Impeach raps vs Ombudsman found sufficient in form
by RG Cruz
MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) – In just one meeting, the House of Representatives Committee on Justice voted on Wednesday to declare as sufficient in form 2 impeachment complaints filed against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
The first complaint, filed by former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, was declared sufficient in form, 39-1.
The complaint accuses the Ombudsman of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for failing to provide prompt action on issues such as the botched National Broadband Network-ZTE deal, the lavish P1 million dinner of former President Arroyo and Filipino lawmakers at Le Cirque restaurant in the US, and the mysterious death of Philippine Navy Ensign Phillip Pestaño.
The second, filed by the group of Mr. Renato Reyes of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), was declared sufficient in form 31-9.
Partiality of justice chair questioned
Questions on the form of the second complaint were raised after lawmakers raised the issue of the late filing of the verified endorsement of the complaint.
Most of the debates, however, centered on questions on the partiality of House Justice Committee Chair, Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr.
Iloilo Rep. Ferjenel Biron and Davao del Sur Rep. Marc Cagas separately moved to have Tupas inhibit, citing conflict of interest.
Tupas’ father and namesake was charged by the Ombudsman for dishonesty, grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty and conduct prejudicial to the public interest before the Sandiganbayan.
Majority lawmakers, however, reminded the movants that the committee cannot vote to compel any member to inhibit, and that such questions on partiality should have been raised before the proceedings began.
They were also told that inhibition is a personal discretion of the committee member concerned.
“The motion to inhibit should have been presented before committee began deliberations, so with due apologies, I’d like to submit that the motion is untimely.” said House Deputy Speaker Raul Daza.
“The chairman will continue to preside, the chairman will not abdicate his duties, and the chairman will proceed with utmost impartiality,” said Tupas.
Biron told media in an ambush interview afterwards, “this issue will haunt the proceedings.”
House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III warned lawmakers that if cases against a committee member or any of their relatives will be an issue for inhibition, all committee members may be liable for inhibition since they could all be charged or have had cases at the Ombudsman at some point.
LP has no party stand
For the Liberal Party, Tupas and Tañada both reiterated that there has been no party stand on the impeachment of the Ombudsman, adding that it will be decided after subsequent hearings.
Tupas said that by the next meeting on Tuesday, they may already vote on sufficiency on substance, submission of affidavits and determination of probable cause.
Tupas said these processes will be staggered and clear, instead of being lumped together in one go, which delays the proceedings.
The LP has around 80 members in the House of Representatives, but has formed a broad majority coalition with smaller parties to gain control of the speakership and plum committee chairmanships.
It needs 1/3 of the total membership of the House of Representatives for it to pass for trial at the Senate.
Tupas said the 2 complaints may be consolidated later on in the proceedings.
Low conviction rate
The Sandiganbayan anti-graft court earlier said the Office of the Ombudsman lost nearly 9 out of every 10 cases it filed for the first 4 months of 2010. It said the Ombudsman scored 8 convictions in 62 cases disposed by the Sandiganbayan from January to April 2010, for a conviction rate of 12.9%.
A study of the Sandiganbayan records in the last 30 years showed the present conviction rate of government prosecutors has steadily declined.
From 1979 to 2008, the government scored 8,477 convictions in 29,531 cases decided by the graft court for a batting average of 28.71%, which is more than double the present conviction rate of the Office of the Ombudsman.