Arroyo’s House allies bury impeach rap

By Leila Salaverria, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:18:00 12/03/2008

MANILA, Philippines—Allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo saved her anew from an attempt by opposition forces to impeach her, finally sealing the fate of the complaint with an overwhelming vote at the House of Representatives early Wednesday which the minority described as a funeral done with “indecent haste.”

Through nominal voting that started at 9 p.m. Tuesday, 183 were in favor, 21 against, and three abstained from voting on the report of the justice committee that last week dismissed for lack of substance the fourth impeachment complaint against Arroyo.

The lawmakers argued not only on the causes of action filed against the President by a group led by businessman Jose de Venecia III, namesake son of the ousted House Speaker, but also on what was excluded—a deal on an expanded Bangsamoro homeland.

The committee had rejected a last-minute intervention by a group of bloggers to include as a ground for impeachment the memorandum of agreement (MOA) on ancestral domain with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) calling for the establishment of a Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE) to govern an expanded Moro territory.

Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora cast the vote for the minority who decided to no longer speak on the floor to explain their vote.

“Is this the way to treat a serious impeachment complaint?” he said.

In dismissing the complaint, Bukidnon Rep. Teofisto Guingona III said the administration lawmakers have caused “damage on the faith of the Filipino people and political and government institutions.”

“So what, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo does not care as long as she remains n power through whatever means, even through the barrel of a gun,” Guingona said.

Former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., one of the seven endorsers of the complaint, was not present during the voting.

Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino said the Constitution has made it easy for the pro-impeachment advocates to send the complaint to the Senate for trial with just one-third vote of the House membership.

Eleven members of the opposition bloc left the session hall after registering their “no” vote.

Zamora and South Cotabato Representative Darlene Antonino-Custodio said they saw no reason to still explain their vote.

“It is the administration allies who should explain to the people their vote, why they are killing the impeachment,” Custodio said. “The people know our stand.”

But the endorsers of the complaint, mostly party-list lawmakers, remained in the hall to defend their position against junking the complaint.

Leaving the hall with Zamora and Custodio were Representatives Rufus Rodriguez, Roilo Golez, Joel Villanueva, Cinchona Gonzales, Justin Marc Chipeco, Mujiv Hataman, Mar-len Abigail Binay, Maria Laarni Cayetano, and Benjamin Asilo.

Earlier, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Satur Ocampo, interpellating Quezon City Representative Matias Defensor, protested the impeachment complaint’s dismissal.

Ocampo said the charge of human rights violations could not be labeled an old issue because there have been new cases added in this year’s complaint that were not in previous cases.

Makati Representative Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. said the Memorandum on Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front should have been included in the charges against the President.

Loscin said the MOA-AD could have easily been the “one viable” charge that could send the President into trial.

Locsin said that “the firm exclusion as an article of impeachment of the MOA carving the BJE from the body of our sovereign nation in violation of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, makes everyone who subscribes to this impeachment an accessory to high treason.”

“The BJE would be an independent, anti-Christian, Islamic, fundamentalist, antidemocratic, misogynist but pro-American sultanate,” Locsin said.

“That is a pity because even if this train contains the corpses of an unviable complaint, it will still look like a victim of assassination given a funeral with indecent haste.”

The group of bloggers, led by Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist and television host Manuel Quezon III, had filed the motion for intervention to include the MOA-AD in the dismissed complaint.

Accept defeat

In his opening statement as chair of the justice committee, Defensor presented his panel’s report at the start of plenary debate at 5:30 p.m. and asked his colleagues to accept the decision of the House “without rancor or misgivings” if they fail to get the numbers in the chamber.

Defensor said the Constitution has been “liberal” in requiring only a one-third vote of the total membership of Congress to impeach the President.

“It is but right, therefore, that if the one-third vote of all members of the House is not garnered despite this liberal Constitutional concession, those for impeachment must accept the result without rancor or misgivings,” Defensor said in his sponsorship speech of the justice committee report 1551 dismissing the complaint for lack of substance.

“Impeachment, as many would say, is a question of numbers. True. Nonetheless, a more relevant question is ‘how do you achieve the numbers?’ To say that personal and partisan considerations are the bases to achieve the numbers is to simplify the issue beyond recognition.”

Defensor said the complaint failed to prove the grounds of impeachment that would merit a trial for the President. He said the committee has been transparent in determining the sufficiency in form and substance of the complaint.

“Culpable violation of the Constitution as a ground to impeach a President contemplates a wrongful intention or willful disregard of, or scornful remarks against the fundamental law. It must be deliberate and motivated by bad faith. A mere mistake in the proper construction or application is not tantamount to a culpable violation of the Constitution,” Defensor said.

