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Ex-Rep. Hontiveros leads 2nd impeachment vs Gutierrez

(Updated 4:05 p.m.) A former party-list representative who lost a senatorial bid in the last elections led the second filing of an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Resigned Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim (left) and former Rep. Risa Hontiveros (2nd from left) are among petitioners in an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. Amita Legaspi
The filing of the seven-page impeachment complaint before the House Secretary-General on Thursday was led by former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros. It was received by the House secretary general, lawyer Marilyn Yap, past 3 p.m.

Hontiveros was accompanied by fellow defeated senatorial candidate, resigned general Danilo Lim and Evelyn and Felipe Pestaño, parents of Andrew, a deceased Philippine Navy Ensign who allegedly had knowledge about the involvement of Navy officials in illegal activities.

Gutierrez was accused of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution for her failure to be the "protector of the people" and instead becoming the �gatekeeper of the corrupt".

Among the grounds of the complaint were the dismal conviction rate of the Office of the Ombudsman since 2008, which indicate a "criminal" level of incompetence amounting to grave dereliction of duty.

On October 31, 2008, the conviction rate stood at 7 percent with 25 successful convictions in 349 cases filed.

A report of the Sandiganbayan showed that in the first four months of 2010, the Ombudsman recorded a conviction rate of 12.9 percent or eight convictions in 62 cases filed.

A low conviction rate indicates either poor assessment and preparation in choosing which cases to file, or subpar handling of the actual prosecution once a case is in court.

The complaint also alleged that Gutierrez

  • failed to act promptly on cases filed against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, and other public officials involved in the NBN-ZTE deal;
  • incurred inexcusable delay in the investigation on the death of ensign Philip Pestaño, a case which the United Nations itself rapped the Ombudsman for failure to probe the case;
  • issued a decision to uphold the legality of the arrest and involuntary detention of Hontiveros by the Philippine National Police at the height of the 'Hello Garci' controversy;
  • failed to investigate the P1-million dinner for the presidential party at the Le Cirque restaurant in New York;
  • repeatedly failed to take prompt action on various cases involving Mrs. Arroyo such as the Mega-Pacific scam, among others;
  • refused to grant ready access to public records such as the Statement of Assets, Net Worth and Liabilities of former Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo.

The complainants said the Office of the Ombudsman, under Gutierrez�s watch, was far from being an effective and reliable recourse for ordinary citizens seeking succor and relief from government abuse.

They also said that the Office "has become a place where complaints of official wrongdoing go to languish, wither, and forgotten."

�The Ombudsman, under the stewardship of Gutierrez, has become alarmingly and unjustifiably passive in taking on prominent issues involving corruption and malfeasance at the highest level of government," they said.

They also scored Gutierrez for sitting quietly �in the face of the most scandalous report of official impropriety, waiting for private citizens or other government offices to take up the very causes it was created to address."

Gutierrez asked to resign

In an interview with reporters before the filing of the complaint, Hontiveros reiterated her call for Gutierrez's resignation.

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez tells reporters that she will not resign amid criticisms about her supposed failure to act on alleged controversies involving former President Arroyo. GMANews.TV/File
Nananawagan kami sa kanya na huwag nang hintayin itong impeachment complaint ng mamamayan, huwag ng hintayin pang mag-expire ang kanyang term sa Oktubre. Magbitiw na siya tungkulin, basically step out of the way para makapagpatuloy ng maaliwas iyong laban kontra corruption," she said.

(She should no longer wait for the impeachment complaint and wait until her term expires in October. She should resign and step out of the way so that the fight against corruption will proceed.)

The complainants and their counsel, lawyer Ibarra Gutierrez III, were confident that the impeachment complaint will succeed this time.

Di lang numbers game, ito ay panawagan talaga at demand ng mamamayan para sa hustisya, para sa public accountability ng ating mga opisyal at siguro lahat ng complainants believe pakikinggan kami ng mga miyembro ng House," Hontiveros said.

(This is not a numbers game. This is a call and a demand of the people for justice and for the public accountability of our officials and we feel that complainants will be heard by members of the House.)

For his part, Ibarra Gutierrez believed the members of the House justice committee will based their vote on the merit of the complaint.

"We are confident na napakalinanw ng kaso ng maiipepresent tungkol dun sa mga violation na nilabag ni Gutierrez during her term, very empirical ang evidence na ipe-present namin, clear ang basis na aming ipe-present. Walang kaming kahit anong pangamba na kahit saang sulok iharap ito magiging napakalinaw na meron talagang basis for impeaching her," Ibarra Gutierrez III said.

(We are confident that the case is clear regarding violations incurred by Gutierrez during her term. We will present very empirical evidence. We have no doubt that the case for impeaching her will be very clear, any way you look at it.)

As of Thursday, Akbayan Representatives Kaka Bag-Ao and Walden Bello have filed a resolution endorsing the impeachment complaint.

"Based on our assessment, the impeachment complaint is sufficient in form and contains sufficient recital of facts constituting the acts of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution committed by Ombudsman Gutierrez hence sufficient in substance," they said.

First complaint

In September 2009, the House justice committee, composed mostly of Arroyo allies, dismissed the first impeachment complaint against Gutierrez, who is widely perceived to have close ties with Arroyo and husband Jose Miguel.

The first complaint was filed by former Senate President Jovito Salonga, LP chairman emeritus, in March of the same year.

The complaint charged Gutierrez with betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution in the handling of several controversies involving the First Family and Arroyo�s allies.

These issues include the Mega Pacific and corruption case against former Elections chair Benjamin Abalos Sr., the World Bank mess regarding the sanctioning of three Filipino construction firms over alleged collusion, and the P728-million fertilizer fund scam, among others.

Impeachment procedures

Based on Article X of the 1987 Constitution, the Ombudsman may be removed from office through impeachment on the grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.

The impeachment proceedings start at the House of Representatives where a complaint maybe filed by any House member or any private citizen and endorsed by any House member.

The complaint will then be included in the Order of Business within 10 session days and referred to the House committee on justice within three session days.

The committee will then hear the complaint and determine its sufficiency in form and substance and submit its report and resolution, approved by majority of its members, within 60 session days.

The report and resolution shall be calendared for consideration of the House as a whole within 10 session days.

A vote of at least one-third of all the members of the House is needed to either affirm or junk the findings of the committee.

Once affirmed, the complaint will be filed and will constitute the Articles of Impeachment and will be sent to the Senate for trial proper.

The Senate has to sole power to try and decide the impeachment case.

If the case against the Ombudsman will prosper, the Senate President will preside over the proceedings.

However, if the President is the one on trial, it is the Supreme Court Chief Justice who will preside.

The concurrence of two-thirds of all the members of the Senate is needed to convict the accused.

Judgment in impeachment cases should not be more than removal from office and disqualification to any government post but the convicted party can still be held liable and subjected to criminal prosecution, trial and punishment.

Only one impeachment proceeding can be initiated against the same official within a period of one year. � RJAB Jr./RSJ, GMANews.TV
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