawmakers.
The text message is being attributed to the Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya, chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, which oversees budgeting and releases of funding.

It goes like this: “Frm Cong. Abaya-Favor kindly disseminate to all reps - LP and non-LPs. Thisshud b made clear to all. Those who will vote no or absent/abstain on impeachment will get 0 as in zero. At least walang sisihan that there was no forewarning...."
Upon receipt of the text message, ABS-CBN forwarded it to Abaya, Majority Leader Boyet Gonzales, Justice Committee Chair Niel Tupas Jr. and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte for validation and comment.
Gonzales and Tupas sent separate messages denying it for Abaya.
Tupas said, “I don’t think so. No such thing.”
Gonzales said, “I just talked to Jun abaya. He denies it. It maybe a disinformation campaign to muddle the impeachment process.”

Abaya merely said, “intrigue.”
Belmonte has yet to issue a statement.
On the condition of anonymity, the text message was forwarded to ABS-CBN by several congressmen who were recipients of the text message Saturday morning.

Some of those who sent the text to ABS-CBN are from the majority who are expected to produce the 150 votes supporting the impeachment of the Ombudsman Gutierrez.
One lawmaker recipient feels slighted by the text message and is reportedly now having second thoughts about voting. The lawmaker said colleagues feel the same way.
Another congressman, who had voted for the impeachment at the committee level, feels that the complaint is weak.
The text message is the latest thorny issue among congressmen, on top of the deliberations on a bill postponing the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) polls, a bill on Reproductive Health, as well as the delayed releases of the priority development assistance funds or pork barrel.