Senate has no time for Gutierrez until May
MANILA, Philippines—Even if the House of Representatives votes to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez soon, the Senate would likely begin her impeachment trial only in May, given its tight schedule, senators said Tuesday.
They also said that the upper chamber would adopt the impeachment rules that governed the aborted trial at the Senate in 2000 of then President Joseph Estrada.
“The Senate movements are in cadence with the House,” Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said in an interview, indicating that the upper chamber was in no rush to convene as an impeachment court. “There will be due process.”
Under Senate rules, the articles of impeachment are referred to the committee on rules, chaired by Sotto, and the committee on justice, chaired by Sen. Francis Escudero.
Sotto said the Senate would await the final House action on Gutierrez before adopting the impeachment rules “so as not to preempt” the lower chamber.
He said the rules that governed Estrada’s impeachment trial would be adopted but the upper chamber should first resolve whether to allow the senator-judges to ask witnesses questions directly or through the presiding officer, he said.
At Estrada’s trial, a senator-judge was allotted two minutes to propound questions. Sotto said he preferred the original proposal that questions be submitted to and read by the presiding officer.
He said this would help resolve questions in the public mind on the senator-judges’ partiality or impartiality.
As soon as the articles of impeachment are transmitted to the Senate, the senators may adopt the rules either in a caucus or in plenary, according to Sotto.
“It can take an hour, a day or two,” he said.
Once the rules are adopted, the senators could constitute themselves into a court but could not begin the trial yet until after seven days of publication of the rules, Sotto said.
Besides, after taking their oaths as judges, the senators have to send the articles of impeachment to the respondent for her reply, and this will take days, he said.
In case the House transmits the articles of impeachment next week, the Senate can immediately convene as a court. But if these are sent in the week before it adjourns for the Holy Week, the trial won’t start until May, Sotto said.
Congress adjourns on March 25 and resumes session on May 9.
Given the long process it would take the House to prepare the justice committee report and debate on it before voting in plenary, it is unlikely the Senate can convene as a court before the break, Sen. Franklin Drilon said.
“I don’t think there will be enough time to convene as an impeachment court before adjournment. The schedule is tight and we have not adopted the rules of impeachment yet,” he said.
Drilon and Sen. Ralph Recto acknowledged that Mr. Aquino’s “marching orders” to his Liberal Party mates to impeach Gutierrez should be seen in the context of his campaign vow to root out corruption.
“The President has taken a party position and he believes that his campaign promise, ‘where there is no corruption, there is no poverty,’ would call for the impeachment of the Ombudsman. That is the position that he has enunciated,” Drilon said.
A two-thirds vote of the 24-member Senate, or 16 votes, are needed to convict in an impeachment trial.
Drilon said Gutierrez still had the option to ask the Supreme Court to stop the impeachment trial but she should present a strong legal basis to back this up.
“To me, it will be a supreme error to restrain the Senate from doing its constitutionally mandated obligation,” Drilon said on the phone.
Sen. Gregorio Honasan said Mr. Aquino’s call for his allies to impeach Gutierrez “smacks of partisanship.”
But Honasan said he believed it would not impair the collective decision of the Senate, whose members, he said, were “fiercely independent.”
Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said that while impeachment was a political process, “the decision should not be made on a political basis, a partisan basis which is what it is now.”
“In the Senate, we will not be dictated (on), not by the President or any of our party colleagues,” Marcos said.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada assured Gutierrez that “she will be given due process here in the Senate.”
Malacañang said Mr. Aquino’s “moral leadership” helped spurt the House justice committee decision to elevate the Gutierrez impeachment case to the plenary.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda welcomed not only the House justice committee action but also the Supreme Court’s move to junk Gutierrez’s appeal to stop the proceedings against her.
Lacierda said the House and the Senate could now move ahead with the impeachment case “without any fear of being reversed” by the high court.
Lacierda also said that “certainly the President, with his moral leadership in determining the course for good governance, helped in a large measure also in the [House committee] decision.”
Asked whether the President gave his allies “marching orders” to impeach Gutierrez, Lacierda said: “It’s more of a reminder to the Liberal Party of the great responsibility they have toward good governance.”
He denied that the President violated the law on separation of powers when he made those statements to his allies. With reports from Christian V. Esguerra and Christine O. Avendaño
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.