House votes, 212-46, to impeach Gutierrez*
By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Cynthia Balana
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—After a marathon debate, the House of Representatives early Tuesday impeached Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, clearing the way for her trial by the Senate for betrayal of public trust.
By a vote of 212-46, the chamber sealed the impeachment case against Gutierrez after nearly eight hours of debate ending at past midnight. Four lawmakers abstained.
Ninety-five votes, or one-third of the House members, were required to impeach Gutierrez for betrayal of public trust.
Earlier, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., chair of the committee on justice, expressed confidence that the ruling coalition in the House would be able to get the required votes to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial.
Tupas and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III declared hours before the session that 80 members of the ruling Liberal Party in the House had confirmed their attendance and vote.
Days before the voting, Tupas said a high-ranking INC official had been calling House members to kill the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez.
Intervening motions after the roll call was raised, delaying for 50 minutes the reading of the committee report and the articles of impeachment by Tupas.
Tupas said the interpellation could last two to three hours after the speeches, to be followed by nominal voting.
Text on pork
Minority Leader Edcel Lagman manifested his displeasure over a text message that circulated over the weekend purportedly from Cavite Rep. Emilio Abaya, chair of the committee on appropriations, warning lawmakers that they would get “zero” pork barrel if they vote “no” or abstain from voting.
Abaya denied having sent the message, but Lagman said a denial was “expected but not sufficient.”
He then moved to have the incident investigated by the committee of the whole but this was turned down by Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II, saying only the majority leader can make such a move.
On Lagman’s insistence, Gonzales agreed to refer the matter to the committee on rules for investigation.
Copies of report
Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino stood up to ask if the committee report and the articles of impeachment had been disseminated to all members because he did not get them.
Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said she, too, could not find her copies of the documents.
Gonzales said copies of the documents were placed on the table of each lawmaker during the session last Wednesday.
At 5:50 p.m., Tupas was finally recognized to deliver the sponsorship speech.
Tupas presented the committee report finding the existence of probable cause against Gutierrez and proceeded to read the seven-page House Resolution No. 1089 containing the six articles of impeachment.
Tupas said the committee report showed the strong will of the people to impeach an official despite the difficulties and setbacks experienced by the committee in completing the process.
He was referring to the status quo ante order by the Supreme Court to temporarily halt the hearings on the complaints but which was subsequently lifted after nearly five months.
Purely a political process
Tupas went on to quote Joseph Story, a 19th century United States Supreme Court justice, who said that “an impeachment is purely a process political in nature.”
“It is not so much designed to punish an offender as to secure the state against gross political misdemeanor. It touches neither his person nor his property but simply divests him of his political capacity,” Tupas said, quoting Story.
As protector of the people, Tupas said Gutierrez violated her constitutional and statutory duties to act promptly on complaints against public officials or employees of the government and enforce their administrative, civil and criminal liability in every case where the evidence warrants.
He said Gutierrez betrayed the public trust by “inexcusably failing to act promptly on the complaints filed and to file the appropriate cases in court against high ranking government officials” in the six allegations contained in the articles of impeachment.
As a result, Gutierrez has “undermined the integrity of her office, has brought disrepute to the Office of the Ombudsman, and has acted in a manner contrary to the Constitution, law and justice, to the prejudice and manifest injury of the Filipino people rendering her unfit to continue in office,” Tupas said.
Such conduct, Tupas said, warranted her conviction for betrayal of the public trust, removal from office and disqualification to hold any public office.
Former President Arroyo
Tupas’ speech was received with a big round of applause from the jampacked gallery of the session hall.
Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, now Pampanga representative, left immediately after Tupas started his sponsorship speech. Her sons—Ang Galing party-list Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo and Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado Macapagal Arroyo—and brother-in-law, Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, stayed.
Deputy Speaker Raul Daza, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said the people had rallied behind Benigno Aquino III’s campaign slogan, “Kung Walang Corrupt, Walang Mahirap” when they cast 15,208,670 votes to elect him to the presidency in May last year.
He said such a strong expression of the people’s will for an honest, free and good government was reflected in the articles of impeachment which he said should be approved by reform-minded people who wanted to follow the straight path.
“The House is not the proper forum to try the Ombudsman as it belongs to the Senate. Ours is only to find probable case,” Daza said.
He said that probable cause warranted not just strong suspicion but evidence enough to require the respondent to stand trial.
Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas also delivered a sponsorship speech.
Vote for reform
Tupas earlier said a vote for Gutierrez’s impeachment was a vote for reform.
“It means it’s not business as usual. A no vote or being absent would mean the same thing which is business as usual, unless of course there’s a justification for being absent,” Tupas told the Inquirer in an interview.
Tupas said the House members voting on whether Gutierrez should be impeached would be making history by expressing the voice of the people.
He said it was the first time in the history of Congress since 1935 that the impeachment process had been completed in the House—votes on form, substance, grounds, probable cause and, finally, plenary voting recommending an impeachment.
“No shortcuts were taken and every procedure was observed,” Tupas said.