House eases impeachment rules | Inquirer News

House eases impeachment rules

By: - Reporter / @cynchdbINQ
/ 05:49 AM March 04, 2011

MANILA, Philippines—The House committee on justice will not be using the strict rules of evidence when it votes on whether there is probable cause to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on Tuesday.

“Since this is a political proceeding, not a court, we are not strict on the rules of procedure. We’re not acting as lawyers but as political leaders in an impeachment,” said Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., the committee chair.

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Unlike in the impeachment trial in the Senate, which requires a higher appreciation of evidence, all that is needed is for the committee members to agree on whether there was sufficient basis on the charge of betrayal of public trust, said Tupas.

Tupas, who is a lawyer, made a distinction between probable cause as construed in a criminal proceeding and in an impeachment.

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In criminal law, probable cause refers to facts or evidence that would make a reasonable person believe that a crime or wrongdoing has been, is being, or will be committed, he said.

In an impeachment complaint, probable cause means the presence of sufficient basis that the accused might be convicted when he or she stands trial for the offense charged, Tupas said.

This, he said, was the classical definition of probable cause and was what the committee has adopted.

He said that even the presentation of witnesses in the last hearing was unnecessary since duly sworn affidavits would have sufficed.

As a lawyer, Tupas said he believed that some evidence and witnesses presented to the committee last Wednesday would not be able to stand up in court, but the committee would still consider them when they vote on the complaints.

He refused to cite an example, saying he did not want to pre-empt the voting.

Gutierrez is facing two impeachment complaints. The first cites eight cases, including her alleged inaction on corruption charges against former Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri and former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Benjamin Abalos in the NBN-ZTE scandal; the dismissal of four cases filed against the husband of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the NBN-ZTE case; inaction on the death of Navy Ensign Philip Pestano; and the arrest and detention of former House party-list member Riza Hontiveros-Baraquel at a women’s rally.

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The second complaint consists of three main cases: the P728-million alleged fertilizer fund scam, the “euro generals scandal” involving ranking police officials caught in October 2008 at the Moscow airport with large, undeclared sums of money, and the Mega Pacific eSolutions contract with the Comelec which the Supreme Court voided on Jan. 13, 2004.

Tupas said that if Gutierrez files her pleadings today, the deadline given by the committee, she will be required to appear on Tuesday in order to subscribe to and affirm all the pleadings.

She will then be given time in the morning to present her case and be examined and cross-examined by committee members, which means the voting on probable cause could happen in the afternoon of the same day or in the morning of the next day, Tupas said.

However, if Gutierrez fails to appear on Tuesday, Tupas said the committee would proceed with the voting on the existence of probable cause on each of the two complaints.

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