“It is sad and at the same time a cause for outrage that a venue for accountability such as the impeachment process is being shut close by Aquino’s allies. The people must continue to seek accountability elsewhere.” – Renato Reyes Jr., Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – The House Committee on Justice junked all three impeachment complaints against President Aquino on the basis of ‘insufficiency in substance.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, endorser of the first complaint, told the media after the hearing that it is “a sad day for accountability, a sad day for Filipinos.”
The first two impeachment complaints were in relation to the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a government spending mechanism which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The third impeachment complaint, on the other hand, was regarding the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a military pact between the Philippine government and the United States.
All three complaints, which lawmakers voted on separately, received 54-4 votes.
Representatives of the Makabayan bloc who endorsed the impeachment complaints were given 10 minutes each to present the grounds of their respective complaints. Members of the committee were then allowed to ask clarificatory questions.
Rep. Niel Tupas, chairman of the committee, said they would follow the articles laid down during the impeachment of former Ombudsman Merceditas Guttierez.
Colmenares reminded his fellow lawmakers that they should be voting on the substance and not the merits of the complaints.
He added that, “it is not for the members of the committee to lawyer for the president.”
Not based on SC decision
The Makabayan lawmakers repeatedly appealed before the members of the committee to dwell on the facts presented and not yet the culpability.
During the interpellation, several lawmakers said the first two impeachment complaints were “premature” due to a pending motion for reconsideration filed before the Supreme Court (SC) on its decision regarding the DAP.
The same was raised for the third complaint as the SC has yet to decide on the four petitions filed questioning the constitutionality of the EDCA.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said that during the impeachment of Guttierez, the committee did not wait for the pending SC decision on the case. But apart from the SC decision, he stressed that Congress has the right to determine if there is basis for the complaints.
Colmenares said the grounds for impeachment is not purely and absolutely based on the SC decision, but also on the public admission of Budget secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad and Senator Jinggoy Estrada.
“There is no perversity when the president implemented DAP,” argued Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez during the hearing.
“Is there no perversity, he claimed our power, after months of (budget) consultations, hearings, in the end, it is the president who will decide that we are all wrong. How can you not find perversity in the fact that the president turned the budget into a presidential pork barrel?” Colmenares responded.
Lawmakers endorsing the third complaint criticized what they said was too short a time that was dedicated to argue and debate on the substance of the complaint.
Members of the committee, according to Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, seemed to be rushing the deliberation of the third impeachment complaint.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi de Jesus described EDCA not just a “sell out but virtual give away” of the country’s sovereignty.
Colmenares said that under EDCA, the US may bring in nuclear weapons. He warned that one small accident may result to destruction and that he doubts if the government would be ready to respond when it could not even deal with typhoons.
Rodriguez said instead of reprimanding Aquino, he should be lauded for his effort to protect the country from China.
Zarate said even with the Mutual Defense Treaty at hand, the US did not help the country against China.
Colmenares maintained that not only did Aquino commit a culpable violation of the Constitution, he also betrayed public trust.
He added that Aquino committed 116 counts of malversion of public funds.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon, endorser of the second complaint, said Aquino was “acting like a dictator” when he declared a seeming “open war” with the SC during his televised speech on DAP
Ridon reiterated that Aquino “is not an innocent bystander” on the issue of DAP.
Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, for his part, stressed at least five times that 15 million Filipinos voted for Aquino to become president.
Aggabao added that not every violation of the Constitution could serve as ground for impeachment. He stressed on the word “culpable” and that he found it “minor” to impeach a president “who won by a popular vote.”
But Tinio responded that even Joseph Estrada, the president who garnered the highest votes in the polls, was ousted when he violated his oath of office. De Jesus noted that while he won by popular vote, his popularity rating has recently slid down.
Ridon added that one should exact accountability from public officials whether complaints are big or small.
There was a heated discussion between Colmenares and Rep. Ben Evardone after the latter accused the Bayan Muna lawmaker of receiving funding from DAP.
Colmenares replied that he did not receive a single centavo from DAP.
When he learned that the money being used in one of the projects he was supporting was from DAP, Colmenares said, he discontinued the project.
He retorted that no one called Evardone “balimbing” for shifting political alliance from Arroyo to Aquino because his fellow lawmakers trusted his choice.
“Mas malaki pa nga nakuha niya sayo, Mr. Chair,” Colmenares said addressing Tupas. (He got a bigger share than you, Mr. Chair.)
The Committee on Justice chairman struck down the fiery exchange between the two lawmakers from the minutes.
Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bayan and one of the complainants in the first impeachment complaint, said he found it untenable that the House Committee on Justice did not consider DAP as severe enough to merit impeachment.
“It is outrageous that they think that usurping the powers of Congress and letting one man decide on the use of billions of pesos is not an impeachable offense,” Reyes said.
He added that the public, instead, witnessed a contest called “who best defended the president?”
“It is sad and at the same time a cause for outrage that a venue for accountability such as the impeachment process is being shut close by Aquino’s allies,” Reyes said, “The people must continue to seek accountability elsewhere.”