Fight continues despite Ombud's resignation: groups-A A +A
Saturday, April 30, 2011
MANILA -- Legislators and groups pushing for the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez vowed Friday to pursue cases against her and her former boss, Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
"We will pursue cases against Merci (Gutierrez) and GMA (Arroyo) is definitely next," said Akbayan party-list Representative Kaka Bag-ao, adding the Ombudsman's resignation Friday only shows that the allegations thrown against her are true.
Gutierrez, who was charged with betrayal of public trust, resigned from her post on Friday, 10 days before the Senate begins the trial on impeachment case filed against her.
In a press conference Friday afternoon, the Ombudsman said she personally went to President Benigno Aquino III at 10 a.m. to hand over her one-page letter, which the President accepted, saying Gutierrez's action "has spared the country from a long and divisive impeachment process that would have distracted our lawmakers from dealing with the many problems we face today."
Gutierrez's resignation will take effect on May 6. She maintained Friday, though, that the allegations against her are "untrue and groundless."
Lawmakers at the House of Representatives, however, believe that Gutierrez's resignation is "a maneuver to stop the evidence against her from being presented to the public," especially those that involve Arroyo.
Complainants in the impeachment charges filed against the Ombudsman alleged that Gutierrez betrayed the public trust when it failed to take action on the cases implicating Arroyo and husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, and the former President's allies.
"We will now focus in the prosecution of the said criminal case and are urging the Department of Justice to expedite the preliminary investigation on the NBN-ZTE case, so that they can immediately file the appropriate charges to those responsible for the scam. Now with Merci gone, we can concentrate on prosecuting Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for electoral fraud, graft and corruption and human rights violations," said Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares.
The botched NBN-ZTE deal is part of the articles of impeachment sent by the House of Representatives for the Senate trial.
Aside from the militant lawmakers, a Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines's (CBCP) official also called on the Aquino government on Friday to continue the prosecution of Gutierrez.
In a phone interview, CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice and Peace chairman Bishop Broderick Pabillo said turning the impeachment trial of the Ombudsman moot and academic does not mean Gutierrez cannot be prosecuted anymore.
"Her resignation should not put a stop to the process to make her accountable... We should continue to make her accountable," said Pabillo in a text message.
This was also the call of University of the Philippines law professor Harry Roque and the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), who both said the new ombudsman to be appointed by President Aquino must be steadfast in hunting the "sins" of the previous administration.
"So far, except the tax evasion against Mickey (Arroyo), no charge has yet been filed by the government against GMA for graft and violations of human rights. The cases were filed against her were upon initiatives of private individuals and people's organizations," NUPL assistant secretary for legal services Ephraim Cortez told Sun.Star.
Rights alliance Karapatan, which recently led the so-called "Morong 43" health workers in filing a P15-million damage suit against Arroyo and security officials early this month, echoed this position, saying the Gutierrez's resignation has no bearing in their fight against Arroyo.
"Arroyo has to be accountable for the thousands of human rights violations committed under her nine-year rule," Karapatan secretary general Jigs Clamor said in a phone interview.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. supported the move of the party-list lawmakers and groups, hoping that with a new ombudsman, Arroyo critics will now have a chance to pursue charges against her.
"Those people who say they are ready to file charges...this is their chance," he said.
Belmonte stressed that Gutierrez has spared the legislative body of a "nerve-wrecking trial" with her decision. This, he added, will allow the House of Representatives to proceed with its important and urgent legislation.
The Ombudsman's resignation also allows the Senate to now focus on writing and passing laws, with the impeachment trial now moot, said Senator Sergio Osmeña III.
Had the trial pushed through on May 9 as scheduled, senators would have had to divide their time between that and legislative session.
Under the schedule approved by Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, sessions would have been held in the mornings, with the trial in the afternoon. Meanwhile, committee hearings can only be held on Fridays.
"We certainly need more than one day for the committee hearings. Another problem is, if you only have one day for committee hearings, everybody's committee hearings will happen at the same time," Osmeña said.
Osmeña said this will keep senators from participating intelligently, especially for those with hearings of their own to preside over.
For Senator Gregorio Honasan II, Gutierrez's resignation will allow the chamber to focus on more pressing problems "on a prioritized basis," a sentiment also expressed by Senator Loren Legarda.
"The Senate can keep its concentration on important legislation," she said.
This was also echoed by Senator Francis Escudero, who said the Senate has "other pressing matters to consider and focus on such as rebuilding our country and meeting and delivering social services needed."
Senators also said that the government's drive against corruption should not end with Gutierrez's resignation.
"It doesn't mean this is the end of this political telenovela. The action simply shifts to the proper forum - the courts - where these cases belong," Senator Ralph Recto said.
Senator Teofisto Guingona III, who recommended Gutierrez's removal from office in a draft Blue Ribbon Committee report, said her resignation should lead to a speedier resolution to alleged anomalies in the Arroyo administration.
A welcome move
Several other lawmakers, including former President Arroyo, also welcomed and respected Gutierrez's decision.
"We respect the decision of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to resign her office. All of us are aware of the tremendous pressures she was subjected to throughout her trial by publicity over the past year," Arroyo's spokesperson, Elena Bautista-Horn, said in a text message.
"We can imagine how this affected, not only the Ombudsman, but also her family, her friends, and the very office she holds. And so we respect her decision to spare them, and herself, further punishment," she added.
Arroyo appointed Gutierrez as the Ombudsman on December 2005 with a seven-year term.
San Juan City Representative JV Ejercito, son of former President Joseph Estrada, also welcomed the resignation, saying it was a "supreme sacrifice" by the Ombudsman.
For the complainants who initiated the impeachment against Gutierrez, like Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes, the resignation has always been a valid option for the Ombudsman.
"That is the right move. We would have wanted to present evidence in the Senate but her resignation is good enough. We hope this paves way for the selection of an Ombudsman who will file the necessary plunder raps against GMA in the near future. Let's hope the selection process is transparent," he said.
Former Akbayan party-list Representative Risa Hontiveros said that while Gutierrez's move is "anti-climatic", the Ombudsman should have resigned a long time ago.
Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada (Quezon), a member of the House prosecution panel, said he was surprised with the resignation of Ombudsman Gutierrez.
"I was surprised. The impeachment becomes moot. Since the purpose of impeachment is to remove the impeachable officer from office, with the resignation of the Ombudsman Merci, the objective has been reached," Tanada added.
Tanada said the Aquino government has now been given the opportunity to restore the credibility in the Office of the Ombudsman.
Colmenares, for his part, said Aquino should appoint an Ombudsman who has the credibility and track record of being an active opponent of corruption and abuses.
Bayan said it is too early to name names on who will replace Gutierrez, but added that the administration should make selection process transparent.
Civil society group Black and White Movement, meanwhile, challenged President Aquino to appoint an "impartial, credible person of unquestionable integrity" as soon as possible.
Gutierrez, in the press conference Friday, said she will turn over immediately the day-to-day affairs of her office to the overall deputy ombudsman.
But as to her replacement, President Aquino said he ordered the Judicial Bar and Council to begin the search for the replacement of the embattled Ombudsman. AMN/Sunnex