MANILA, APRIL 18, 2011 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla [PHOTO - University of the Philippines president and Board of Regents co-chairperson Alfredo Pascual and Commission on Higher Education head and Board of Regents chairperson Patricia Licuanan confer on President Aquino an honorary Doctor of Laws degree during UP's 100thh general commencement exercises at the UP Amphitheater in Diliman, Quezon City yesterday.]

President Aquino yesterday called on graduates of the state-run University of the Philippines to join in his campaign to remove Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, whom he said has blocked his policy of reform and good governance.

In a speech he delivered at UP, he said it has been a tough job for him to clean up the dirt left by his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, much less to implement reforms he has started because of the "bantay salakay" attitude of the chief anti-graft buster.

"It's difficult to implement reforms when the dregs of the old system go deeper than the roots of trees in the Sunken Garden," he said in Tagalog, referring to a UP landmark behind the main library.

"Pero sino naman po ba ang hindi iinit ang ulo, kung ang mismong mga dapat nagtatanggol sa karaniwang tao ay bumabantay-salakay lang sa mga ninakaw ng makapangyarihan (But who wouldn't lose his cool when those who were tasked to defend the common people are themselves the guard dogs of wealth stolen by the powerful?)" Aquino, who was conferred the doctor of laws honoris causa, asked.

"Alam po ninyo siguro kung sino ang tinutukoy ko, kaya huwag na tayong magtagal pa sa isyung ito. Isang simpleng 'OMG' ang kolektibong buntong-hininga natin dito (I guess you know who I'm referring to, so no need to dwell on the issue. A simple OMG is our collective sigh here)," he said, in obvious reference to the "Oust Merci Gutierrez" move launched by civil society groups.

He said it was simple enough, and that his mandate was to bring justice to all, with everyone given due process.

"Sa tingin ko po, ang tanging humahabol sa kanila, ay ang kanilang kunsensya na sa wakas ay gumising na muli." (It seems that their own newly awakened conscience is chasing them).

"Walang kampo-kampo, walang parti-partido sa harap ng nakapiring na hustisya. Ngayon, kung sa tingin ng iba ay sila lang ang pinagtutuunan natin ng pagod at panahon, baka naman napapraning lang sila," he said. (There are no camps, no parties before the bar of justice. Now if some feel that they are being singled out, perhaps they are just being paranoid).

Arroyo and her relatives and allies have complained that they are being demonized and singled out by the present administration.

Aquino admitted that it's not easy to address UP graduates especially since the Republic of Diliman has a tradition of giving less than warm welcomes to officials of the government.

Race against time

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said yesterday that the impeachment trial of Ombudsman Gutierrez is a race against time because this must be finished before yearend in order to remain relevant.

Gutierrez's term will end in December next year and so, according to Santiago, her trial should be concluded before the end of this year.

"We will be racing against time when we act as a trial court in the impeachment process because the Ombudsman will retire at the end of 2012," she said.

"So when we go beyond 2011 and reach the halfway point of 2012, why do we even have to continue since she would be retiring already? So it's a race against time. Now the question is, can we administer justice if we are racing against time?" Santiago said in an interview over radio dzBB.

The veteran senator cited the country's experience in its first ever impeachment trial involving former President Joseph Estrada where it took the prosecution two and a half months to present a portion of their case.

The prosecution then never got to finish its presentation of the case because the private lawyers who were assisting them walked out of the proceedings, which eventually led to a mass action and the ouster of the former president.

Using the Estrada trial as basis, and assuming that the defense would take the same amount of time to present its own case before the Senate, Santiago noted that this would already take five months.

There are six articles of impeachment that will be heard in the trial of the Ombudsman and based on the approved rules of the Senate, all six would have to be heard first before judgment is made on each of the six articles.

Santiago noted that there would still be the scheduled breaks over the course of the trial as stated in the legislative calendar, so these days would have to be added to the computation of the trial period.

The defense is also expected to do everything it can to delay the proceedings, which Santiago said is "an accepted fact of life."

"In any litigation, there is always one side for which delay would be favorable and usually if you are the one charged, you would want the delay," she said.

Enrile won't allow dilatory tactics

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who will serve as the presiding officer during the entire impeachment trial, said he would not allow any dilatory tactics from any side during the trial and he intends to conclude the proceedings by the end of the year or even earlier.

However, a proposed amendment to the rules on impeachment is being pushed by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, which Enrile said would definitely cause even more delays to the proceedings if approved.

The proposed amendment would pave the way for voting to be made immediately after hearing of each article of impeachment rather than going over all six first before voting as contained in the present rules.

Enrile said he believes that the present rules are already sufficient but if Pangilinan can get a majority of the members of the Senate to support his proposed amendment, then he has no choice but to consider this.

"We would have to publish the rules again and this would mean another delay. We might not be able to start until June," Enrile said.

Congress would go on sine die adjournment on June 9 or the last day of the first regular session of the 15th Congress.

It would only be on July 25 that Congress would convene its second regular sessions and according to Enrile, Congress would be closed and no official activities would be allowed during the period between June 9 and July 24, including the impeachment trial.

Pangilinan, apart from pushing for the amendment to the rules, has also called for the Ombudsman's resignation, something that has drawn criticism from the supporters of Gutierrez and even some of his colleagues in the Senate.

Santiago said it would be better for all of her colleagues who will serve as judges in the impeachment trial to refrain from making any comments on issues that may be raised during the proceedings.

She said that issuing statements on these matters could raise questions about their motives.

Santiago said it would be best to just cleanse their minds of everything that they have heard about the Ombudsman and the issues involving her impeachment and start from zero in order to be impartial or objective during the trial.- with Marvin Sy


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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