Lawmakers: Who’s afraid to ax Arroyo?
Two lawmakers have wondered why President Benigno Aquino III’s allies were suddenly gun-shy about suspending former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from the House of Representatives after they had acted so swiftly to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list Representative Antonio Tinio said the President should mobilize his allies in the House to suspend Arroyo, now a representative from Pampanga, “to serve as a test of this administration’s commitment to prosecute the former president without wavering and without compromise.”
“The swift impeachment of Chief Justice Corona has shown that Malacañang can muster the numbers in the name of its anticorruption campaign,” Tinio said.
Aquino allies in the House signed in less than a day an impeachment complaint against Corona after the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order on an administrative travel ban imposed on Arroyo.
Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares said there was no reason for the House not to heed the appeal of the Office of the Ombudsman which, through its Special Prosecutor, filed last week a petition asking the Sandiganbayan’s Fourth Division to suspend Arroyo as the representative of Pampanga’s second district pending the resolution of a case against her in the controversial $329-million National Broadband Network-ZTE deal during her term.
“I think anybody can be suspended in Congress as long as there is a two-thirds vote,” said Colmenares. Both Colmenares and Tinio belong to the administration coalition.
Current and former allies of Arroyo have come out to contest the calls for her suspension. Maguindanao Representative Simeon Datumanong said that under the Constitution, only Congress with two-thirds of its members voting, could decide on the suspension of one of its members.
Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said the House would defy the Sandiganbayan should it grant the Ombudsman’s appeal to suspend Arroyo.
In a phone interview, Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez said that suspending one of the members involved a process which would start with a complaint filed in the ethics committee. Since Arroyo’s pending cases involved her actions as the former president, Rodriguez said the ethics committee had no jurisdiction over her case.
Rodriguez also said that Congress could only act on cases that have been decided with finality by the Supreme Court, noting that a Sandiganbayan ruling was still subject to an appeal in the high court.
Only 25 behind her
The lower house has 286 members and only 191 votes would be required to suspend Arroyo, who has less than 25 members still behind her.
Tinio noted that House leaders had been boasting about getting more than the 188 signatures needed to impeach Corona in December and that they had even formed a Movement 188 to show their unity.
This was why Tinio found it perplexing that the majority coalition would be hesitant to take direct aim at the main target of past impeachments.
“Gloria Arroyo took the unprecedented step, as a sitting president, of running for and securing a congressional seat precisely so that she could avail of the institutional privileges and protection of the House once she left Malacañang. The suspension of Rep. Gloria Arroyo is a political, not legal, matter to be decided by votes on the floor rather than the citation of rules. In so doing, the House will send out the message that it will not provide sanctuary to the principal perpetrator of electoral sabotage, graft and corruption, and human rights violations under the previous administration,” said Tinio.
Arroyo has denied all the charges against her.
Rather switch than fight
The Liberal Party-led coalition in the House includes former Arroyo allies who had switched to the ruling party or formed the new National Unity Party. But Colmenares said their previous links were not enough to explain why they would be reluctant to suspend Arroyo. “I believe that they are afraid of setting a precedent in Congress and effectively ending its status as a sanctuary for criminals,” he said.
The six-page petition of acting Prosecution Bureau IV Director Rabendranath Uy argued that suspension was mandatory for officials facing valid graft charges. Arroyo is currently under hospital detention for a nonbailable offense, electoral sabotage. The Department of Justice and the Commission on Elections accused her of manipulating the results of the 2007 senatorial elections in Mindanao.
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