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Impeach Ombudsman hearing resumes
In The Press Posted on August 26th, 2009.
MANILA - After it was shelved for nearly four months, the House committee on justice on Wednesday resumed hearing the impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to determine its sufficiency in substance.
Gutierrez is accused of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution for sitting on "clear graft and corruption cases, some leading to the President herself or that of her closest associates,” the complaint says.
Former Senate President and Liberal Party stalwart Jovito Salonga is the lead complainant in the impeachment rap.
Ten solons who endorsed the complaint took turns to present their case on why the Ombudsman should be impeached.
“Hindi lamang sa hindi niya ginawa ang kanyang tungkulin bilang chief graft and corruption buster sa pamahalaan. Ngunit malinaw na pinoprotektahan niya sina Gng. Gloria Arroyo at ang kanyang law school batchmate na si Mike Arroyo sa pamamagitan ng pagiging bulag, pipi at bingi sa mga iskandalong kinakaharap ng pamahalaang ito,” said deputy minority leader Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo.
“There is a crime but no criminal. The Ombudsman did not only fail to prosecute, but also failed to investigate. There is a crime, but the Ombudsman doesn't want to charge anyone. This is the context in which the Ombudsman is being charged,” added fellow Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.
Ocampo and Colmenares opened and closed the arguments, respectively.
Akbyan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño, Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza, Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III, and Bukidnon Rep. Teofisto Guingona III discussed the following high profile cases:
* P1.3 billion Mega-Pacific poll automation contract entered into by former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chief Benjamin Abalos Sr., which was later voided by the Supreme Court;
* the collusion and bid-rigging in the US$150 million World Bank-financed road improvement project;
* P1 billion fertilizer fund, involving former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante, used in the 2004 elections;
* extortion case of former Justice Secretary Hernando "Nani" Perez;
* the case of former PNP comptroller (ret.) Gen. Eliseo dela Paz, who was caught carrying 105,000 euros (P6.9 million), which exceeded the 3,000 euro limit for departing passengers in Moscow
* arbitrary dismissal of Iloilo Gov. Neil Tupas;
* arbitrary dismissal of Bataan Gov. Enrique Garcia.
After the case summaries were presented, Cibac Rep. Cinchona Gonzalez argued that there was “adequate recital of facts to meet the requirements for sufficiency of substance as provided by House rules.”
She also stressed that these facts need not be proven until the hearing on probable cause.
“Public trust has collapsed when all these cases gathered dust or have been permanently relegated to the archives. The unpardonable action of the Ombudsman is tantamount to inexcusable derelection of duty. It is also an obstruction of justice," she said.
The arguments to show the complaint is insufficient in substance will be tackled in the next hearing on September 2.
According to House justice committee chair Matias Defensor, Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, Iloilo Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr., and Baguio Rep. Mauricio Domogan have volunteered to speak against the impeachment complaint.
Salonga renews appeal
Salonga was allowed to speak before the committee despite an initial ruling against it by committee chair Defensor. The committee voted to suspend committee rules to give the former Senate president “courtesy.”
Under existing rules, a complainant may only be allowed to speak after the complaint is declared sufficient in form and substance.
Salonga reiterated that he will bring the impeachment case to the Supreme Court if the committee fails to act on it.
“Suppose the Ombudsman has repeatedly and deliberately exonerated the very persons who should be charged with having committed a serious offense under the law, is there a remedy under the 1987 Constitution? The answer, I suggest, is a resounding yes. Under Art. 8 Section 1, judicial power includes the duty of the Supreme Court to determine whether there has been a grave abuse of this instrumentality amounting to or a lack of excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government,” Salonga said.
“May I emphasize again that your committee on justice is an instrumentality of this government,” he added.
The House of Representatives has the exclusive power to initiate impeachment.
Supporters of the impeachment complaint earlier alleged that administration congressmen, who comprise majority of the House justice committee, had been ordered by the First Gentleman to dismiss the impeachment bid. Defensor, however, dismissed the allegation.
Gutierrez, a former presidential legal counsel, was a batchmate of First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo at the Ateneo Law School.