2007 PEOPLE’S IMPEACH RAP REJECTED, MILITANTS GEAR FOR BATTLE ON TWO FRONTS -- THE SC AND THE PARLIAMENT OF THE STREETS
This is the second year a People’s Impeachment Complaint was filed against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Although the first impeachment complaint against President Arroyo was filed in 2005, the first filed by individuals and organizations identified with the “parliament of the streets” was submitted last year. But the two People’s Impeachment Complaints suffered a similar fate: junked by the president’s men.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Vol. VII, No. 41, November 18-24, 2007
The People’s Impeachment Complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, filed Nov. 12 by former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr. and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), was returned by House Deputy Secretary-General Artemio Adaza to the complainants just two days after it was filed. It did not even reach the House Committee on Justice.
In returning it to the complainants, Adaza, citing the constitutional ban on the initiation of more than one impeachment complaint against the same official within the same year, said that the impeachment complaint filed by lawyer Roel Pulido was already deliberated on by the House Committee on Justice..
Art. XI, Sec. 3 (5) provides that: “No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.”
The Pulido complaint
Pulido had filed on Oct. 5 an impeachment complaint against Arroyo, citing her for betrayal of public trust in relation to the controversial National Broadband Network (NBN) deal.
The NBN project is a $329-million contract that aims to connect government agencies throughout the Philippines through the Internet.
The deal was signed in Boao, China on April 21 –- when the government was not allowed to sign contracts because of the then-upcoming senatorial and local elections. It has become controversial for allegedly being overpriced and for supposedly having been signed without going through the proper bidding process.
Jose de Venecia III, son of House Speaker Jose de Venecia and co-founder of Amsterdam Holdings, Inc. which is one of the losing bidders in the NBN deal, accused former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Benjamin Abalos of offering him $10 million in exchange for backing out of the NBN deal –- an accusation the former Comelec chief has denied.
In a privilege speech on Aug. 29, Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla said it was Abalos who brokered the deal between the Philippine government and ZTE Corp. Padilla also said Abalos was seen playing golf with ZTE officials in Manila and Shenzen. He also accused Abalos of receiving money and women in exchange for brokering the NBN deal.
In his three-page complaint, of which Bulatlat received a copy courtesy of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Crispin Beltran’s office, Pulido said:
“During her incumbency as President of the Republic, the Secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications, Sec. Leandro Mendoza, on April 21, 2007 entered into an agreement with the ZTE for the latter to provide equipments, construct and install the same for the National Broadband Network Project under terms and conditions apparently disadvantageous to the Filipino people.
“It appears that entering into such contract was actually dictated by the illegal and corrupt machinations undertaken by high government officials, including but not limited to Chairman Benjamin Abalos of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. and the Speaker’s son, Jose de Venecia III. In fact, in an affidavit executed by Jose de Venecia III, he admits that a breakfast meeting was organized by House Speaker Jose de Venecia to allow the two proponents of the National Broadband Network Project, ZTE and AHI, to consolidate their proposals and corner the broadband project...
“That these corrupt and illegal negotiations were being undertaken was not unknown to the Respondent. In fact, in his testimony before the Senate, Jose de Venecia III claimed under oath that his father, House Speaker Jose de Venecia told him that the Respondent President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr., and Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos discussed the respective proposals of AHI and ZTE during a golf game in China.
“Worse, Sec. Romulo Neri, in his Sept. 26, 2007 testimony before the Senate, admitted under oath that he was offered a P200-million bribe by Comelec Chairman Abalos, and that he reported the matter to the Respondent President. Despite being told of the bribe offer, the Respondent did nothing.”
On Nov. 5, lawyer and United Opposition (UNO) spokesman Adel Tamano filed a supplement to the Pulido complaint. It was tossed out on Nov. 13 by the House Committee on Justice –- which found the original Pulido complaint sufficient in form. The committee’s decision provoked a walkout by minority members, led by Deputy House Minority Leader and Parañanque City Rep. Roilo Golez.
The original Pulido complaint was thrown out on Nov. 14 –- just a day after the blast at the Batasang Pambansa which has so far claimed four lives –- by the House Committee on Justice, which deemed it insufficient in substance.
“Verily, in all respects, the Pulido complaint is destitute of substance,” said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, vice chairman of the House Committee on Justice during the Nov. 14 hearing. “To reiterate, it is so bare that it is akin to a centerfold which may excite but does not excel.”
Later that same day, the People’s Impeachment Complaint was returned to the complainants by Adaza, who cited Art. XI, Sec. 3 (5) of the Constitution.
However, Neri Javier Colmenares -– who is one of the counsels for those who filed the People’s Impeachment Complaint -– took issue with Adaza’s arguments. “It is correct that only one complaint may be initiated (against the same official) within a year, but the issue is, when is a complaint initiated?” Colmenares told Bulatlat in an interview.
“The Constitution says only the House can initiate a complaint,” Colmenares said. “The House is the sole authority to initiate a complaint.”
Art. XI, Sec. 3 (1) of the Constitution provides that: “The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.”
“When does the House act as an institution?” Colmenares said. “Is it when somebody files a complaint? Of course not, it’s just the complainant filing. Is it when the Speaker refers it to the Justice Committee? Of course not also. Is it when the Justice Committee finds (it sufficient in form and substance)? The correct interpretation is that the House initiates a complaint when it impeaches the President, meaning when they decide –- as a House of Representatives –- to impeach the President. And when does that happen? When a complaint has the required minimum vote of one-third of the House membership, and that can only happen in the plenary.”