“Other grounds such as bribery, graft and corruption, and other high crimes or betrayal of public trust must be at the level of treason and culpable violation of the Constitution and go beyond the ambit of ordinary crimes,” he said.

Defensor dismissed as evidence a photograph presented during the committee hearing last week by De Venecia. It showed the former Speaker with the First Couple and ZTE officials in the Chinese firm’s headquarters which secured the scuttled $329-million contract to set up National Broadband Network (NBN) to link digitally the country’s bureaucracy.

“The President went to Shenzhen, China, played golf and had lunch with Shenzhen executives. No culpable overt or personal acts were alleged with only a picture to show. It is not a criminal pose or a mug shot and does not portray a criminal act,” Defensor said.

De Venecia cleared the President

Defensor said that in effect De Venecia cleared the President when he said that only former Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos spoke during the meeting with ZTE executives.

Committee report 1551 was submitted earlier on Tuesday by the justice committee.

The justice committee earlier voted 42-8 to dismiss the complaint as “grossly insufficient” in substance. This could have been reversed had the pro-impeachment lawmakers gathered one-third vote or at least 80 members of the House.

Laguna Rep. Maria Evita Arago, who voted to dismiss the complaint, said the President should be allowed to finish her term with just 17 months to go.

Ms Arroyo was in Hong Kong attending the annual Clinton Global Initiative, a two-day conference on education, climate change and energy. She is to return Wednesday.

President firmly in saddle

Secretary Cerge Remonde, Presidential Management Staff chief, conceded that the dismissal would augur well for the country’s political stability and economy.

“It will show the world that democracy and democratic processes are working in the Philippines. And that the administration is firmly on the saddle, and therefore we can continue the important business of governance,” he said.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño warned that the decision to dismiss the complaint bode ill for future attempts to hold the President accountable for her actions.

He said the committee’s ruling that the issues could not be tackled because they were already ruled upon in previous impeachment cases was dangerous.

“The problem here is you will forever insulate the PGMA from the charges. Now, even if the complaint is meaty, you will just say [the charges] were already dismissed last year,” Casiño said.

“Doesn’t this interpretation of the rules set a bad precedent?” he added.

Enough is enough

Shortly before the plenary, Bacolod Rep. Monico Puentevella accused De Venecia of being behind the government’s projects with China, including the Northrail project and the NBN-ZTE deal.

“Enough is enough. To many Filipinos, PGMA may not be the best President ever but to blame her for everything is just something I cannot swallow anymore, especially when her trust was exploited by the highest official of this House for seven long years,” Puentevella said.

He said it was De Venecia who should be charged because he helped his son try to acquire the NBN deal. The former Speaker had alleged that Ms Arroyo decided to make the NBN project a government-to-government undertaking after a golf game with officials of China’s ZTE.

As for De Venecia’s allegations that he was bribed P500,000 to kill the sham impeachment complaint last year, Puentevella said it was the former Speaker who masterminded it. He also taunted De Venecia for failing to return the money in a year.

Wrong culprit

“Do not throw stones if you live in a glass house. And to all my friends in the minority, well done for your effort but you chose the wrong culprit and the wrong witness,” Puentevella said.

Saying the integrity of the House is at stake, Gabriela party-list Representatives Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan Tuesday filed a resolution calling for an investigation into alleged bribes given in 2007 and 2008 to kill the impeachment attempts.

Maza pointed out that De Venecia, erstwhile ally of Ms Arroyo, had alleged that Malacañang spent about P100 million to kill the 2007 “sham” complaint to afford her a year of political immunity.

Ilagan said her colleagues could take this investigation as the chance to speak up.

Ilagan and Maza also said the alleged bribery of lawmakers to junk the 2008 complaint, as reported in another newspaper, should be looked into as well.

Earlier, running priest Fr. Robert Reyes visited the House of Representatives to pray that the lawmakers see the truth in the impeachment case against the President and to not fool the people.

“What the people need is not a Congress of numbers but a Congress of truth,” Reyes said in his prayer in Filipino.

The complaint was filed on October 13 by De Venecia’s businessman son and namesake, Joey de Venecia III, Iloilo Vice Governor Rolex Suplico; Leah Navarro of the Black and White Movement; the mother of three victims of enforced disappearance, and human rights victims.

The complainants raised the national broadband network agreement with China’s ZTE Corp., human rights violations, the Northrail project, the Mt. Diwalwal project, fertilizer fund scam, alleged bribery of members of the House, the swine scam under the Rural Credit Guarantee Corporation, and electoral fraud in the 2004 election as among the impeachable offenses committed by Ms Arroyo.

The committee earlier junked two other complaints filed by lawyers Oliver Lozano and Guillermo Sotto, and the motion for intervention filed by a group of bloggers to include the MOA-AD. With a report from TJ Burgonio

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