Going through the Impeachment Maze

Pro-Arroyo allies seem to be putting obstacles to the impeachment against the incumbent president which is expected to be filed in the House on July 25. But opposition congressmen and lawyers involved in the impeachment move are not about to give way to the dilatory tactics.

BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Bulatlat.com

On July 25, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will be the first president of the Philippines who will deliver a State of the Nation Address (Sona) with an impeachment complaint on her doorstep.

Lawyer Oliver Lozano filed the complaint last June 27, the day the President made a public apology for “talking to a Comelec official” given her anxiousness to protect her votes and what she described as a “lapse in judgment.”

Rep. Rodante Marcoleta of the Alagad party-list group which is identified with the Iglesia ni Kristo (INK, Church of Christ) endorsed the complaint. The INK supported Macapagal-Arroyo in the May 2004 elections and Alagad’s association with INK spewed speculations that the party-list representative is an administration ally.

The opposition bloc in the House accused Marcoleta of being used by the administration to abort the impeachment proceedings. Marcoleta has denied this in a previous interview.

Human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares, a member of the impeachment prosecution team, explained that the original complaint was weak and had a big probability to be junked by the House Committee on Justice. If this happened, it would delay the impeachment proceedings for a year because the rules provide that no public official shall be filed an impeachment complaint in the same year.

Meanwhile, for the last two weeks, House opposition representatives spearheading the President’s impeachment have accused Malacañang (the presidential palace) of bribing their colleagues in exchange for junking the complaint. House insiders confirmed that the President herself has been making calls to the members of the House to sign the manifesto of support for her.

In fact, House sources said the Palace has become too desperate that it had called Rep. Ronaldo Zamora to trash the complaint in exchange for large sums of money and funds for his projects. Zamora is the head of the impeachment prosecution team.

According to Colmenares, the House needs 78 members (or one-third of the total membership of 236) to sign or endorse the complaint to hasten the proceedings by giving the Articles of Impeachment directly to the Senate. The latter, in turn, would act as a jury. The opposition said that it has more than 50 signatories as of press time.

Hitches

Last July 20, rumors were rife that Marcoleta withdrew his endorsement prompting opposition House members to confirm their previous allegations about him. This prompted opposition Rep. Rolex Suplico to also endorse the impeachment complaint. If no one else endorsed it and Marcoleta’s withdrawal proved to be true, the House would be forced to consider the complaint as “dead.”

Meanwhile, the impeachment prosecution team has been meeting every day to complete the amendments to the Lozano complaint which they plan to file on July 25, the day of the President’s SONA.

In an interview, Marcoleta said he felt offended by the opposition’s move to amend the complaint without consulting or at least informing him about it. On the first part of the interview, he said he had no plans of withdrawing his endorsement but said that he would not endorse the amended version.

He also wonders if amending the complaint is allowed by the House rules on impeachment. The 13th Congress has yet to adopt the new set of rules on impeachment. In such a case, the rules of the previous Congress apply.

The rules which were used during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada do not mention anything on amendments. Further, the Supreme Court has declared this as illegal.

In this case, Colmenares said the ruling of the Supreme Court would have suppletory effect over the impeachment proceedings. This means that amendment to the complaint is allowable as long as a copy of which has not reached the accused, in this case, Macapagal-Arroyo.

In a brisk turn of events, the accused may have put one over the complainants. In the afternoon of July 21, the President filed her reply to the original Lozano complaint that could mean no amendments would be entertained without permission from the House Committee on Justice which is perceived to be dominated by representatives allied with the administration.

And to make things worse, this could only happen when the 13th Congress opens its second regular session on July 25.

But the impeachment team is not about to give up, Colmenares said. Describing it as only a “tactic” by the administration to delay the impeachment proceedings, he said they will not let the administration dictate upon them and will push through with the filing of the amended complaint on Monday, a few hours before the President delivers her SONA. Bulatlat

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