MANILA, September 1, 2005
 (STAR) By Sandy Araneta - Business groups urged Congress yesterday to speed up and finish the impeachment proceedings so as to devote more time to getting the economy back on track.

The businessmen led by Donald Dee, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), called on lawmakers to wrap up the impeachment proceedings and work on legislation to improve the country’s economy and address more pressing issues.

Business leaders noted Congress has devoted much of its time and energy since resuming sessions late last month to debating three impeachment complaints against President Arroyo, who stands accused of rigging last year’s election.

"We urge Congress na tapusin na nila (to finish the committee hearings already)," Dee told the Fernandina media forum in Greenhills, San Juan.

Dee said lawmakers should desist from pursuing the impeachment complaint if it cannot muster the 79 signatures needed to automatically transmit it to the Senate for trial.

The 79 signatures represent a one-third vote of the 236-member House of Representatives that would compel the body to send the case to trial before the 23-member Senate.

Mrs. Arroyo has been under fire for months since an audiotape was leaked in which a woman sounding like her apparently tells an election official to fix the outcome of last year’s presidential elections.

"If there are no 79 votes for the amended impeachment complaint, then they should finish (the proceedings) also," Dee stressed.

Dee said the PCCI’s stand on the issue is that everything should be done according to law.

He said the impeachment process should be expedited since the issue has sent a negative message to foreign investors.

Dee, special envoy for international trade negotiations, said the PCCI announced its collective stand on the issue following consultations with its 120 local chambers, over 140 affiliated organizations and 28,000 members.

The sooner the impeachment process could be finished, the sooner businessmen could concentrate on creating jobs, Dee said.

He said businessmen strongly believe the economy will pick up in the latter part of the year.

Dee stressed big business does not want to dampen positive expectations in the last quarter of the year.

"There is no reason for us to worry. I still maintain that the GDP (gross domestic product) will continue to grow at a level higher than 4 percent," he said.

In the same forum, Raul Concepcion, chairman of Consumer & Oil Price Watch, predicted that if the impeachment process was terminated by next month, "we will all have a very nice Christmas."

"If this (impeachment process) will be resolved, let’s say, by about third week of September, then that will trigger the economy" to grow again, he said.

The ongoing debates over the impeachment complaint also forced the deferment of the hearings of the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA) to confirm the appointments of key government officials.

The nominees whose appointments were deferred included veteran journalist Amando Doronila as the country’s ambassador to Belgium.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who heads the CA panel as chairwoman of the Senate committee on foreign relations, said the "horizon is very dim" for Doronila because his confirmation is being blocked by senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Rodolfo Biazon and Sergio Osmeña III.

"For all these reasons I’m afraid that the horizon is very dim (and) that, in (all) likelihood, Mr. Doronila will be bypassed and it will therefore fall on the discretion of President Arroyo (as to) whether or not to extend him a second appointment during the recess of the Senate," Santiago declared.

She said Doronila was technically bypassed because of the failure of the CA to muster quorum since their counterparts from the House were busy with the impeachment proceedings.

"So it looks very much (like) there would be no more opportunity for the CA to meet in plenary session. And in that case — assuming for the sake of argument that the committee will vote to recommend Mr. Doronila, or in any event he cannot be confirmed by the plenary session on the CA — he will therefore fall in the category of a bypassed nominee," Santiago said.

The Senate will adjourn session for a week’s break from Sept. 10 to 18.

The President will have to reappoint Doronila during the recess, Santiago said.

Enrile had objected to Doronila’s appointment, saying Mrs. Arroyo should appoint career officials to premium postings such as Belgium.

Osmeña, for his part, argued Doronila’s apparent lack of background in trade and investments in all the European Union member countries.

He said Doronila’s appointment as the country’s envoy to Belgium would be a bad fit.

For his part, Biazon opposed the appointment citing Doronila’s age and state of health.

"If you were younger, the medical condition would not be much of a weighty factor but he is (already) 77 years old and already suffered a stroke," he noted. "We will never know what will happen today, tomorrow or next week."

Three nominees for ambassadors whose confirmation have been approved for confirmation at the committee level last Aug. 24, were also deferred.

They were for Norberto Basilio, former assistant secretary of the Office of the Middle East of African Affairs, as ambassador to Bangladesh; Al Francis Bichara, former Albay governor, as ambassador to Lebanon; and Vic Lecaros, former ambassador to Vietnam, as ambassador to Malaysia.

Doronila has left the CA members unimpressed from the start, after failing to display knowledge of issues pertaining to the European Union. - With Christina Mendez

News editor-in-chief: Sol Jose Vanzi

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