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Impeachment of Ombudsman Gutierrez, A Victory for the People

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the struggle to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez was waged not only inside the House of Representatives but was also waged by the people outside the halls of Congress.

MANILA — After several hours of debate lasting until past midnight, members of the House of Representatives approved the impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas N. Gutierrez. With a vote of 210-47 in favor of House Resolution 1089, the impeachment case against Gutierrez would now be tried by the Senate.

Six grounds were cited in the articles of impeachment. These are: failing to act promptly on the complaints filed and failing to file appropriate charges in court against high ranking government officials involved in the anomalous $16 million fertilizer scam; failing to file appropriate charges in court against Philippine National Police (PNP) comptroller P/Dir. Eliseo Dela Paz – dubbed as the Euro Generals, the PNP generals who were caught by Russian authorities carrying large sums of dollars – despite the latter’s admission under oath of a criminal offense and the findings of criminal liability by various government bodies; absolving from any criminal liability Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials and private individuals involved in the anomalous billion-peso contract for the automation of the 2004 elections known as the Mega-Pacific deal; for excluding former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo from being included in the investigation of and absolving her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo from criminal prosecution in the NBN-ZTE broadband contract; failing to act promptly and absolving Philippine Navy officers and personnel implicated in the death of Navy Ensign Philip Andre Pestaño; and low conviction record manifesting a level of incompetence and inefficiency amounting to dereliction of duty.

The two separate complaints for impeachment against Gutierrez were filed by Renato Reyes, Mo. Mary John Mananzan, Danilo Ramos and lawyer Edre Olalia on August 3, 2010 and by former Rep. Riza Hontiveros-Baraquel, Danilo Lim, Felipe Pestaño and Evelyn Pestaño, and July 22, 2010.

 “Now I can say that I am a proud member of Congress. Tonight we stand by our mandate to hold the Ombudsman accountable to the people. We have gone through a difficult process. We know the Ombudsman has many friends inside and outside Congress. But at the end of the day the members of the Lower House weighed the circumstances that led to the impeachment of Gutierrez,”

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said during the explanation of votes.

Before the voting, seven members of the House were given an opportunity to interpellate the sponsor of the House Resolution. The interpellation, questioning the allegations in the articles of impeachment, by the seven representatives lasted for a maximum of one hour each.

First in Philippine History

Rep. Niel C. Tupas, chairman of the justice committee, said during his presentation of House Resolution 1089 that the committee report was a product of a complete impeachment proceedings, and “a first in our nation’s history.”

“For the first time in Philippine history, the Congress performed this task,” said justice committee vice chairman Rodolfo C. Farñas during his sponsorship speech. He said the people would revolt if the Congress did not perform its duty. This is the first time in history that an Ombudsman was impeached by the House of Representatives.

He added that the impeachment has gone through a long process and to give due process to the Ombudsman he called on his colleagues to vote for the impeachment of one of the most powerful government official. “She said she is ready to face the Senate. Let’s bring it on! Let’s bring the struggle in the Senate.”

Casiño also said Gutierrez’s impeachment case was only the second impeachment case that was brought in the plenary. “In the history of filing impeachment complaints by the people since the Congress was revived in 1987, this is only the second time that a resolution containing articles of impeachment against a high ranking official of the government has reached the plenary.”

Victory of the People

Members of the organizations that signed as petitioners in the impeachment compliant from Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Courage, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and National Union of Student in the Philippines (NUSP) attended the plenary and patiently waited for eight hours until the voting.

In an interview with Bulatlat, KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos said the impeachment of Gutierrez is an initial victory for the people and also the farmers. Ramos is a witness to the $16 million Fertilizer Scam.

“We have long been clamoring for justice. Six years have passed since the filing of the complaint against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Jocelyn “Joc-Joc” Bolante for their involvement in the fertilizer scam and justice has not yet been achieved. We dedicate this victory to missing and killed farmers Nilo Arado and Ofelia Rodriguez.”

The People’s Struggle

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the struggle to impeach Gutierrez was waged not only inside the House of Representatives but was also waged by the people outside the halls of Congress.

