Friday, August 12, 2005

Impeachment Lives On

Posted by Alecks Pabico 

THAT was how a group of lawyers dismissed the motion filed by the lawyer of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to strike, in effect, to dismiss, all the impeachment complaints lodged against the Chief Executive, save for the first one filed by Atty. Oliver Lozano.

Pedro Ferrer, the president's legal counsel, went on the offensive yesterday while the House committee on justice went gaga over Rep. Simeon Datumanong's "unilateral" decision as chairman suspending the first impeachment hearing and conducting instead an executive session among its members to iron out ground rules regarding the participation of non-committee members. Ferrer has sought the dismissal of the said complaints based on the following grounds:

  • that they are in violation of the one-year ban for filing an impeachment complaint against the same official;
  • that the Supreme Court as the presidential electoral tribunal, and not Congress, has no jurisdiction on the matter of electoral fraud; and
  • that the wiretapped conversations are inadmissible as evidence in court.

These are the same grounds raised in Arroyo's reply to the Lozano complaint filed by Ferrer on her behalf on July 18, seven days before Congress opened its second regular session on June 25.

"Its basis is constitutionally and legally untenable," claimed lawyer Neri Colmenares, spokesperson of Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL), one of the private complainants in the amended impeachment complaint endorsed by 41 congressmen and party-list representatives. "In the first place, the rules do not allow for the filing of a motion for dismissal."

As defined in the adopted rules of procedure, the impeachment process begins with an impeachment complaint filed and referred to the committee on justice, which then holds hearings to determine sufficiency in form and substance. Once these are determined, the committee furnishes concerned parties with written notices to file their answers. No motion to dismiss is supposed to be filed.

Ferrer's motion primarily argues that the impeachment complaints, including the amended Lozano complaint, violated the constitutional one-year bar on initiating impeachment proceedings.

It should be noted, however, that when the amended complaint was filed on July 25, the original Lozano complaint had yet to be referred to the justice committee. In fact, all three complaints (including the second complaint filed by another lawyer Jose Rizaldo Lopez on July 4) were referred by House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. to the committee on the same day (July 25).

"Therefore, nothing has yet been initiated. So the amended complaint cannot be considered as a second complaint in violation of the Constitution as the Ferrer motion alleges," argued Colmenares.

The aborted impeachment case against Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. in 2003 should also  be instructive in this regard. In its ruling, the High Court further clarified what is meant by the term "initiating," which is actually the filing of a complaint and its subsequent referral to the justice committee (see Ernesto B. Francisco Jr., et. al. vs. the House of Representatives, et. al.).

This ruling also implies that there can be as many complaints but only one impeachment proceeding, (see Punzi Corner Blog's lecture on initiating impeachment proceedings) and which addresses the dilemma with the existence of three complaints that Datumanong spoke of in yesterday's aborted hearing.

Because the rules provide that an answer can only be filed once the justice committee finds substance in the complaint and the respondent is directed to file an answer, CODAL said that Arroyo's reply to the Lozano complaint is premature and similarly a "mere scrap of paper." Furthermore, no complaint had yet been referred to the justice committee at the time as Congress was still in recess.

In reply to the motion, Atty. Lozano gave an interesting take on the issue. The very fact that Arroyo answered the complaint, he said, means the president is actually admitting to the sufficiency in form and substance, including probable cause, of the complaint.

"Lozano may have a point there," said Colmenares, who however insisted they would rather abide by the impeachment rules. "Coupled with the president's apology and her lawyer's admission that it was Garcillano with whom the president talked to, the sufficiency in form and substance, including probable cause, has already been established. The impeachment case has to be elevated to the Senate."

In a press conference yesterday, Ferrer made a slip by acknowledging that it was former poll commissioner Virgilio Garcillano whom Arroyo had talked to. He however refused to give further comments after realizing his blunder.