Analysis by Raïssa Robles
Congress resumes May 2.
Why time an impeachment complaint now and not wait for June – the month when previous impeachment complaints against previous sitting Philippine presidents were filed?
Did the Magdalo group, which is behind the complaint, make a big mistake by filing now instead of July?
When I examined what the Magdalo group represented by Congressman Gary Alejano had done, it turns out that the timing was just right for the following reasons:
First, it caught everyone off guard.
Second, it preempted the Duterte administration from “inoculating” any impeachment complaint against him. What do I mean by that?
During the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, she escaped impeachment by having someone file a defective complaint against her – one that could easily be thrown out by the Justice Committee for being “insufficient in form and substance”. Remember Oliver Lozano?
Former members of the Davao Death Squad like Arturo Lascanas, Edgar Matobato and others who still wish to come forward can also file their own joint SUPPLEMENTAL AFFIDAVITS OF COMPLAINT.
The Constitution is very clear on that. Its Section 3 (2) of Article XI on the Accountability of Public Officers states that “A verified complaint for impeachment may be filed by any Member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution of endorsement by any Member” (of the House).
The verified impeachment complaint then becomes an avenue for the thousands of documents, photos and other evidence to ENTER INTO CONGRESSIONAL RECORDS PERMANENTLY.
It won’t be that easy to throw out this complaint. The complaint against Arroyo did not prosper because the complainants did not have direct knowledge of the circumstances of the alleged impeachable offenses.
But in this case, relatives of the fatalities and survivors of the failed killings can come forward and file SUPPLEMENTAL AFFIDAVITS OF COMPLAINT. The sound bites of President Duterte himself advocating killings could be entered as evidence. This is the first case of a sitting president being accused of multiple murder, after making an election promise to do just that.
Even the supplemental affidavits of the self-confessed perpetrators will continue to be relevant in this case, because President Duterte had used what he did in Davao as a template for what he would do if elected president. The whistle-blower members of the “Davao Death Squad” or “DDS” have actually used the argument that the “DDS” is being replicated nationwide in Duterte’s “Operation Tokhang”.
And even if the impeachment complaint is thrown out, the same body of evidence can now be used in filing before the International Criminal Court.
In fact, the throwing out of the impeachment complaint could be used as the very justification for filing with the ICC, since an impeachment is really the last legal resort given by the Constitution to hold a sitting Philippine President accountable.
Now, let me explain about the impeccable timing of the Magdalo group.
I had assumed that the best time to file an impeachment complaint was shortly before Congress starts sessions in July and that only one impeachment complaint can take place every year. I was wrong on both counts.
Apparently, the best time to file an impeachment complaint is when nobody is expecting it. When the “Garci tapes” surfaced in 2005, lawyer Oliver Lozano beat everyone by filing a highly insubstantial impeachment complaint first against then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. (The “Garci tapes” contained wiretapped conversations between a woman who sounded like Mrs. Arroyo, lisp and all, and Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano discussing ways to win the 2004 presidential race by cheating.)
For more on the Garci tapes, pls read –
Since Lozano beat everyone by filing a very scant impeachment complaint in 2005, the complaint was easily killed in the House committee.
I was wrong in thinking that the Constitution restricts to once every year the filing of an impeachment complaint. In fact, the Constitution does not bar the filing of many impeachment complaints. But it restricts impeachment proceedings being initiated against the same official to once a year.
So you could actually have many impeachment complaints consolidated and heard in ONE IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDING.
The Constitution is also very precise about when impeachment proceedings should start.
First, the VERIFIED COMPLAINT has to be included in the Order of Business within ten “session days”, and referred to the proper Committee within three session days thereafter. Or 13 days in all.
This simply means that the VERIFIED COMPLAINT cannot be ignored by the House even if most of the congressmen are currently pro-Duterte.
Then, within 60 session days after the verified complaint is referred to a House Committee, the members have to vote on the matter (a simple majority wins) and submit the result of its voting in the form of a House Resolution.
Looking at the congressional calendar this year, it appears that the House would have to refer the Verified Complaint to the proper House committee by May 15 at the latest (pls correct me if I’m wrong. I based this on the Senate calendar which should be the same as the House calendar – see http://senate.gov.ph/17th_congress/resolutions/scr-2.pdf )
The Committee then has “60 session days” to vote on the complaint and come up with the corresponding House Resolution. Notice that the Constitution stated “60 session days” and not “60 days”. The phrase “60 session days” refer to the period when Congress is actually in session.
Since Congress breaks for its yearly sine die adjournment from June 3 to July 23, 2017 this year, then those “60 session days” could mean that the impeachment complaint could be voted on by the House Committee before or after Congress resumes on July 23.
I can’t be sure because it is up to the House Committee to decide whether or not to meet during its sine die adjournment. In any case the Constitution gives the Committee until roughly around September 26 (or “60 session days”) within which to scrap or not the impeachment complaint.
The Magdalo group, by the timing of its impeachment complaint, has just robbed President Rodrigo Duterte of his moment of triumph and glory – his
first ever State of the Nation Address on July 24 after one year in office, which will be clouded over by that complaint.
Will Duterte have the numbers in Congress to crush the complaint?
Right now, we can assume that he does.
However, we cannot assume that his almost total control over the House of Representatives will continue until July because of what House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez just did. Alvarez stripped 14 lawmaker-allies in the rainbow coalition off their committee chairmanships.
A committee chairmanship is a perk given to an important political ally and is accompanied by discretionary sums of money as well as the power to decide which proposed legislation should live or die. Removing that power from a lawmaker could reap some ill consequences.
It’s quite interesting that among those who were stripped off chairmanships was the popular actress Vilma Santos-Recto, whose husband is currently the Senate President Pro-Tempore (or Number 2 in the Senate). The three lawmakers of the Bayan Muna Party were also stripped as well as Buhay Party Representative Mariano Michael Velarde, Jr. (son of El Shaddai founder Mariano “Mike” Velarde).
Think of all the pissed off followers and supporters of Bayan Muna and El Shaddai.
It bears watching how this move by Alvarez and vocal support from the Palace would affect the fate of the impeachment complaint and the administration’s rainbow coalition.
The presidential palace has branded the impeachment complaint as part of a destabilization plot.
I beg to disagree. Impeachment is the only constitutional method to hold a sitting president accountable.