INC hand seen in efforts to kill impeachment of Gutierrez
MANILA, Philippines—All means are being exhausted to stop the looming impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in the House of Representatives lest former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo end up on trial, a senator said Sunday.
Ahead of this week’s vote, a high-ranking official of Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) had been calling House members to kill the impeachment complaint, according to Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., chair of the justice committee.
“All efforts are being undertaken to abort the impeachment of Gutierrez because in effect it will be GMA (Arroyo) on trial,” Sen. Franklin Drilon said in an interview, referring to the former president, now a Pampanga lawmaker.
Drilon said the charges in the impeachment complaints—the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, the $329-million NBN-ZTE deal, and the Mega-Pacific contract—were linked to Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel and their cronies.
“Even if it is Merceditas Gutierrez who will be the respondent in an impeachment, it will be in effect GMA on trial. All of the allegations are connected to her and her husband and her cronies,” said Drilon, a colleague of President Benigno Aquino III in the Liberal Party.
The House is set to vote in plenary this week on whether to approve the justice committee’s finding of probable cause to impeach Gutierrez and send the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial.
Gutierrez has been accused of inaction on a number of cases, particularly the scandals that marred the Arroyo administration, and of betraying public trust and violating the Constitution.
A lawmaker, who asked not to be named, said Gutierrez appeared to have the backing of the INC.
Proof of this was the fact that she was represented in the House by former Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas, who acted as counsel for the INC a number of times, the lawmaker said.
“Serafin Cuevas indicates the hand of Iglesia ni Cristo. He is known to be the lawyer of Iglesia ni Cristo,” the lawmaker said. “Merci has the full support of Iglesia.”
In the face of intense INC lobbying, members of the ruling Liberal Party remain positive of getting the one-third vote, albeit below the initial target of at least 150 votes or more than half of the House.
“The phone calls made by a high-ranking official of Iglesia ni Cristo to kill the impeachment case may affect the vote of some House members but we are still confident that we will get the required number of votes to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial,” Tupas said in a text message.
A House source, who requested anonymity, said the INC was egging some lawmakers to call in sick or leave after the roll call.
“That’s a game changer. The evidence of that (INC intervention) is so manifest. Last week, the proponents were boasting of a slam dunk. Today, they are now prefiguring that the battle will be tight,” said Isabela Rep. Georgidi Aggabao of the Nationalist People’s Coalition.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, whose group is one of the complainants in the impeachment case, said the INC stand would have a minimal impact on the voting “because it would be difficult for a congressman to be absent because all eyes are on us.”
Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello was upset that the INC would intervene in the business of Congress.
“Why are religious blocs crossing the line dividing the church and state, the INC in the case of the impeachment issue and the (Catholic) Church on reproductive health? Can’t these pressure groups stay on the sidelines and allow Congress to do its work?” asked Bello, whose group is the second complainant in the case.
Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay, a member of the minority, found nothing wrong with the INC’s intervention. “Everyone is a stakeholder in this,” she said.
Cavite Rep. Joseph E.A. Abaya, a key Liberal Party official in the House, said the vote could “go either way.”
Mr. Aquino’s deputy spokesperson, Abigail Valte, shrugged off reports that the Palace would withhold the pork barrel of lawmakers who would not support the impeachment of Gutierrez.
“It’s not the policy of the administration to use the pork barrel to sway (lawmakers) one way or the other,” Valte said. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
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