Justice panel finds complaints vs ombudsman sufficient in grounds for impeachment

AFTER four hours of sometimes heated exchanges, the House Committee on Justice today voted that the two impeachment complaints against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez have “sufficiency in grounds for impeachment.”

The 55-member Committee, chaired by Rep. Niel C. Tupas, Jr., voted 41-12 and 42-12 to declare the first and second complaint, respectively, paving the way for the presentation of evidences by the complainants/endorsers and, subsequently, allowing the questioning and cross examination of witnesses by members of the panel tomorrow, March 2nd, to be held at the Belmonte Hall, SW Annex building, Batasan complex.

Chairman Tupas said he had been strictly following “due process” by giving the respondent Ombudsman all the opportunities to rebut and present her side on the issues raised by the separate complainants.

“If ever she decides to avail of her constitutional rights to present her side, Ombudsman Gutierrez has until Thursday, even the whole day, for her defense.  We are giving her all the opportunity to present her side,” Tupas stressed after the hearing adjourned past lunch time Tuesday.

The two separate complaints for impeachment against Gutierrez were filed on July 22, 2010 by former Rep. Riza Hontiveros-Baraquel, Mr. Danilo Lim. Mr. Felipe Pestano and Ms. Evelyn Pestano, and on August 3, 2010 by Mr. Renato Reyes, Mo. Mary John Mananzan, Danilo Ramos and Atty. Edre Olalia.  Both were endorsed by several members of the House through House Resolutions of Endorsement as required by the Constitution.

The open public hearing, broadcast live on national television, heard an impassioned appeal by Justice committee vice chairman and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, for the Supreme Court not to infringe on the “sole jurisdiction” of Congress specifically the House of Representatives, over the impeachment process as mandated by the Constitution.

“Impeachment is the sole prerogative of Congress.  The people’s mandate should always reign supreme,” Fariñas said, who also urged the Ombudsman to present herself and face the impeachment proceedings.

“Pumunta na kayo rito.  Maniwala ka,” urged Fariñas, assuring the Ombudsman of a fair public hearing on her case.

Before the actual debate on the determination of sufficiency in the grounds for impeachment, chairman Tupas read a letter sent to the committee by Ombudsman Gutierrez detailing her reasons and legal impediment that prevented her from attending the public hearing.

Because of her failure to attend the hearing, the committee voted to enter (in the Ombudsman’s behalf) a plea of general denial on all accusations stated in the two complaints against her. Then, the committee proceeded with its public hearing that resulted to the vote to declare the complaints to be sufficient in grounds for impeachment.

The committee on Justice is composed of 55 regular members and 23 ex-oficio members who can also vote especially on crucial issues like an impeachment case.

The lawmakers who opposed proceeding with the impeachment process argued that it was but proper for the House to suspend its deliberations until after a final decision of the Supreme Court on the latest motion for reconsideration filed by Gutierrez is issued by the Tribunal.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III, throughout the grueling panel session, was consistent that Congress remains faithful to its constitutional duty to hold public officials responsible and accountable for their actions.

“We will always observe due process.  The Ombudsman deserves to have her day,” Tañada stressed.

On the other hand, clarifying the accusation that the committee was being conducted in “haste” on the impeachment case, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said the case had been delayed for so long that “being hasty is the best thing to do for justice’s sake.”

While opposition lawmakers insisted on giving the Ombudsman all the opportunities to defend her side, lawmakers who voted for the impeachment process to resume answered back by asking: “Papano naman yung mga complainants, may karapatan din sila.!”

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