By SATUR C. OCAMPO
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star
Finally the congressional move to oust Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez (for the second time since 2009) has regained momentum. After five months of suspension due to a Supreme Court status quo ante or “freeze” order, the House committee on justice will resume the impeachment proceedings against her.
And it will be done marathon style. The committee, headed by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., has set successive hearings on March 1, 2, 3 and 8, 9, 10.
By a 21-5 vote, the committee decided last Tuesday not to await the SC’s final decision on Gutierrez’s yet-to-be-filed appeal to the tribunal’s February 15 ruling, dismissing her petition to declare the House proceedings unconstitutional. (Gutierrez says she has until March 5 to file the appeal.) The majority agreed with Court Administrator and SC spokesperson Midas Marquez that the SC ruling effectively lifted the order to freeze. And, unless the tribunal issues the same order after receiving Gutierrez’s appeal, nothing bars the committee from carrying out its constitutional duty.
I’m sure you’ll agree that this is an appropriate move, considering the popular outrage over the Ombudsman’s inept handling of the nonbailable P303-million plunder case against former AFP comptroller Gen. Carlos Garcia, particularly her approval of Garcia’s plea bargain for lesser offenses that led to his being released on bail while keeping the plundered money.
Also, recall the utter public disappointment when the previous justice committee and the 14th Congress plenary threw out the first impeachment complaint against Gutierrez, filed by former Senate President Jovito Salonga and 30 others in 2009.
The overwhelming majority then, held in thrall by Gloria Arroyo who appointed Gutierrez, maneuvered to frustrate the impeachment as they had done to the minority’s four attempts to impeach Arroyo herself from 2005 to 2008.
The complaints against Gutierrez in 2009 were essentially similar to those filed separately by Akbayan and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan). The specific charges fall mainly under two categories of impeachable offenses: culpable violation of the Constitution, and betrayal of public trust. The other impeachable offenses are treason, bribery, graft and corruption, and other high crimes.
Basically, Gutierrez is accused of failing to perform her constitutional duty as defined in Article XI, Section 12: “The Ombudsman and his Deputies, as protectors of the people, shall act promptly on complaints filed in any form or manner against public officials or employees of the Government… and shall, in appropriate cases, notify the complainants of the action taken and the result thereof.”
Among the specific cases cited in the charges are:
1) The P1.3-billion Mega Pacific case, in which the Commission on Elections, under Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr., purchased automatic-computing machines from Mega Pacific in 2003. In 2004 the Supreme Court voided the deal for violating the law and jurisprudence. Ombudsman Gutierrez failed to act on the case. Worse, after the SC had directed her to act, on pain of contempt, she rendered a report that found no one accountable.
Thus, ridiculously, this case comes across as one in which a crime is established, but no criminal identified to have committed it.
2) The P728-million fertilizer fund scam, in which funds allotted for fertilizer were distributed before the 2004 elections by the agriculture department among congressmen and local government officials, including those representing districts without agricultural lands. The scam was investigated by the Senate and House, wherein Agriculture Undersecretary Joc-joc Bolante figured prominently.
Complainants claim the Ombudsman failed to act on the cases and pleadings they had filed on the issue.
3) The “Euro generals” case, in which Police Gen. Eliseo de la Paz brought 105,000 euros in cash (converted from P7-million PNP funds) to Russia, as “baon” for eight police officers attending an international conference there in 2008. The money was confiscated by Russian customs officials for being illegally brought into that country. De la Paz publicly admitted having illegally withdrawn the money, but after committing to replace it, the PNP withdrew the charge against him.
In this open-and-shut case, the Ombudsman acted to investigate only in 2010.
The party-list representatives of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, and Gabriela Women’s Party, who endorsed the Bayan complaint and all the previous complaints against Arroyo and Gutierrez, plan to ask the justice committee to allow certain complainants to speak during the hearings next week. After receiving or hearing Gutierrez’s reply to the charges and the complainants’ rebuttals, the committee will determine if there is probable cause to impeach her.
Under the Arroyo regime, the committee did not allow complainants to speak. In 2009, however, in deference to the elderly statesman Salonga, the chair acceded to his request to address the committee.
With the new administration’s avowed war against corruption and its majority control of the House, the militant party-list representatives hope the impeachment game will be played fairly this time. Nonetheless, they don’t rule out delaying tactics by the Ombudsman and her backers in the House.
Still to be watched is if the Supreme Court would reverse its 7-5 ruling, and favor Gutierrez. Further on, granting the House would endorse the impeachment case to the Senate, could the latter decide to oust her? — Reposted by