MANILA, APRIL 22, 2011 (TRIBUNE) By Charlie V. Manalo and Angie M. Rosales - House Minority Leader, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, (photo) yesterday lashed out at President Aquino for trying to entice senators into doing a Pontius Pilate in the hope of getting a conviction for Chief Ombudsman Merceditas "Merci" Gutierrez by rallying people to support the Gutierrez's ouster.

In a statement, Lagman said the trial by publicity and conviction through campus speeches being waged by Aquino for the Ombudsman's ouster directly influences and demeans the discretion and judgment of senators "who are inveigled to act like Pontius Pilates to subject their decision to the vagaries of public opinion."

According to biblical accounts, Pontius Pilate was forced to sentence Christ to die by crucifixion, giving in to public clamor, despite his personal belief that Christ was innocent of the charges.

"By actively, publicly and incessantly campaigning for the impeachment of the Ombudsman, President Aquino has violated the Constitution which exclusively reserves to and vests on Congress the power to impeach and convict impeachable officials," said Lagman as he stressed that under Article XI of the Constitution, the House of

Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment [Section 3 (1)], while the Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment" [Section 3 (6)].

"The President has no constitutional role in impeachment proceedings. In fact, under Section 19 of Article VII the President is expressly prohibited from granting reprieves, commutations and pardons in cases of impeachment," Lagman averred.

Lagman also accused Aquino of invading the exclusive prerogative of the House of Representatives "when he marshaled the forces of his Liberal Party to impeach the Ombudsman."

"The continuing campaign of the President to oust the Ombudsman infringes on the sole power of the Senate to adjudicate the impeachment case against the respondent Ombudsman," said Lagman.

Galvanizing public opinion for the conviction of the Ombudsman," the Albay solon pointed out, "intrudes on the constitutional authority of senators to solely judge the culpability or lack of culpability of the Ombudsman," thus the need for Aquino to cease whatever he is doing in order to get a conviction for Gutierrez.

"The President must desist from culpable violation of the Constitution in his merciless penchant to oust the Ombudsman," said Lagman.

The Senate will proceed as scheduled with the holding of the impeachment trial against Gutierrez next month, when Congress resumes its regular sessions.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile made the assurance amid insistence by some senators aligned with Malacanang to amend the Senate's already published rules on impeachment procedure.

"There's no doubt that we can convene as an impeachment court beginning May 9. The schedule has been established. It will go through the process," Enrile said in a recent interview.

Enrile is firm in his position that the amendments Sen. Francis Pangilinan wants introduced will only delay the proceedings, possibly effect the start of the trial in the next round of their regular sessions in July, meaning they go on sine die adjournment in June.

In a recent appearance in the Kapihan sa Senado news forum, Enrile maintained that there is no flaw in their approved rules and thus, there is no reason for them to hold off the proceedings "unless it becomes clearly necessary to the court or hearing."

I think we cannot finish the trial when we go on a sine die in June. When we convene in May 9, we will call the roll, then we open in the morning. In the afternoon, we convert ourselves into an impeachment court. The trial will not begin at that time," he said.

Enrile will act as the presiding officer in the impeachment trial since he is the Senate president.

Under the rules, the respondent who is Gutierrez, is given a chance as a matter of right to be notified, which is the service of summons, on her copy of the information or the so-called articles of impeachment, with the alleged betrayal of public trust.

She is given 10 days to answer and if her reply comes in on the last day of the allowed period given her, the House of Representatives that will act as her prosecutors, will have five days to reply to her counter-information.

"That will mean already 24 days. Then there will be preliminary issues that will be threshed out. I suppose, that the most optimistic time for us to start the trial will be about the last week of May.

"We can hear the case on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Conducting a trial like this is very tedious and very tolling on the minds of the people involved. So I suggested that we break on Wednesdays because we have the Commission on Appointments (CA) proceedings. We cannot avoid that because that is the constitutional duty of Congress," he said.

The Senate does not have to continue carrying out the impeachment trial against the Ombudsman, should she decide to step down from her position in the middle of the proceedings,Enrile said. "That's the end of the matter. The purpose of the impeachment is to take her out of the office. If she pleads guilty, there's no need to proceed with the impeachment. Even if she doesn't plead guilty but she says 'I quit' then that's the end of it.

"But by resigning does not mean that you are free from all the liabilities," he said.

If found guilty, under the laws, the penalty for a person subject of an impeachment case is removal from office and perpetual disqualification to hold public office.

"Should the person impeached escape the impeachment by resigning because that is a very telling penalty of perpetual disqualification from holding public office, that I cannot understand. That's a tricky legal question that has to be studied carefully," he said.

Another legal issue that they will have to contend with in the trial proceedings is the matter concerning the Ombudsman's term.

Gutierrez assumed the position when it was vacated by her precessor, Simeon Marcelo sometime in 2005. The Ombudsman is given a seven-year term under the Constitution.

"I have studed that. I've read the law. The way I see it, that is a gray area. If you read the constitutional provision for the other constitutional officers like the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Civil Service Commission (CSC) and Commission on Audit (CoA), it says that the commisioners shall serve for a certain number of years, they cannot be reappointed and that any vacancy, the successor shall serve only for the unexpired term.

"In the case of the Ombudsman, there is no such provision. I do not know why. Unless it was the intention, that the new Ombudsman appointed will have the term the same as the original appointee.

"Neither does it say that the Ombudsman is the only one that will discipline government officials. In fact, the Ombudsman has the power to employ all employees under the Ombudsman except the deputies because they are appointed by the President. The SC (Supreme Court) will (probably have to) clarify the gray area. I cannot tell you how long the SC will decide a case like that," the upper chamber chief said.

Regardless of the outcome of the trial, the decision to be rendered by the Senate cannot be questioned even before the SC, Enrile said.

"There is no appeal. This is an act of a coordinate for equal and separate branch of government. In the same manner that no one can appeal to us the SC's decision," he said.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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