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3 impeach raps get to first base

House panel finds them sufficient in form despite ‘fatal defects’

The House committee on justice on Tuesday found the three impeachment complaints against President Benigno Aquino III sufficient in form despite what some administration allies called “fatal defects.”

With an overwhelming majority vote, the committee led by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr. applied the impeachment rules with “liberality in the interest of justice,” and set the stage for the consolidation of the three complaints, and a debate on their sufficiency in substance on Sept. 2.

Safe on first base. Bayan Muna Rep. Neri
Colmenares (left) answers a question during a
hearing of the House justice committee, chaired
by Iloilo Rep. Neil Tupas (right), on the
impeachment complaint against President
Benigno Aquino III that was found sufficient
in form despite supposed flaws. MANNY PALMERO
At the same time, the panel barred the fourth impeachment complaint filed last Aug. 11 by a group of teachers led by Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio, which alleged that the President was still offering pork barrel to lawmakers, despite a Supreme Court ruling that declared the Priority Development Assistance Fund unconstitutional.

Voting 53-1-1, the panel affirmed as amended the first impeachment complaint filed by 28 individuals from the anti-pork barrel groups led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) in connection with the Disbursement Acceleration Program, parts of which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said the committee members decided to adopt the first two impeachment complaints to give the proponents the opportunity to correct their mistakes.

“We have been very liberal in so far as treatment of the three impeachment complaints are concerned in spite of the defects pointed out here. We did not take advantage of all these defects and instead in the spirit of liberality, allowed the impeachment complaints to be declared sufficient in form,” Barzaga said.

But one of the impeachment endorsers, Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, expressed belief that all three complaints are both sufficient in form and in substance.

“The House Rules on Impeachment only require that the complaint, if initiated by a Filipino citizen, must be verified and endorsed by a member of Congress. All three complaints have complied with those requirements,” said Ridon, who endorsed the second impeachment complaint filed by youth and student leaders.

But Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas, senior vice chairman of the justice committee, questioned the manner by which the first two complaints had been endorsed and verified.

During the hearing, Farinas said the resolution of endorsement of Bayan Muna party-list Reps. Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, Anakpawis party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap and Gabriela party-list Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan on the first complaint named Bayan as the complainant, when the complaint was signed individually, and not as a group.

Farinas pointed out that this defect should be corrected because the first complaint was signed by Bayan Secretary General Renato Reyes Jr., Volunteer Against Crime and Corruption chairman Dante Jimenez and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas President Rafael Mariano in their personal capacity.

Tupas then ordered the secretariat to “correct the minor deficiency.”

But Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone warned that relaxing the impeachment rules may flood the panel with defective impeachment complaints.

Colmenares countered that the committee should not be “too technical” about the matter, stressing it should directly ask President Aquino to answer the charges.

Another administration ally, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, pointed out a “defect” in the second complaint as well, questioning the lack of “identification circumstances” in its verification.

“This is very fatal,” Rodriguez said. “The complainants did not get any lawyer... and filed without any statement of who they are, what are their identification circumstances, as was done by the first complainants,” Rodriguez said.

The committee unanimously declared that the third impeachment complaint sufficient in form upon the request of endorser, Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus.

It was filed by 21 individuals from various leftist groups led by former Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Satur Ocampo, president of the Makabayan coalition, in connection with the signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between Manila and Washington last April 28.

The Palace said Tuesday it is prepared for a full-blown impeachment proceeding after the House Committee on Justice declared all three complaints against President Benigno Aquino III sufficient in form.

“Yes (we are ready),” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

“We respect the process of Congress because it is an independent and co-equal branch of government. They have the jurisdiction over impeachment cases so we will leave the proceedings up to them,” he added.

The complaints alleged culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.

The Palace has earlier assured the public that it will not make a move to kill the impeachment complaints.

Coloma said the President remains unfazed with efforts to remove him from office.

“The President is not worried with the impeachment proceedings. He is confident that he has not committed any impeachable offense,” he said.

The President, who is also facing record-low trust, approval and satisfaction ratings, earlier called on his supporters to wear his trademark yellow ribbon to show their support for his administration.

The leftist bloc responded by wearing peach as show of support for the  impeachment efforts. With Joyce Pangco Pañares

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