MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - For the first time in Philippine history, the House of Representatives has impeached the Ombudsman.
In a vote taken on Tuesday morning, the House of Representatives mustered more than enough votes to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and try her before the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.
As the court that would hear the case, the Senate would need a two-thirds vote to boot Gutierrez out of office. Otherwise, she stays on as Ombudsman until she finishes her 7-year term in December 2012.
Lawmakers found enough evidence to have her tried for the following issues: low conviction rate and inaction on the NBN-ZTE scam, fertilizer fund scandal, "Euro generals" scandal, Mega-Pacific deal, and the Philip Pestaño case.
All six cases redound to a betrayal of public trust, sponsors of the Articles of Impeachment argued.
After almost 8 hours, 212 voted to impeach Gutierrez and have the impeachment articles transmitted to the Senate.
Forty-six dissented, while 4 abstained.
Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III told ANC that the final was corrected after some votes were mistakenly recorded.
Only 95 votes or one-third of the House members were needed to impeach.
The proceedings were hounded by accusations of lobbying from allies of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Earlier in the day, Rep. Edcel Lagman moved to have the impeachment proceedings “held in abeyance” absent an investigation into the “blackmail” text messages that made the rounds over the weekend.
Taking the floor early in the proceedings, Lagman said the text message “demeans the members of the House of Representatives as salivating mercenaries.”
The text message read that all those will vote no on the impeachment will have their Priority Development Assistance Fund withheld.
The minority was subsequently overruled by the majority.
Justice committee chair Niel Tupas Jr., the sponsor of the impeachment complaint, was later grilled for about 3 hours.
He stood his ground even if several minority lawmakers insisted he and his colleagues in the Justice committee did not have a strong case.
He was also questioned for supposedly rushing procedures before the committee. It went on to hear the case even if the Supreme Court has yet to make final a decision quashing a petition filed by Gutierrez.
Tupas insisted that it was the Ombudsman who is wanting in providing justice by delaying relevant decisions.
Those who acted as interpellators were: Representatives Lagman, Danilo Suarez, Rodante Marcoleta, Carlos Padilla, Augusto Syjuco, Rodolfo Albano, Mitos Magsaysay and Marc Cagas.
Palace welcomes Gutierrez impeachment
Malacañang, in a press statement, said the House of Representatives made history by approving the articles of impeachment against Gutierrez.
"By doing so, the House has put an end to the long era of impunity that tarnished our institutions and made a mockery of the bedrock principle of accountability enshrined in our Constitution," Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
"No one is above scrutiny and no one, particularly the brazen, can escape accountability," he added.
"The House, in transmitting the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, now has the task to vigorously and effectively make its case to the combined juries of the Senate sitting as the Court of Impeachment, and to the Filipino people who will be sitting in judgment on the entire process. This is the glory of democracy: where the law applies to all, where scrutiny exempts no one, and where accountability is for our institutions to exact," Lacierda said.
Senators had said the impeachment trial would most likely start when session resumes in May. Congress adjourns on March 25.