Ouster raps 13 votes shy as LP backs complaints

Posted on March 08, 2011

THE HOUSE of Representatives is 13 votes short of impeaching Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez after the 81-member Liberal Party (LP) yesterday backed the ouster move.

Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio A. Abaya (1st district), LP secretary-general, said in an interview yesterday that the party leadership agreed in a regular meeting yesterday to support the impeachment complaints.

All LP members at the House, he added, are "expected to vote for the impeachment complaint" when it reaches the plenary, Mr. Abaya said.

This, as President Benigno S. C. Aquino III, party chairman, said before the meeting that he is leaving it up to his LP allies in Congress to "do what is right" as regards the impeachment trial.

The articles of impeachment, which accused the Ombudsman of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, needs the support of at least 94 congressmen out of the 284-member chamber for referral to the Senate for trial.

The LP’s decision came on the eve of the House justice committee meeting that will decide the complaints’ probable cause.

Mr. Abaya claimed that aside from the support of LP congressmen, the complaints have been backed by nine votes from lawmakers from Akbayan party-list who endorsed the first complaint and seven militant party-list representatives from Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, ACT Teachers and Kabataan who endorsed the second complaint.

Mr. Abaya said the party needed to take a stand on the case since the President’s anti-corruption campaign will not move forward "if the Ombudsman has been protective of certain parties."

Ms. Gutierrez was a classmate of former first gentleman Jose Miguel T. Arroyo at the Ateneo Law School and was former chief presidential legal counsel of then president now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (2nd district).

Best interest

Sought for comment, justice committee chairman Niel C. Tupas, Jr. (5th district, Iloilo) told reporters: "We are in a crossroads in this issue and the party would risk taking the lead because the party believes it is in the best interest of the nation."

Meanwhile, the Ombudsman submitted last Friday her response of general denial to all complaints.

At the same time, Salvador Panelo, Ms. Gutierrez’ lawyer, said the Ombudsman will not appear before the committee today since the panel "seems to have judged" her already by not giving her "due process."

Mr. Tupas said in response that if the Ombudsman will not appear before the committee today, her replies will not be "admissible" as evidence since these need to be affirmed before the committee.

"We will proceed with voting on probable cause based on the complaints," he added.

In a related development, Mr. Aquino said: "I really have to leave it up to the members of the House who are the only authorized to impeach anybody to do what is right."

"Our party is based on consultation as it has always been but we are united by a common direction... our views are not far apart," he added.

Malacañang has earlier said that an Ombudsman who looks after the public welfare will help the administration’s campaign against corruption, noting that cases have been stalled in the Ombudsman under the watch of Ms. Gutierrez. -- Noemi M. Gonzales and Ana Mae G. Roa