While senators are preparing for their role as senator judges and the Lower House is in the process of completing its line up of prosecutors, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said the people’s participation is most crucial because the impeachment trial is not only a battle against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo but also against impunity and corruption.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A month or so before the Senate convenes for the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, senator judges and members of the prosecution team from Congress are now getting ready to try one of the highest and powerful government officials in the country.
The 23 senator judges, while on a six-week break, are now carefully studying laws and procedures pertaining to the impeachment process; some are even taking a crash course on the rules of court.
The articles of impeachment were already submitted to the Senate last March 23. The same rules on procedure contained in Resolution No. 432 was adopted by the Senate. Senate Resolution No. 432 was framed during the impeachment trial of deposed president Joseph Estrada. The presiding officer for the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Gutierrez will be Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.
When the Senate convenes on May 9 for the impeachment trial, the senators will take their oath as judges. The Senate will issue a writ of summons to Gutierrez and will give her 10 days to answer, beginning on May 9 The prosecutors, on the other hand, will be also given five days to answer Gutierrez’s response to the summons. If both parties used the whole period given to them, the impeachment trial could start on May 25.
There are six grounds that were cited in the articles of impeachment which are: failing to act promptly on the complaints filed and failing to file appropriate charges in court against high ranking government officials involved in the anomalous $16 million fertilizer scam; failing to file appropriate charges in court against Philippine National Police (PNP) comptroller P/Dir. Eliseo Dela Paz – dubbed as the Euro Generals, the PNP generals who were caught by Russian authorities carrying large sums of dollars – despite the latter’s admission under oath of a criminal offense and the findings of criminal liability by various government bodies; absolving from any criminal liability Commission on Elections (Comelec) officials and private individuals involved in the anomalous billion-peso contract for the automation of the 2004 elections known as the Mega-Pacific deal; for excluding former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the investigation of and absolving her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo from criminal prosecution in the NBN-ZTE broadband contract; failing to act promptly and absolving Philippine Navy officers and personnel implicated in the death of Navy Ensign Philip Andre Pestaño; and low conviction record manifesting a level of incompetence and inefficiency amounting to dereliction of duty.
All the three cases that were filed by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) et. al are the first three complaints to be taken up in the impeachment trial.
Two thirds or 16 votes by the senator judges are needed to convict Gutierrez. A guilty verdict in just one case could already result in the conclusion of the trial and the removal of Gutierrez.
The House of Representatives, meanwhile, is in the process of completing the 11-man prosecutor team. As of March 31, three more legislators are needed. The eight congressmen who have been voted as prosecutors are Justice Committee chair Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr., Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, Quezon Province Rep. Lorenzo Tañada, Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya, Valenzuela City Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo,Akbayan Party-list Rep. Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares and Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali.
According to Colmenares, it is crucial that the prosecutors as well as the private lawyers that will participate in the impeachment trial must not at all be connected to the Ombudsman or to former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “It is important that the members of the prosecution team should have credibility and track record,” Colmenares said in a telephone interview with Bulatlat.com. He saidthose who voted “No” to the impeachment during the March 21 plenary voting should never become part of the prosecution team.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Peoples Lawyer (NUPL) will serve as the private counsel of Bayan Muna et.al.Members of the NUPL were in charge of the Citizens’ Counsel for Truth and Accountability (CCTA), a people’s tribunal formed in 2005 that tried Arroyo’s sins. The CCTA was initiated by various groups as an alternative venue to search for the truth after the impeachment case against Arroyo was junked in the House of Representatives. Cases that were taken up during CCTA were the 2004 electoral fraud which includes the Hello Garci scandal, the fertilizer fund scam, the use of road user’s tax fund for electioneering purposes; political killings and other human rights violations; and graft and corruption.
“They are the lawyers who are most familiar with the cases. And they are also the same lawyers who have filed cases against Arroyo,” Colmenares said. The NUPL is also one of the signatories of the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez.
People’s Participation Crucial
”We need two thirds of votes by the senators while she only needs eight. That is why the people’s support is crucial here so we can attain justice and let the impeachment trial be taken seriously by government officials,” Colmenares pointed out.
Colmenares said, “It is the people’s voice that should influence the decision of the senator judges because this is a battle against impunity and corruption.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said that while there is enough evidence against Gutierrez, it would still depend on how the evidences would be presented in court and how it would be appreciated by the senator judges..
“The people’s participation is crucial here. First, because this is not only a judicial process, it is mainly a political process. That is why they are called senator judges, because they are judges weighing the evidences and at the same time, representatives of the people,” Casiño told Bulatlat.com.