In his explanation of vote, Colmenares said the voice of the people was heard and upheld by Congress. “The corruption that happened during Arroyo’s term was worth a billion pesos. And every peso used for corruption is a peso that was lost for the people’s social services, medicines, school and food,” Colmenares said. “The issue of corruption affects all of us. One vendor cannot say that she has nothing to do with Gutierrez’s impeachment. Because the truth is, the people are involved in the impeachment because it is the people’s money – the tax money that was used in the corruption cases that Gutierrez just ignored.”

In an interview, Ferdinand Gaite, national president of Courage, also said the support of the people is also important to the struggle to impeach Gutierrez. “It was proven even before that justice could only be achieved through the collective action of the people. The struggle inside the House of Representatives is only one form of struggle.”

Crucial to Prosecute Arroyo

Gaite said Gutierrez’s impeachment is important to achieve justice. He said the impeachment is crucial also to prosecute Arroyo and her cohorts. He said that none among the three cases that Bayan et al filed in the Ombudsman reached the Sandiganbayan for prosecution.

The Sandiganbayan is a special court tasked with hearing cases of graft and corrupt practices committed by public officials.

“Gutierrez is not acting on these cases, clearly to protect Arroyo and her cohorts. It became her role to protect Arroyo and not pursue her mandate as Ombudsman. And through that she became a hindrance to achieve justice,” Gaite said.

Colmenares also said Guttierez is a hindrance in Arroyo’s prosecution not only during the latter’s administration but up to now. “If she would be impeached it would be a big blow to Arroyo’s defense system because the Ombudsman is only one component of her defense system.”

Meanwhile, in a statement, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said they are one step closer to impeaching the Ombudsman and in holding Arroyo accountable. “We are ever more determined to see this through to its logical conclusion in the Senate. We look forward to facing off with Merci [Guttierez] in the Senate.” ??Reyes added that more details of Arroyo’s scams and the Ombudsman’s inaction would surface.

Capt. Joenel Pogoy, the Air Force captain who was detained for two years after he exposed thecorruption in the military, also attended the plenary session to show his support to the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez. In an interview with Bulatlat, Pogoy said the impeachment of Gutierrez will pave the way to exposing the corruption that happened in the previous government.

The Long Battle

Since the filing of the first impeachment complaint against Gutierrez last year, Ombudsman Gutierrez exhausted all legal remedies to stop it from progressing.

On Aug. 11, 2010, the impeachment complaints filed by Akbayan and Bayan et al were both referred to the House justice committee. Gutierrez then filed a motion for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus to the Supreme Court, which issued a status quo ante order to the House justice committee on Sept. 14, 2010.

“Gutierrez argued that there could be no two impeachment complaint filed against a public official. This argument was also used by Arroyo during her term when impeachment complaints were filed against her. This is a worn out excuse. But the filing of complaint is just one step in the impeachment process,” Gaite said.

But five months after the oral argument in the Supreme Court, on Feb. 15, the high court liftedthe status quo ante order and allowed the House justice committee to proceed with the impeachment, citing that there was no violation of due process.

On Feb. 22, in a vote of 21-5 the justice committee resumed with the impeachment hearings.

On Feb. 28, the committee decided that the two complaints were sufficient in substance to impeach Gutierrez for betrayal of public trust. Gutierrez then filed a motion for reconsideration before the Supreme Court but was later rejected saying that the ruling is final and executory.

On March 8, the justice committee found probable cause on the two impeachment complaints.

According to Tupas, the Ombudsman was given a chance to answer the allegations against her but she has chosen not to appear. Gutierrez said the subpoena given to her was aggressive and called the impeachment proceedings as farcical.

On March 15, the House Resolution 1087 was filed and on March 21, House Resolution was brought in the plenary for voting.

Now that the ball is in the Senate, Bayan said, the fight gets harder. “We will help the public prosecutors from the House of Representatives prepare the witnesses and evidences. In the Senate, we have more time to present evidences and witnesses, unlike in the committee hearings at the Lower House.”