Senate OKs rules on Gutierrez's impeachment trial

By Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 23 2011 07:54 PM | Updated as of Mar 24 2011 03:40 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate approved on Wednesday the rules for the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in May. 

The amended rules include a provision specifying that senators must adhere to the principle of "political neutrality, defined as the "exercise of public official duty without unfair discrimination and regardless of party affiliation." 

Senators, witnesses, members of the prosecution and defense panels, and the accused are also expected to refrain from talking in public about the merits of the case or grant interviews while the trial is ongoing.

However, no specific provisions on the issue were added to the rules. 

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, sitting as the presiding officer, will render his vote at the end of the trial, unlike in the Estrada impeachment trial in 2000 where the presiding officer – then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. – was not allowed to vote by the rules. 

A new provision also states that visitors must observe silence during the trial or risk being sent out of the trial venue. 

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said the trial, which could last from 2 to 3 months, would cost P15 million. 

The Senate will use its savings to fund the trial, according to Enrile.

The articles of impeachment were formally submitted by the House of Representatives to the Senate shortly before 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

During the session, the articles of impeachment were referred to the committee on rules.