THE House committee on justice junked the three impeachment complaints against President Benigno Aquino III Tuesday, ushering in what critics called “a terrible day for the congressional power of the purse.”
By a vote of 54-4, all three complaints were deemed insufficient in substance by the justice panel headed by administration ally and Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.
The panel is expected to release a committee report, which will be sent to the plenary for action within 60 session days. A vote of at least one-third of the 290 House members is needed to finally bury the impeachment complaints against the President.
The four leftist lawmakers who endorsed the complaints maintained that the President knowingly violated the Constitution when he authorized the diversion of some P144 billion in public funds to other government projects under his Disbursement Acceleration Program, parts of which have been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Before the voting, Tupas said the final ruling of the Supreme Court, which has been asked to reconsider its decision against the DAP, would have no bearing on the impeachment decision.
“The Supreme Court ruling on the DAP has nothing to do with this impeachment process, whether it declares with finality the DAP as constitutional or unconstitutional,” Tupas said.
The first complaint, filed by 28 individuals led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, cited President Aquino for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for authorizing the DAP. It was filed July 21.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, in his presentation , said President Aquino betrayed the public trust and committed a culpable violation of the Constitution for allegedly allowing the transfer and use of some P144 billion DAP funds.
“These facts are more than enough to pass the test in sufficiency in substance, and we should ask President Aquino to answer,” Colmenares said.
The second complaint, filed by youth groups led by the Kabataan party-list, accused Mr. Aquino of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and graft and corruption over the DAP. It was filed on July 22.
Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon, during his presentation, said the President had committed no less than 116 counts of technical malversation “by realigning at least P144 billion in funds to at least 166 programs, activities and projects under the DAP.”
“If this case is enough to see him jailed almost for life, it should be more than enough to remove him from his post,” Ridon said.
The third complaint filed by various militant groups led by Bayan Muna, charged that the President was guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for agreeing to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States. It was filed on July 24.
In their presentation for the third complaint, ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio and Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus said the Aquino government entered into a lopsided agreement with the United States and approved the deal without the consent of the Senate.
But Palace allies were not convinced that President Aquino had committed any wrongdoing with regard to the DAP and the EDCA.
Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said the impeachment complaint filed against the President over DAP was “prematurely filed and therefore, [could be dismissed] outright.”
Rodriguez said the Supreme Court has yet to decide on the motion for reconsideration filed by the government in its protest against its ruling on the DAP.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. said there was no deliberate intent or malice on the part of the President to use the DAP funds without the consent of Congress.
He said the culpable violation of the Constitution only happens when there is a willful intent to violate the law, and that the President was accorded with the “constitutional presumption of regularity and the presumption of good faith.”
“The action of the President on DAP was based on the Constitution and the Administrative Code of 1987,” Rodriguez said.
Another Aquino ally, Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, warned that any attempt to impeach a President should be based on the “gravest violation of the Constitution,” noting that the President was brought to power in 2010 with the trust and support of 15 million voters in the 2010 elections.
“Is the alleged unconstitutional act so malevolent that it so justifies the undoing of the vote of the 15 million Filipinos?” Aggabao said.
During the panel hearing, Colmenares and Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone had a heated exchange of words when the latter accused the former of being a hypocrite because he also benefited from the DAP.
Colmenares, who said he stopped endorsing projects when he learned about the DAP, shot back that he never called Evardone a turncoat when he ditched former President Gloria Arroyo for President Aquino.
Colmenares also accused Evardone of having received some P100 million in DAP funds for his district in Eastern Samar, a charge Evardone later denied by text message.
Tupas later ordered the exchange stricken from the record.
Outside Congress, members of the National Union of Students of the Philippines bearing placards that said “Stop Yellow Dictatorship” started shouting “Shame on you.” The House security personnel immediately arrested the group of militant students.
Malacañang said it is prepared to address street protests and mass mobilizations following the dismissal of three impeachment complaints against the President.
However, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma insisted that the Palace had nothing to do with the dismissal of the complaints.
“The President and this government did not exert any influence (to have the complaints dismissed),” Coloma said.
He echoed Rodriguez, however, in saying that the impeachment complaints based on the DAP were “premature” because the Supreme Court had yet to rule on the government’s motion for reconsideration.
Coloma added: “In our democracy, we are ready to face peaceful expressions of sentiments by our people,” he added.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte added that the process undertaken by the House Committee on Justice was “transparent.”
“We take note that the process took place with transparency, not just according to the rules, but to give the proponents every opportunity to make their case,” Valte said.
After the House vote, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. warned that “the people must continue to seek accountability elsewhere.”
“It is untenable that the House committee of justice thinks that P144 billion in DAP funds used as presidential pork is not severe enough to merit impeachment,” Reyes said.
“It is outrageous that they think that usurping the powers of Congress and letting one man decide on the use of billions of pesos is not an impeachable offense...It is sad and at the same time a cause for outrage that a venue for accountability such as the impeachment process is being shut close by Aquino’s allies,” he added.
The first two verified impeachment complaints were filed by Bayan and the umbrella network Youth Act Now after the Supreme Court declared several acts under the DAP as unconstitutional.
After the vote, Colmenares said that the House should have deliberated the ouster complaints against the President thoroughly in several committee meetings, and not throw it out in one session.
Ridon dismissed the abrupt decision of the committee to junk the impeachment as “faster than a Gilas fastbreak.”
“Congress has played blind, deaf and mute to the clamor of the Filipino people for justice and accountability against a budding budget dictator. Legislators were given a choice today – to vote for what is right and what is convenient. Despite presenting clear arguments and a substantial recital of facts, they still opted for the latter.”
Tinio said the impeachment process was railroaded.
“Absolutely, it was.. The House justice committee under the previous administration at least had the decency to grant more than just one hearing for determination of sufficiency in substance than this current one under President Aquino, even though they enjoyed a similar advantage in numbers,” Tinio said.
Labor groups also criticized the House decision, saying the act proves that the committee is a committee of patronage, corruption and injustice where numbers, not reason, prevails.
In a statement, the Kilusang Mayo Uno said that the railroading of the impeachment complaint is not surprising because most of Aquino’s allies in Congress have shown its true color for supporting the corrupt acts of Aquino administration.
“We are most disgusted to see the closest allies of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo leading the junking of the complaints. Erstwhile critics of Arroyo also showed their true colors,” KMU spokesperson Elmer Labog said.
“This move is a throwback to the days of Arroyo, when the search for truth and accountability was likewise blocked by presidential allies fattened by pork barrel,” he said.
“We maintain that the Disbursement Acceleration Program is robbery of the people’s money in favor of Aquino’s relatives, friends and allies; Aquino should be held accountable.” – With Vito Barcelo
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