Progressive groups have taken two tacks in their effort to remove Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez — the filing of an impeachment complaint and urging President Benigno Aquino II to remove Gutierrez — because, they said, Gutierrez is the biggest obstacle to the prosecution of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez plays a crucial role in the prosecution of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her cohorts. Gutierrez’s perceived loyalty to the Arroyos has prevented and would continue to prevent her from making the right judgment in the plunder cases that have and will be filed against Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in a statement.
Bayan is a respondent in the impeachment complaint filed before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Justice. Two impeachment complaints against Gutierrez have been filed in Congress, one by former Akbayan representative Risa Hontiveros, and another by Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes, Mother Mary John Mananzan, co-chairwoman of Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change, national president of Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) Ferdie Gaite, Atty. Edre U. Olalia, secretary general of National Union Peoples’ Lawyer (NUPL), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) secretary general Danilo Ramos and League of Filipino Student (LFS) chairman Terry Ridon, respectively.
“Ms. Gutierrez has held the position of the Ombudsman for five years, but until now she has not prosecuted nor was she able to hold accountable erring government officials involved in a number of high-profile cases of graft and corruption. Instead, she has allowed her office to be used as an instrument for covering up the impropriety of the previous administration,” Pagbabago said in an open letter addressed to the House of Representatives, asking the lawmakers to support the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez.
Pagbabago said Gutierrez, an appointee of Arroyo, has been ignoring cases involving Arroyo, her family and other high-ranking government officials such as those named in the impeachment complaint. The cases include the NBN-ZTE deal, the fertilizer fund scam, the Mega Pacific deal, the Hello Garci scandal, and the Euro Generals scandal, all of which have already been found anomalous either by the Senate or by the Supreme Court.
“There is a crime but there is no criminal– that seems to be the rule under Ombudsman Gutierrez,” the groups said in its complaint against Gutierrez.
For example, the groups said, the Supreme Court has already found irregularities in the Mega Pacific deal, but Ombudsman Gutierrez still found no criminals to prosecute. Irregularities were also unearthed in the congressional investigation of the NBN-ZTE deal, the Hello Garci scandal, the fertilizer scam, and the Euro Generals, but again, Ombudsman Gutierrez has not prosecuted anyone.
According to the impeachment complaint, despite the Supreme Court pointing to former Gen. Jovito Palparan as accountable for the extra-judicial killings and disappearances in the country, specifically in the case of Secretary of Defense vs. Manalo and Melo Commission, Gutierrez has also deemed it as still insufficient ground to prosecute Palparan.
While there are pending cases against the Ombudsman in the House Committee of Justice, President Benigno S. Aquino III has even extended the term of Gutierrez as Ombudsman. The Truth Commission led by former Chief Justice Hilario Davide also has yet to convene to investigate the corruption cases involving Arroyo.
“While Aquino’s allies have supported the impeachment process against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, we’re still a long way from prosecuting Arroyo,” Bayan’s Reyes said.
Gutierrez was appointed by Arroyo in 2005 as Prosecutor of the People at the office of the Ombudsman, to prosecute corrupt government officials. But since her appointment, according to Bayan and Pagbabago! People’s Movement for Change, the corruption cases filed against Arroyo have largely been ignored.
Gutierrez was a batch mate of former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo in Ateneo de Manila University College of Law. Reports said that prior to Gutierrez’s appointment as Ombudsman, she was appointed as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and chairwoman of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (PAGC) in December 2004.
Supreme Court Ruling A Step Backward
The House Committee on Justice has found the impeachment complaints sufficient in form and substance. But the Supreme Court has issued a status quo ante order suspending the impeachment proceedings in Congress. The Supreme Court has been deemed, at times, as an Arroyo court because most of the justices were appointed during former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s term.
“The Supreme Court’s move to suspend the impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Gutierrez is a step backward in terms of holding erring government officials accountable,” said Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) Representative Luz Ilagan.
“It is also premature for the Ombudsman to already seek relief with the Supreme Court considering that the committee has only just concluded the stage of determining the form and substance of the complaints, and has yet to start determining the grounds for impeachment,” Reyes said
Invoking Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, Gutierrez filed a petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus citing grave abuse of discretion for lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of the House of Representatives. Gutierrez has reportedly explained that she has no other plain, speedy and other remedy aside from raising her case to the high court.
In Gutierrez’s defense, retired Justice Serafin Cuevas, her counsel, also said there can be no two impeachment complaints filed against a public official in one year because that is in violation of the Constitution. But Reyes countered that having two or more impeachment complaints in one impeachment proceeding does not violate any law.
“The often-abused notion that there can only be one complaint per year is a narrow and erroneous interpretation of the law that places complainants at a disadvantage.” Reyes said.
The House Committee on Justice said it would continue with the proceedings of the impeachment complaints, as it criticized the status quo ante order issued by the Supreme Court as “undue interference in and a clear infringement on the constitutional mandate of the House Committee on Justice, considering that the proceedings are in an early stage and are still internal matters of the Committee.”
Another Litmus Test for Aquino
In a joint statement, progressive groups said, “Ombudsman Gutierrez’s removal from office remains the litmus test of Pres. Aquino’s promise to hold former president Arroyo and her cohorts accountable for their crimes. Only with a credible and competent Ombudsman can his administration expect to curb corruption.”
The complaints filed by various people’s organizations and non-government organizations clearly show that the Ombudsman has betrayed the public trust and culpably violated the Constitution in her failure to act promptly and to effectively investigate and prosecute those involved in the fertilizer fund scam, the Comelec-Mega Pacific automation contract, the Euro generals incident and the NBN-ZTE deal, the progressive bloc in Congress said.
The group urged President Aquino to stand firm on his publicly declared intention of removing the current Ombudsman from office. Their statement said: “It bothers us that the President seems to have backtracked on his earlier critical position vis-à-vis the Ombudsman. The President should show everyone that he is serious in taking the straight path and in removing one of its biggest obstacles.” (Bulatlat.com)