MANILA, Philippines ? (UPDATE) The two impeachment complaints against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez hurdled the first test when they were found sufficient in form by the committee on justice at the House of Representatives.
Now dominated by allies of President Benigno Aquino III from the Liberal Party (LP), the House panel vowed to implement the impeachment rules on the complaints that could pave the way for a full trial to determine whether Gutierrez should be ousted.
Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas, chairman of the committee, said determination if the complaints were sufficient in substance would be based solely on the submitted complaints.
Deputy speaker and Quezon Representative Lorenzo ?Erin? Tañada III said this was a departure from the practice of the justice committee in the last Congress, which already sought evidence and probable cause to determine sufficiency in substance.
?In the determination of [sufficiency in] substance in the previous impeachment complaints, we were going beyond what was already written in the impeachment complaint itself, [now] we need not even present any evidence in the committee, all we need to do is to read the complaint and find out if there are enough statements in the complaint that will lead to a later finding requiring the Ombudsman to reply,? Tañada explained after the hearing.
Tupas added that members of the committee ?need not go outside the complaint,? in deciding if the complaints were sufficient in substance.
Because of this, Tupas said he expected that there would be a vote in the next hearing next week.
If sufficient in substance, Tupas said the two complaints would be consolidated so that deliberations would be faster.
Bayan Muna partylist Representative Teodoro Casiño, one of the endorsers of the complaint, said he believed the rules of the committee were clear, but that the past justice committees were interpreting them differently.
?Determining sufficiency in substance should be elementary, the problem with the past justice committees is that they made it very burdensome for the complaint because they already asked for evidence and probable cause, which should not be the case. We hope the committee on justice this time will follow what?s in the rules,? Casiño said.
By its sheer dominance in terms of numbers, the majority bloc in the House could make the impeachment case against Gutierrez prosper, said deputy minority leader and Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez.
?Personally, I think the impeachment complaints will make it this time,? he said in a phone interview.
But Suarez warned that the complaints could turn out to be weak cause of their Constitutional infirmities.
Suarez said he agreed with Parañaque Representative Roilo Golez?s statement during the hearing that there could be no two complaints at the same time.
?The law of physics will not allow two matters to exist at the same space at the same time,? Golez had told the panel.
Cebu Representative Pablo John Garcia said the ?reckoning time? mentioned by a Supreme Court ruling in 2003 of two or more impeachment complaints referred to both to the filing of the complaints and their referral to the committee on justice.
Tupas and Bayan Muna partylist Representative Neri Colemnares, however, stated that the most crucial aspect was the time of referral when deciding on the one-year constitutional ban.
Under the Constitution, only one impeachment complaint can be filed in one year against an impeachable official such as the Ombudsman.
The two complaints were filed on separate dates ? July 22 and August 3 ? but were referred to the committee on justice at the same time on August 11 at 4:47 p.m.
The first complaint alleged that Gutierrez, an appointee of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in December 2005, was culpable of allegedly violating the Constitution and betraying public trust over her inaction on the alleged murder case of Navy Ensign Philip Pestano, the arrest of former Akbayan partylist Representative Risa Hontiveros in 2006 in a rally, and the botched national broadband network agreement with Chinese firm ZTE Corporation.
The complaint was filed on July 22 by Hontiveros, retired general Danilo Lim, and Felipe and Evelyn Pestano.
In the second case, the complainants said there was ?failure and omission to act promptly . . . on the anomalous disbursement of funds and other anomalous transactions? in the case of the P729-million fertilizer fund scam despite Senate Report 54, Commission on Audit findings, and cases filed by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and other concerned citizens detailing the anomalies and graft ridden irregularities in the transactions.
It was filed by Renato Reyes of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Sister Mary John Mnanzan of PAGBABAGO, Danilo Ramos of KMP, Attorney Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples? Lawyers, Ferdinand Gaite of COURAGE, and James Terry Ridon of the League of Filipino Students.