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SENATE LEADER SAYS:

New charges may not be used vs Ombudsman in impeachment trial

MANILA, Philippines—Fresh revelations that Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez might have bungled the filing of criminal charges in connection with the P728-million fertilizer fund scam may not necessarily be used against her in the upcoming impeachment trial.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said Saturday it would be up to the House prosecution team to decide whether to include the alleged blunders.

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“We will just have to look at how prosecutors will incorporate that in the articles of impeachment,” he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone. “Whether that is covered by any of the articles filed, we can only gauge once it is actually included. It would be best if the prosecutors discuss it among themselves.”

Sotto noted that the impeachment rules, following the rules of evidence, prevented the presentation of evidence not included in the articles of impeachment or charges.

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“Based on the rules of evidence, only those included in the articles of impeachment will be tackled,” he said.

Whistle-blower Jose Barredo earlier cried foul after the Ombudsman recommended the filing of plunder charges against him in connection with the fertilizer fund scam. Leading the list of respondents were former Agriculture Secretary Luis “Cito” Lorenzo and Undersecretary Jocelyn “Jocjoc” Bolante.

Barredo questioned his inclusion given that he was a mere “runner” in the operation. He admitted earning P10,000 monthly while acting as liaison between agriculture officials and local politicians, who benefited from overpriced farm inputs and implements.

Gutierrez was accused of sitting on the case, which took several years before her office finally came out with a resolution a few days before the Holy Week.

Sotto said the Senate was “all set” to convene as an impeachment court on May 9, during which members of the chamber will take their “oath of impartiality” as they sit as senator-judges in the trial.

“We will take the oath to profess our impartiality,” he said. “The oath will erase whatever people might have heard any of the members of the Senate might have said before the impeachment trial proper. I would like to believe that after the oath, we will all be taking the straight path, so to speak.”

Still, he acknowledged that the oath could not preclude any party in the case from seeking the inhibition of a particular senator-judge. But he said a senator could not be forced to stay out of the trial.

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“They can do that (file a motion to inhibit) anytime, but it would be up to the senator whether to accede to it or not,” he said.

Before the impeachment court opens at 2 p.m., he said, senators would first sit down in caucus to decide on a resolution seeking to expedite the trial.

In the resolution, Senator Francis Pangilinan and two others want senators to decide on the fate of Gutierrez each time the presentation of evidence and subsequent rebuttal were completed in a particular article of impeachment.

The rule now stands that presentation for all six articles of impeachment should first be completed before senators cast their votes.

“There will be a debate on this on May 9 during the caucus,” Sotto said.

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TAGS: Graft & Corruption, Gutierrez Impeachment, Senate
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