MANILA, Philippines - Just how strong is President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III's grip on the Lower House?
According to Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, Aquino's influence in the House of Representatives will be put to the test once the impeachment case against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is filed.
Party-listy group Akbayan is filing the impeachment case against Gutierrez, a former law school batch mate of former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, because of her alleged closeness to the Arroyos.
Casiño says if it were merely a numbers game, Aquino’s Liberal Party (LP) should be able to deliver the necessary 96 votes to send the impeachment case to the Senate for trial.
“If the LP is serious about impeaching Gutierrez, they can do it because they only need one-third of the total membership of the House of Representatives, or 96 votes. If the LP has 90 members, they will only need an additional 5 to 6 votes," he said.
"It will depend on how decisive LP and Malacañang is on the issue," he added.
LP strength to be tested
He noted, however, that many of the new Liberal Party members are turncoats from Arroyo’s Lakas-Kampi-CMD party. Forcing a vote on the impeachment issue will show if the new recruits are indeed serious about joining the President's political party, he said.
"My take on the issue of the Ombudsman is that it will test the strength of the LP. Secondly, it will also test the influence of [former president] Arroyo. If the impeachment pushes through, Arroyo will try to defend the Ombudsman. Magkakasubukan, magkakaalaman saan ba tindig," he said.
Arroyo’s allies in the last Congress dismissed the last impeachment case against Gutierrez last year. The one-year bar against filing new impeachment cases against the same official lapses in October.
Will Aquino crack the whip?
Former Akbayan party-list representative Risa Hontiveros said their group wants Gutierrez impeached to allow a new, non-partisan Ombudsman to appraise the corruption cases against the Arroyo family . She said she expects President Aquino to crack the whip on his partymates.
About 40 congressmen ran and won under the LP in the 2010 elections. LP spokesman and Quezon 4th District Rep. Lorenzo "Erin" Tanada III said new recruits who have taken their oaths as LP members have swelled their number to 78.
But even with numbers looking in favor of the impeachment of Gutierrez, Tañada said the LP may not even rush into the impeachment of the Ombudsman. “It depends on evidence. That's why the truth commission is there. If the evidence is weak, why file? Again, it's too early to presume and speculate (that the) impeachment route will be chosen," he said.
Supreme Court interpretation
He said there are other options that could be taken against Gutierrez including a court case asking if the present Ombudsman is only serving out the unexpired term of her predecessor, Simeon Marcelo.
Marcelo was appointed Ombudsman in 2002 and should have served till 2009 for a full 7-year term. He resigned in November 30, 2005 for health reasons.
Gutierrez, however, said her term runs till 2012.
Tañada said the LP has yet to come up with a common position on the impeachment case against Gutierrez. He added, however, that the litmus test is not whether the new LP members will vote to impeach the Ombudsman.
“(The) Litmust test isn't the proxy war but his good governance," he said.