MANILA, Philippines?House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte has instructed members of the 11-man prosecuting team to prepare for the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in the Senate and has allotted funds for this purpose.
Only three congressmen have so far been designated as prosecutors?Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas.
But Belmonte said that the three can proceed with the preparations during the congressional break, as the appointment of the eight other members of the panel can be approved when Congress resumes its sessions on May 9.
?I told them to go ahead and talk to others, find out their backgrounds. Do they have experience in litigation and do they want to commit their time and so forth, because once they do, it?s okay they can already participate in the preparation stage,? Belmonte said.
Tupas has recommended for inclusion in the panel deputy speaker Raul Daza, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares and Akbayan party-list Rep. Kaka Bag-ao. Tupas has yet to name the three other members.
According to Belmonte, there was a need for the panel to focus on the trial and give a 100 percent commitment.
He recalled that when he was part of the House prosecution panel during the impeachment trial of deposed President Joseph Estrada, he had to give up being a minority leader.
?People should be prepared to give their best,? he said.
?When I was part of prosecution, we couldn?t sleep thinking what we would do the next day,? he said.
Belmonte has committed to release P5 million initially for the expenses of the panel, including the hiring of private lawyers to assist at the trial.
The speaker also clarified his role in the overwhelming passage of the articles of impeachment in the plenary. A total of 212 congressmen voted in favor of impeachment, 46 voted against, while four abstained.
He said he called a meeting of the members of the majority bloc, most of whom were responsible for his election as speaker.
?They were all there and my message was very simple: I wanted to be sure there is a quorum. How they vote will be up to them, and as it happened, I think four of the people who were there voted against. I understood the situation of these people,? he said.
Belmonte said many were angry at a text message that allegedly came from a pro-impeachment congressman, warning that those who would not vote for impeachment would get zero pork barrel.
He said the alleged sender had denied being the source of the text. But the matter has been referred to the committee on rules at the insistence of Minority Leader Edcel Lagman.
Belmonte said no congressman would be deprived of their share of the pork barrel during his watch.
Meanwhile, Belmonte Thursday urged Fariñas to go slow on his threat to file an impeachment complaint against some Supreme Court justices and instead focus on his job as a prosecutor in the impeachment trial of Gutierrez.
?In the first place, you?ve got a multiplicity of impeachment cases involving high-ranking officials. The fact that there was a huge groundswell of support behind the impeachment here should make us feel stronger but also feel that?s enough of a caution without actually bearing down on anybody,? he said.