Speaker: VP won’t face impeachment

HOUSE Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said Thursday that any impeachment attempt against Vice President Jejomar Binay would not take place during his watch.

In a text message from the Hague in the Netherlands, Belmonte said there were more important priorities for the 16th Congress, when it goes into its third regular session on July 27.

“Impeachment, if needed, is not going to happen in my last year if can help it,” Belmonte said.

Liberal Party lawmakers also said they would not initiate any impeachment motion against the Vice President, who has been hounded by corruption allegations.

Reps. Jorge Banal of Quezon City, Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar and Jerry Trenas of Iloilo City said Binay impeachment is remote.

“It seems unlikely that any impeachment will prosper at this time,” Banal said.

Any impeachment complaint against Binay, Evardone added, would not come from the ruling party.

Evardone, and Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III and 1-BAP party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello III said impeachment would be a futile exercise as the 2016 national elections draw near.

“The election is already around the corner. I don’t think impeachment is a good option at this time,” Evardone said.

Albano said the House had so much on its plate—including the 2016 national budget—that any impeachment bid would not prosper.

Bello welcomed Belmonte’s statement.

“The Speaker must know that there is no impeachable offense committed by the Vice President. Besides, there might not enough time,” Bello said.

Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting, a staunch Binay supporter, also welcomed Belmonte’s statement.

“The Speaker is sensible and focused,” Tambunting said.

The Palace on Thursday denied Binay’s allegation that the charges against him and his family were part of a demolition job launched by the administration.

“The Office of the President and the executive branch have nothing to do with the filing of the cases against them,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.

“The cases filed against Vice President (Jejomar) Binay, Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay Jr., and other Makati officials before the Office of the Ombudsman were based on investigations conducted by the Senate Blue Ribbon sub-committee,” Coloma said.

“The Senate Blue Ribbon sub-committee is part of a separate and co-equal branch, and the Office of the Ombudsman is an independent constitutional body,” said Coloma.

In a statement, Binay said the same people behind the demolition job against him were also trying to sow intrigue between him and the Palace.

The Vice President also said he did not believe President Benigno Aquino III was involved in the circulation of a white paper that implicates the Binay family in the pork barrel scam.

The Vice President’s daughter, Makati Rep. Mar-Len Abigail Binay, earlier challenged those behind the white paper to come out in the open and prove that she used her pork barrel funds to finance political rallies.

She also accused a group holding office at Bonifacio Global City of attacking her family to demolish her father’s chances in the presidential elections in 2016.

Coloma, on the other hand, said the disbursement of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) has already been stopped.

“The Commission on Audit has done their duty. If there are other matters involving this issue (of funds), let the members of Congress discipline their own ranks, because they are a separate branch of government from the executive,” said Coloma.

Also on Thursday, a law professor at the University of the Philippines took a swipe at Justice Secretary Leila de Lima for flip-flopping on the issue of the Vice President’s immunity from suit, saying she should make up her mind.

In a radio interview, lawyer Harry Roque noted that De Lima retracted her previous statement that the Vice President is immune from suit but suddenly changed her mind again.

“Secretary De Lima and I have already debated on the issue of the immunity of Vice President Binay. First, she said no, then yes, and now no immunity,” he said.

De Lima earlier said Binay did not enjoy the same immunity from criminal suits accorded to the President while in power.

“All the constitutional officers, like the President and the Vice President, before they are criminally prosecuted should be first removed through impeachment,” Roque said. “The immunity privilege given to the President must also be extended to the Vice President. Like the President, a vice president is also directly elected by the people and, constitutionally, he or she can only be removed by impeachment.”

Roque also lashed out the Aquino administration for employing selective justice in persecuting Binay and his family.

He said the senators who always want to conduct an audit of all the projects of Binay were silent when it came to an audit on their own projects.

“Public officers, like the senators, must at all times be accountable to the people. Accountability is not only for the Vice President,” Roque said.

The former national president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Vicente Joyas, agreed Thursday that Binay, as the second highest official of the land, cannot be criminally charged while he is in office.

“He cannot be sued criminally during his incumbency as vice president even for acts committed while he was mayor,” Joyas said.

“He must be impeached first. And the grounds for impeachment are betrayal of public trust andculpable violation of the Constitution, among others,” he said.

Joyas contradicted the position taken by De Lima that Vice President Binay is not immune from criminal suit. – With Sandy Araneta

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