A joint action of major business and civic groups including the Makati Business Club (MBC), the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) and various anti-corruption groups appealed to Congress to hasten the impeachment of Merceditas Gutierrez
This developed as Gutierrez answered point by point the allegations raised in the two complaints filed by rival militant groups Akbayan and Bayan in a written rebuttal submitted to the House justice committee last Friday.
Gutierrez is accused of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.
President Aquino stressed that Gutierrez had been given many opportunities and chances but still failed to speed up the resolution of cases involving those from the past administration.
"So we are at a crossroads. And that is the only thing I want to tell all of you. The Constitution gave you the right. You are the fiscals, let us investigate. Was a sin committed or not? Is there probable cause? If there is probable cause, it is your obligation to file the articles of impeachment, (and) bring it to the Senate,” Aquino told his partymates.
Liberal Party (LP)
The Liberal Party (LP) has 81 members in the House of Representatives.
Quezon City Representative Winston Castelo said the party stand came after Aquino gave a short talk during a luncheon the latter hosted at the residence of LP president former Sen. Manuel Roxas II in Quezon City attended by about 60 congressmen, including Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.
Aquino arrived at the LP luncheon at around 12:30 p.m. accompanied by Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Communications Group Secretary Ricky Carandang, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, and Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.
"We got an invitation to have lunch with the President so we came. He spoke about the ongoing impeachment process without mentioning Ombudsman Gutierrez. He said we have a chance to either maintain the system or change the system, and we would be breaking our promise to the people if we are not going to act,” Castelo told reporters.
"He’s saying that the only way is to support (the impeachment) and he said we owe it the people,” he said.
Castelo said after Aquino, the LP chairman, delivered his short speech, Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento stood up and moved that the party adopt the position of the President. The motion was immediately approved.
"The message (of the President) was very clear. There could be no other interpretation. You cannot treat it any other way,” Castelo said.
He said that he personally supported the impeachment of the Ombudsman "because it is a chance for her to defend herself in a forum and in a process that is allowed by the Constitution.”
House Majority Leader and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II said there are 81 LP members in the chamber, which means only about 15 more votes in plenary are needed to impeach Gutierrez.
Under the rules, a vote of one-third of the members of the 283-member chamber or 94 lawmakers are needed to impeach an impeachable official and bring the same to stand trial at the Senate.
Aside from the LP, nine militant lawmakers from Akbayan, Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, ACT Teachers and Kabataan are expected to vote to impeach the Ombudsman since they endorsed the two impeachment complaints.
Sources said the Nationalist People’s Coalition that has more than 30 members in the House is inclined to vote against the impeachment of Gutierrez. The members of the minority bloc, including Lakas congressmen, would take a conscience vote. The Nacionalista Party still has no party stand on the impeachment of the Ombudsman.
"There is nothing wrong with any political party adopting a stand on impeachment, after all, as the cliché goes, it’s a political process, it’s a political act,” Gonzales said.
Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, chairman of the justice committee and an LP member, said he would remain impartial in the proceedings.
"The party has taken an official stand this afternoon and definitely, it will affect the numbers for impeachment… but as to the effect to the chairman of committee on justice, my position as chairman, to me is supreme over a party stand,” Tupas said.
He said once the panel votes on probable cause today, it can submit a report to the plenary on the impeachment of Gutierrez next week.
Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, vice chairman of the panel, said he is still hoping that Gutierrez would appear in what could be the last hearing of the committee.
The Ombudsman filed separate documents on Friday before the committee rebutting the various allegations against her. The rebuttal was signed by her legal counsels led by former justice secretary Serafin Cuevas, Anacleto Diaz, and Ma. Rosario del Rosario.
Akbayan alleged that Gutierrez, among others, should be impeached for the low conviction rate of her office; failure to take immediate action against former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other officials in connection with the NBN-ZTE broadband project controversy; and for upholding the arrest of former congresswoman Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel.
Bayan accused the Ombudsman of not acting on the P728-million fertilizer scam, and not prosecuting the so-called "Euro generals,” among others.
Gutierrez cited, among others, Supreme Court decisions as well as documents from complainants themselves to defend her case.
Fariñas earlier told reporters there is a need to remove the weak allegations in the two complaints.
Gutierrez said the acts and/or omissions alleged as culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust "cannot be deemed of the same nature and severity as the other grounds for impeachment under the Constitution that strike at the very heart of the life of the nation.”
She said by law and settled jurisprudence, the Ombudsman has the discretion to determine whether a criminal case given its facts and circumstances should be filed or not.
"Although the Ombudsman has the duty to act promptly on complaints brought before him, such duty should not be mistaken with a hasty resolution of cases at the expense of thoroughness and correctness,” Gutierrez said in her reply.
Gutierrez said she is standing by her record of 40 years of unblemished government service, which she intends to keep until her term ends in November 2012.
She said she never violated any law nor did she ever try to use her position to enrich herself.
"I have no sin to our countrymen or in the eyes of God, I’m not corrupt. I am not enriching myself in this position,” she told radio dzBB.
Gutierrez said she intends to finish her term, leaving behind a legacy of having the highest conviction rate compared to her predecessors and more than 35,000 cases disposed.