The dilatory tactics in the impeachment proceedings orchestrated by allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are quickly catching up on her. Unwittingly, these are only exposing the President’s intent to obstruct justice and, hence, may just expedite her ouster from Malacañang.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Last week’s early suspension of the House Committee on Justice (CoJ) hearing on the impeachment complaint lodged against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) tends to give credence, so observers said, to allegations by both opposition and militant groups that the President’s House allies are out to delay the impeachment process.
To the disappointment of the jam-packed crowd at the House’s Andaya Hall who attended the first impeachment hearing against Arroyo Aug. 10, committee chair Rep. Simeon Datumanong (2nd District, Maguindanao) suspended the hearing after 30 minutes of petty squabbles on seating arrangements, availability of microphones, and the question on who has the right to participate in the hearings. But most of all, everyone thought it was a rather small venue for a big spectacle.
Datumanong is a member of the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, the biggest party affiliation in the House led by Speaker Jose de Venecia (4th District, Pangasinan) who, in turn, is a staunch ally and defender of the President.
Motion to dismiss
On the same day, Pedro Ferrer, an unknown lawyer from Far South Mindanao, filed a motion to strike the seven supplemental complaints of original complainant lawyer Oliver Lozano, the Lopez complaint and the amended Lozano complaint. The last one was filed on July 25 and endorsed by 41 congressmen, hours before the Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address.
Ferrer, who is the President’s defense counsel to the impeachment case, said in a press conference that the amended complaint should be considered second complaint because it introduces substantial amendments to the original.
If this is so, the Arroyo lawyer said, it violates the Constitutional rule that bars more than one impeachment complaint against the same government official for one year.
However, in a separate press conference Aug. 11, Bayan Muna general counsel Neri Colmenares said Ferrer’s ground to strike – or dismiss – the amended complaint is “legally untenable.”
Colmenares, who is also a member of the impeachment prosecution team, said the amended complaint is not a “second complaint.” A complainant, he said, can amend his or her complaint before it is filed or, in impeachment proceedings, when it is deemed initiated. “That is a matter of right,” he said.
The impeachment rules adopted by the 13th Congress say that a complaint is deemed initiated when it has been referred to the CoJ. In the case of the impeachment complaint against Arroyo, it was deemed initiated when de Venecia referred it to the CoJ on July 25. The Speaker referred all three complaints plus the president’s answer to the first one.
However, Colmenares said that when the complaint has been initiated, the complainant has to ask for a leave of court or permission from the CoJ to amend his complaint. “But in this case, the amended complaint was actually timely because it was filed before it was referred to the CoJ,” he said.
Who’s afraid of the amendments?
On the other hand, the rules also say that an amendment should have a leave of court when an answer to the complaint has been filed by the accused.
The President and her counsel have been accused of jumping the gun on the House opposition when it answered the original Lozano complaint even before the complaint could be initiated.
Ferrer told reporters the President asked him to draft the answer to the complaint between July 9 and 12. It was finally filed on July 19 at the Secretary General’s office of the House.
“Any party accused of any crime or any offense has the right to defend himself or herself,” he said. “We are not preempting, we are just following the rule of law (referring to the one-year ban on filing an impeachment complaint against the same government official).”
On the other hand, Colmenares said the answer filed by Ferrer on behalf of the President was a “mere scrap of paper” and is “not valid under the rules.”
An answer could only be filed, he said, after 1) the CoJ has deemed it sufficient in form and substance, and 2) when the CoJ orders the accused to do so. “Therefore, the answer was premature,” he said.
In relation to this, human rights activist Marie Hilao-Enriquez, one of the complainants to the impeachment case, said that the reason for Arroyo’s motion to dismiss the amended complaint was that the President is afraid to face the human rights violations charged against her.
Hilao-Enriquez went to the Aug. 10 hearing together with the other complainants from people’s organizations. She is the secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights).
The first complaint by Lozano only tackled the violation of public trust in relation to the President’s apology and admission that she talked to an election officer during the canvassing of votes after the May 2004 national elections.
The amended complaint held three grounds for the President’s impeachment including culpable violation of the Constitution; bribery and graft and corruption; and betrayal of public trust. The charges include receiving of payoffs from jueteng (illegal numbers game), electioneering and the killing of political dissenters.
The CoJ has yet to determine what complaint it will tackle in its hearings. Colmenares however said most of the prosecution lawyers would resign if the committee decides to hear the original Lozano complaint.
However, the best resort to speed up the impeachment proceedings is for the list of congressmen endorsers to reach the magic number of 79 or 1/3 of the 236-member House. At the filing of the amended complaint, only 41endorsers were listed. The complaint needs 38 more signatures for the Articles of Impeachment to be immediately transmitted to the Senate which, in turn, would act as jury.
The impeachment rules adopted by the 13th Congress allow what the opposition calls a “creeping impeachment.” This means that when 79 signatures have been gathered, the CoJ hearings would stop and the plenary shall vote on roll call. This is the only constitutional provision that allows the minority to rule over the majority.
Since the Plenary always supersede the committee decisions, the Speaker should then transmit the complaint to the Senate.
The CoJ has 60 session days to determine if the complaint is sufficient in form, substance and probable cause. But even if the CoJ can determine so but the endorsement signatures do not reach the magic number of 79, the complaint will be dead on the water, Colmenares said. One year is allowed until another complaint against the President can be filed.