Pangilinan calls on Gutierrez to quit; Santiago hits House
MANILA, Philippines—Two of the senators who will act as judges if the impeachment case against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is elevated to the Senate for trial Wednesday vented on the subject and on the ongoing proceedings at the House of Representatives.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan bluntly called on Gutierrez to step down, while Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said she was unimpressed by the performance of the lawmakers in the House.
Speaking strongly in Filipino, Pangilinan, an ally of the Aquino administration, said Gutierrez should be “ashamed” and resign her post “if she had any shame left.”
He also said the Office of the Ombudsman had been slimed (nababoy) because of Gutierrez’s “negligence of her sworn duty.”
Santiago, a former trial court judge, questioned the conduct of the impeachment proceedings.
“I watched them on [TV]. I am sorry to say, or maybe I should ask the audience, ‘Why am I not impressed?’” she told reporters, adding:
“Can’t they read first about impeachment, its context and protocols in political science? We cannot just open our mouths and vent off steam as if we were a volcano about to explode.
“Law is a very serious matter. It’s not a matter of melodrama or theatrics in front of [TV cameras]. You should make sense!”
Why the rush?
Santiago questioned the purported haste with which congressmen were seeking to impeach Gutierrez, an appointee of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative.
“Why the rush to judgment like they can’t wait? Why does it have to be now? Why the persistence?” she said in Filipino, referring to Gutierrez’s pending appeal to the Supreme Court to stop the proceedings.
She also expressed doubt on the quality of the evidence held by Gutierrez’s accusers: “I have no interest in defending the Ombudsman, but it seems to me that there is no probable cause against [her]. They’re just enumerating their grievances, but what is the evidence that she has betrayed the trust reposed on her by her appointing authority?”
Santiago reminded the complainants: “You cannot change the Ombudsman just because you don’t like the way she decided a case.”
“Certain discretionary matters are allowed within the discretion of a certain public official so you cannot question that decision by means of an impeachment complaint,” the senator said.
According to Santiago, “impeachment should be done when the presence of the public official is so poisonous to governance that that person must be removed from office.”
The senator said efforts were being made to unseat Gutierrez because she was an Arroyo appointee. If this were indeed so, she said, “then let’s just call it by its proper name—an anti-Arroyo movement.”
Santiago said legislators should “automatically inhibit” themselves from impeachment proceedings if they or their kin had pending cases in the Office of the Ombudsman.
She did not say if she was referring to Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., the chair of the House justice committee who, along with his father, has a pending case.
“My word of advice is this—do not use a legal issue to cloak or disguise a political issue so that the public will not be misled,” she said.
Santiago also said impeachment had to be “understood as a vent for steam that has gathered—that is, the public is very angry at the official.”
“But it does not necessarily mean that if you are privately angry over private grievances that you have to impeach that official,” she said.
Malacañang also weighed in on the issue, with President Benigno Aquino III’s deputy spokesperson agreeing with the idea that Gutierrez’s inaction on the case of a former police officer could have sparked the August 2010 hostage crisis that caused the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists.
Abigail Valte said the case of the late former Sr. Insp. Rolando Mendoza was a clear instance of the Ombudsman taking too long to decide on an issue.
“On cases that weren’t moving or had no progress, we can cite specific cases. I think the one I can most readily remember is the case of Mendoza, whose motion for reconsideration was pending for too long,” Valte said at a news briefing.
“Perhaps that was what sparked what happened on Aug. 23,” she said.
Malacañang had earlier indicated that it supported the impeachment process against Gutierrez.
Nonetheless, Valte said there was no need for Mr. Aquino to persuade his allies in the House to back the impeachment proceedings.
“We believe there is no need for such a call because public opinion is rather clear. The lawmakers know that, and that’s why this has come to where it is now—because there is a strong clamor [for Gutierrez’s impeachment],” Valte said.
Former military rebel Danilo Lim also called for Gutierrez’s ouster, saying she was giving public servants a “bad image.”
He said Gutierrez’s “hardline and arrogant stance” to fight impeachment “must be met with no less than the steely implementation of the law.”
“Merci the merciless should receive no mercy from the impeachment process,” Lim, a retired brigadier general who launched in December a movement to expose corruption under the Arroyo administration, said in a statement. With a report from Dona Z. Pazzibugan
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