The People’s Impeachment Complaint
Before Arroyo, the Philippine presidents who faced impeachment complaints were Elpidio Quirino, Diosdado Macapagal (Arroyo’s father), Ferdinand Marcos, and Joseph Estrada. The complaints against Quirino, Macapagal, and Marcos all failed to get the minimum required number of votes at the House of Representatives; while the complaint against Estrada was initiated, but was not completed due to maneuvers by the Estrada camp which resulted in what is now known as the People Power II uprising.
Arroyo faced her first impeachment complaint in 2005. This was when the Macapagal-Arroyo administration first used the tactic of preempting the filing of a complaint by having one of its minions, in the person of lawyer Oliver Lozano, file a weak complaint which, in turn, was summarily dismissed by Arroyo’s allies in Congress.
Anticipating that a similar tactic would be used in 2006, anti-Arroyo individuals and groups, who are mostly identified with the “parliament of the streets,” filed a series of complaints to block another effort by the administration to use the same maneuver. Thus, the concept of a People’s Impeachment Complaint was born. It is, as described by militant organizations, an impeachment complaint filed directly by the people for adoption by the Minority in the Lower House. It is a novel concept as it is initiated and followed through by private citizens and is complementary to the “parliament of the streets.”
However, the Arroyo administration once again used its dominance in the Lower House to reject the first People’s Impeachment Complaint. The initiators of the People’s Impeachment Complaint then held a Citizen’s Congress for Truth and Accountability (CCTA) which subsequently found Arroyo guilty of the charges contained in the complaint.
“Strongest, so far”
Colmenares believes that the complaint filed by Guingona and Bayan November 12 is the strongest so far of all impeachment complaints lodged against Arroyo. “The evidence is very strong,” Colmenares said.
The People’s Impeachment Complaint of 2007 cites Arroyo for the following offenses:
· culpable violations of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and other high crimes by explicitly and implicitly conspiring, directing, abetting, tolerating with impunity as a state policy and rewarding extrajudicial executions, involuntary disappearances, torture, massacre, illegal arrest and arbitrary detention, forced dislocation of communities and other gross and systematic violations of civil and political rights and engaging in a systematic campaign to cover-up or white-wash these crimes by suppressing and obliterating the evidence, blaming the victims, terrorizing, intimidating and physically attacking witnesses, their relatives, lawyers and supporters, and human rights workers;
· culpable violations of the Constitution and graft and corruption, and betrayal of public trust by (i) abetting and/or tolerated the commission of a crime in regard to the anomalous “ZTE National Broadband contract”, (ii) knowingly and willfully obstructing, impeding or delaying the apprehension of suspects and the investigation of criminal cases arising from the same, and (iii) participating and giving support to or approving the ZTE broadband contract despite her knowledge that the same is tainted with graft and corruption;
· bribery, graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust by authorizing, abetting, allowing, and countenancing the distribution of bribe money to members of Congress in exchange for the hasty referral of the Pulido complaint to the Justice Committee in an attempt to prevent the filing of a more substantive and genuine impeachment complaint and eventually dismissing the Pulido complaint;
· culpable violations of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust by abusing her authority to suppress lawful exercise of the people’s rights to free speech, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the freedom of the press and the people’s right to information and curtailing the legislative power to inquire on matters relating to the said electoral fraud committed in the 2004 presidential elections and other matters affecting the legitimacy of her presidency; and
· graft and corruption, by entering into illegal government contracts and “criminally” concealing her conjugal assets.
“For the ZTE alone, we have strong evidence: this is the first time when even allies of the President, by their own admission, put her on the chopping block,” Colmenares pointed out. “Although Romulo Neri’s testimony is not complete, it’s damaging to her. Add to that the statements of the De Venecias on bribery, which are very, very strong.
“Even the charges lifted from the 2006 complaint (which focused) on human rights violations have become stronger now. Now you have witnesses who survived abductions and torture, and point to the military. You have the Manalo brothers –- direct testimony, direct eyewitness accounts. Now you have the Jonas Burgos case... Now you have the Rev. Berlin Guerrero case, where it is clear as day that the government security forces took him and tortured him, and he survived. We even have a Bayan Muna (People First) coordinator, Jing Cardeño of General Santos City, who also survived (abduction and torture) and pointed to the military as the perpetrators.
“Rev. Isaias Sta. Rosa –- there was a dead sergeant beside him -– I mean, what more evidence do you want? The soldier not only had an Army ID, he had a mission order!”
These evidences, Colmenares said, make the People’s Impeachment Complaint of 2007 an “extremely strong” case. “Whichever court you bring it to, Arroyo would be convicted,” he said.
“That is why they didn’t even let it be touched by the Justice Committee,” he added. “It had to be returned to the complainants by the House Deputy Secretary-General -– who holds an administrative position -– without even being referred to the Justice Committee.”
Colmenares said the complainants would be elevating the issue to the Supreme Court. He said they will ask the High Tribunal to rule on the issue of when an impeachment complaint is deemed initiated – an issue on which there is as yet no known jurisprudence in the Philippines.
He said they are confident the Supreme Court would rule favorably on their petition. Bulatlat