, February 9, 2005
(STAR) Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye today said Senator Aquilino Pimentel’s call for the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) to file impeachment charges against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is ill-timed as the government is now in the midst of initiating reform measures. Speaking before the Philconsa yesterday, Pimentel accused the President of betraying public trust by using the road users’ tax and OWWA funds for purposes other than what they were intended for.

In a radio interview this morning, the Press Secretary said Congress is busy right now in debating on various fiscal reforms and an impeachment case against the President can distract lawmakers from their work.

"Mukhang wala sa panahon itong panawagan ni G. Pimentel … ito ay nakaka-distract" (Mr. Pimentel’s call seems ill-timed . . . it is distracting), Secretary Bunye said.

The Press Secretary stressed that the projects of the President "are constitutional and legal" and all these will "redound to the benefit of the people."

He also challenged Senator Pimentel to go through the legal process in his impeachment call and not course it through the media. He stressed that the Arroyo administration is ready to answer all his allegations "point by point."

It is saddening, Bunye noted, that Senator Pimentel’s accusations came at a time when the government is on its way to economic recovery as shown by positive indicators including the strengthening of the peso for over a week now, and the bullish rally in the stock market due to foreign investors’ renewed interest and confidence in the country’s economy.

Pimentel accuses Arroyo of ‘impeachable offense’ By Jose Rodel Clapano The Philippine Star 02/09/2005

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. accused President Arroyo yesterday of committing an impeachable offense when she allegedly used trust funds during the election campaign last year and abused her powers as chief executive in clear violation of the Constitution.

Speaking before the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa), Pimentel urged the group to "take up the cudgels on behalf of the people" and file an impeachment case against Mrs. Arroyo.

In a speech on Constitution Day at the Manila Polo Club in Makati City, Pimentel charged that the President betrayed the public trust when she illegally used trust funds "raised through the road users’ tax and Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) for her own purposes" in the May 2004 polls.

Mrs. Arroyo also illegally authorized the payment of $68 million, or P3.762 billion for the purchase of six search and rescue vessels for the Philippine Coast Guard without congressional authority, the opposition senator said.

The President also committed culpable transgression of the Charter with the willful and blatant abuse of her appointing power when she went beyond the number of presidential appointees allowed under the law, Pimentel said.

"Her misuse and abuse of the powers of the presidential office cannot but be deemed to have been done maliciously, that is willfully and deliberately, for which she is answerable under the Constitution and the applicable laws," he said.

It is unthinkable, he noted, that the President was unaware of the serious implications of her actions.

Saying Philconsa was precisely organized to protect the Charter, Pimentel said there is no better opportunity for the group "to pursue its primary mandate than when blatant challenges confront the Constitution and the rule of law as they do today."

Quickly reacting to Pimentel’s charges even before he could deliver his speech, Malacañang chastised the senator for making "false" accusations, saying he merely wants to grab headlines.

In a strongly worded statement prior to Pimentel’s speech, Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the lawmaker was "obviously headline-baiting and is not helping our people overcome the overriding problems in the economy."

Bunye accused Pimentel of engaging anew in "hate politics" instead of accepting the President’s call for unity and reconciliation.

"More politics will only aggravate poverty," he said. "Nevertheless, we are ready to answer any of these charges, however absurd they may be, if the good senator would wish to pursue this charade through the legal mills."

"President Arroyo’s acts as mentioned were lawful, constitutional and in the interest of the people as well as the nation," Bunye emphasized. On the first charge, Pimentel said Mrs. Arroyo had some P1.4 billion raised from the road users’ tax transferred to fund her partisan political project dubbed "Kalsada Natin, Alagaan Natin."

He said the President also authorized the transfer of some P4 billion funds of the OWWA to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. supposedly to enable the poor to have better access to public health services. The objective may have been good, but wrong nonetheless, according to Pimentel. The reason for this, he said, is that the road users’ and OWWA funds are trust funds and "therefore, cannot be used for any purpose other than that specified in the law that created them." Pimentel cited Article 6, Section 29, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution, which mandates that "all monies collected on any tax levied for a special purpose shall be treated as a special fund and paid out for such purpose only." By such misuse of trust funds, the senior lawmaker said Mrs. Arroyo at the very least betrayed public trust.

On the second charge, Pimentel said the President gave her full powers to then Transportation Secretary Pantaleon Alvarez on July 30, 2001 to "meet, confer and negotiate on behalf of the Republic a loan agreement in the amount not exceeding $71,136,000 for the purpose of buying six vessels for the Coast Guard." Mrs. Arroyo subsequently ordered the release of the special allotment release orders on various occasions to cover the cost of the acquisition, which reached $68.4 million or P3.762 billion. Pimentel explained it was erroneous for the President to have done so because "the Constitution provides that no money shall be paid out of the treasury except in pursuance of an appropriation made by law."

By illegally authorizing payment for the vessels without congressional appropriation, Pimentel said the President culpably violated the Constitution. On the third charge, the legislator stressed Mrs. Arroyo abused her power of appointment by designating undersecretaries and assistant secretaries to government departments in excess of what is authorized by the Administrative Code of 1987. Pimentel said that in the Department of National Defense, Mrs. Arroyo appointed six undersecretaries and assistant secretaries even as the Administrative Code provides for only one undersecretary. And at the Bureau of Immigration, Pimentel said five appointments were made by the President. Apart from the commissioner, four associate commissioners were designated although Republic Act 613, as amended, provides for only three. Also, the appointment of Luis Lorenzo Jr. as chair of corporate entity Quedancorp is questionable as the law provides that the agriculture secretary should instead be ex officio chair, which functions differently from chairman.

"While the power of the President to fill up offices created by law is acknowledged, the presidential power to appoint is circumscribed by applicable laws. In other words, the power to appoint is not absolute," Pimentel said.

"It is limited not only by the constitutional requirement as to qualifications but also by law as to the number of offices that must be filled up," he stressed.

"Without the President’s honest-to-goodness commitment to uphold the Constitution, she won’t be able to implement it for the good of the people," the senator said. – With Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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