House leaders: No ground to impeach PNoy
MANILA, Philippines - Leaders of the House of Representatives doused cold water Thursday on plans by administration critics to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Aquino, saying there is no ground to impeach him.
Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City, Cavite said the President enjoys wide support among members of the House of Representatives, where the process of ousting an impeachable official begins.
“He is enjoying wide support among lawmakers, including senators, and among our people. There is no chance for an impeachment complaint against him to prosper. Remember that impeachment is largely a political process,” he said.
Barzaga, who is a lawyer-accountant and chairman of the House games and amusement committee, said there is also no ground to impeach Aquino.
He said any complaint anchored on the use of the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) funds by the administration would have to prove that such use was illegal and it was the President who committed the illegal act.
He said the legality or illegality of the use of such funds is debatable.
He pointed out that there is no question that the President is authorized to augment appropriations in the national budget by drawing from yearend savings.
He explained that even if assuming the use of DAP funds was illegal and the illegal act was committed by the President, the next question to be asked is whether such act constitutes “culpable violation of the Constitution,” which is one of the grounds for impeachment.
He also said the filing of an impeachment complaint by lawyer Oliver Lozano was “not news.”
“He’s (Lozano) already making a mockery of the legal process in pursuit of cheap publicity. Was there an endorser (from Congress)? What would happen to it, when we have a very popular President despite the many issues,” he said.
“This is an exercise in futility though there will be some media mileage and this will not help the country,” Barzaga said.
Barzaga is one of the leaders of the National Unity Party (NUP), which groups former Lakas members. NUP is part of the Liberal Party-led majority coalition in the House.
Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo, for his part, said House members were in no mood to engage in “laborious and divisive impeachment complaint” and would rather “move on with a life without pork barrel, fulfill our mandate to enact those proposed measures that are on the table, and restore the people’s confidence in Congress, which has been admittedly hit hard by the pork barrel scam.”
He said House members preferred “to propel the healing process instead so that democratic institutions like Congress could function effectively.”
He also said “we have to take the President’s word” that DAP is legal.
Not much of a worry
But Aquino allies may not have to take extra effort to defend him against impeachment moves as House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said he is more interested in looking into the legality of the use of DAP funds than initiating an impeachment process against the President.
Opposition Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said it is difficult to impeach Aquino while the latter is enjoying popular support. “You cannot impeach a very popular President,” he said.
An impeachment process is initiated when a complaint is filed with the House of Representatives. The complainant can either be a House member or a private citizen. In case the filer is a private citizen, the complaint must be accompanied by an endorsement from a House member.
It is the committee on justice that hears a valid complaint. Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., who belongs to the ruling Liberal Party, chairs the committee. It was he who led the committee in the last Congress in impeaching then chief justice Renato Corona and then ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
The Senate convicted Corona in May last year for failing to declare some sizable bank deposits in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. Gutierrez resigned before her Senate trial could begin.
Senior administration lawmakers, meanwhile, called on the public not to prejudge President Aquino and his economic managers over the DAP issue.
“The DAP is all about prudence in governance dictated by a unique philosophy of daang matuwid (straight path) resulting in global best practices resulting in strong macroeconomic fundamentals that is gaining international investor attention,” Aklan Rep. Teodorico Haresco said.
“It’s all about balancing the country’s debt equity and current account, and increasing our Gross International Reserves,” he said.
Iloilo Rep. Jerry Treñas said administration foes are bent on derailing reforms jumpstarted by the President. He said the DAP controversy “is one example of these attempts to discredit the President’s determined effort to get to the bottom of the P10-billion pork barrel scam.”
Citizens Battle Against Corruption party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna also said the DAP controversy was being used to gloss over the Napoles case.
“But this issue does not equate with the strength and testimonies of the Napoles issue. In the Napoles issue, there are positive testimonies of graft and corruption,” Tugna said.
For his part, Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said talks of impeachment of Aquino are designed to divert people’s attention away from the “real issue – the multi-billion-peso pork barrel scam perpetrated by non-government organizations (NGOs) identified with Janet Lim-Napoles.”
He said politicians implicated in the scam have succeeded in taking public attention and scrutiny away from them, and diverting it to Aquino and Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
“This issue has gone too far. Now, we are talking about impeachment. Let us not lose sight of the fact that the real issue here is the Napoles NGO scam involving billions in pork barrel funds and the politicians linked to the anomalies,” he said.
Evardone added that if there are irregularities in the use of other funds, those should be looked into and treated separately from the pork barrel fund scam.
Even the opposition is resigned to the fact that it is almost impossible at this time to impeach President Aquino.
Party-list group Akbayan also warned the public yesterday not to be swayed by what it called the “diversionary tactic” of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, which it said is apparently succeeding.
Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez said Estrada has largely succeeded in diverting attention way from the plunder case filed against the senator, his two Senate colleagues, and alleged pork barrel scam brains Napoles.
He said Estrada’s revelation that senators received P50 million each in additional pork barrel funds after the Corona impeachment last year has hogged the headlines for days.
He said the revelation led to the disclosure by Malacañang that the source of the additional funds was the lesser-known DAP.
“Even as we seriously express our alarm and concern on the DAP, we should not forget that this issue was first raised by Senator Jinggoy Estrada, who together with other lawmakers were caught with their hands in the cookie jar. The public must not fall for Estrada's diversionary tactic,” he added.
The National Bureau of Investigation and pork barrel scam whistle-blowers led by Benhur Luy have filed plunder charges with the Office of the Ombudsman against Estrada, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Ramon Revilla Jr., and Napoles.
According to the complaint, the three senators received P581 million in kickbacks from foundations associated with Napoles, to which they gave hundreds of millions in pork barrel funds.
Also facing plunder or graft charges are heads of state agencies that served as conduits of the senators’ funds as well as the chiefs of staff or project coordinators of Estrada, Enrile and Revilla.
Limited powers sought
To stop Malacañang from having sole discretion on the use of billions in funds such as those pooled under DAP, Akbayan – an administration ally – urged Congress to “regulate, streamline and limit” the President’s fiscal powers.
“Clipping the immense fiscal powers of the executive branch is part of the greater budget reforms that are needed to give the public greater participation on how public funds are allocated and disbursed,” it said.
“We reiterate our call for Congress to regulate, streamline and limit the executive’s fiscal powers. While we agree to DAP’s intention to accelerate or increase state spending to social services and productive sectors to immediately boost economic growth, the DAP issue points to the executive’s twin fiscal powers to impound and realign savings,” Gutierrez said.
He said the exercise of such twin powers means that the Palace can also appropriate funds, an authority that exclusively belongs to Congress. Gutierrez also criticized the DAP allocations made to lawmakers.
“Accusations of misuse, real or perceived, could have been easily avoided if government simply allocated the savings to the agencies,” he said.
“As such, we call on the DBM to disclose all those who were given funds sourced from DAP and for the lawmakers and agencies who were recipients to report on the utilization of the funds. These reports will show whether or not the objectives of the DAP were achieved,” he added.
Meanwhile, Agusan del Norte Rep. Erlpe John Amante of the LP told a press briefing he was against the abolition of PDAF. He said PDAF had greatly helped him and his father – a former governor – implement development projects in the province. His sister, former congresswoman Maria Angelica Rossdel Amante-Matba, “handled her PDAF well for the good of the province,” he added. With Paolo Romero, Ben Serrano