MANILA, OCTOBER 23, 2003  (STAR) By Paolo Romero  - The dismissal of the impeachment complaint filed against Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and seven associate justices of the Supreme Court by ousted President Joseph Estrada appears imminent after a majority of the House panel deliberating on the allegations found the charges lacking in substance.

But while Davide and his co-defendants may heave a sigh of relief over the development, a second impeachment complaint filed against him by the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) of businessman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. may soon go to the Senate for trial.

According to San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, the second impeachment complaint initiated by Camarines Sur Rep. Felix Fuentebella, who alleged that Davide misused the P1.2 billion Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), has the signatures of at least 67 multiparty congressmen.

Only seven more signatures are needed to gain one-third of the 233-member House, after which the complaint can be sent to the Senate for trial without having to pass through the House justice committee.

At yesterday’s deliberation on the insufficiency of substance of Estrada’s impeachment complaint by the committee on justice, chaired by Eastern Samar Rep. Marcelino Liban (NPC), 24 lawmakers voted to dismiss the complaint, while at least two others said the move to impeach Davide had sufficient substance.

Estrada, through his lawyer former senator Rene Saguisag, said last June that Davide and SC Associate Justices Artemio Panganiban, Josue Bellosillo, Reynato Puno, Jose Vitug, Leonardo Quisumbing, Antonio Carpio and Renato Corona committed culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and high crimes because of their conspiracy to remove him from office and install then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in January 2001.

Those who voted in the affirmative were legislators from the NPC and Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) who found the complaint without merit, saying Estrada resigned when he abandoned Malacañang.

Isabela Rep. Georgidi Aggabao said the complaint cannot pass muster, since "it seeks a legislative review of a judicial decision" and will cause political and economic instability.

Kalinga Rep. Lawrence Wacnang said there was no evidence of bad faith on the part of the SC justices.

The two congressmen who voted for the continued hearings on the complaint were Zamora and Maguindanao Rep Didagen Dilangalen, who both belong to the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) party founded by Estrada.

The House committee on justice is expected to wrap up its work on the impeachment complaint against Davide in time for the deadline on impeachment complaints. Under impeachment rules, the panel is required to determine the sufficiency in form and substance of complaints within 20 session days.

With the possible dismissal of the complaint, the paper will go to the plenary session of Congress, which will either affirm or overturn the committee’s decision. Under the impeachment rules, a one-third vote by congressmen is needed to overturn the dismissal.

While conceding defeat, Dilangalen said the development is a "blessing in disguise," since the second impeachment complaint is moving faster and has a greater chance of reaching trial.

Davao del Sur Rep. Douglas Cagas (NPC) expressed confidence that the second complaint will obtain the required number of signatures, as even Lakas-CMD and opposition congressmen signed the charges.

Had the first complaint been deemed sufficient and substantial, the second impeachment complaint would easily have been inserted as an amendment.

Yesterday’s voting, however, was seen as a move to allow the second complaint to prevail since, under House rules, no other impeachment complaint can be entertained if a prior complaint is already ruled sufficient in form and substance.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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