, February 10, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero  -  Moves to impeach President Arroyo will not reach first base in Congress since the charges are based on rehashed issues previously addressed before the May elections last year, House leaders said yesterday.

"Even on the grounds of merit, such a move being contemplated will not prosper," Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. said.

Other senior House leaders expressed similar confidence after opposition Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. accused Mrs. Arroyo of committing impeachable offenses by illegally using trust funds to serve her own interests during the election season, and abusing her presidential powers in clear violation of the Constitution.

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

Majority Leader Prospero Nograles described Pimentelís call as "all hot air."

Nograles said the senatorís suggestion "has no evidentiary support" and warned it will deal a blow to the countryís hard-earned economic recovery in the last 12 months.

"It (the impeachment move) wonít fly," he said. "But it will erase whatever economic gains we have had so far. We should be more prudent and circumspect in this regard."

Even Senate President Franklin Drilon believes there is no sufficient basis to impeach the President, saying "not every violation would constitute an impeachable offense."

Drilon also agreed with House leaders that impeaching the President "is the last thing the country needs."

According to the Constitution, a verified impeachment complaint must be endorsed by at least one congressman and referred to the House committee on justice, which will then determine whether the document is sufficient in form and substance.

The panel would then make a recommendation to the House in plenary on the complaint whether to impeach or not. The President is considered impeached if one-third of the members of the House vote for his or her impeachment.

Negros Occidental Rep. Ignacio Arroyo, the Presidentís brother-in-law, said the charges were baseless and would only promote political divisiveness.

Arroyo defended the President saying she did not abuse her authority when she recruited "barrio folks" in repairing their own roads. He said the intention of the road usersí tax is to use registration fees paid annually by motor vehicle owners for road repair and that was achieved by the hiring of casual road workers.

In his speech before Philconsa on Tuesday, Pimentel accused the President of betraying the public trust when she had some P1.4 billion raised from the road usersí tax transferred to fund her partisan political project dubbed "Kalsada Natin, Alagaan Natin."

Pimentel said the President also authorized the transfer of some P4 billion funds of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. supposedly to enable the poor to have better access to public health services.

He said it was wrong for the President to have done this, citing the road usersí and OWWA funds are trust funds and "therefore, cannot be used for any purpose other than that specified in the law that created them."

He also charged that Mrs. Arroyo 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 President, Pimentel added, likewise 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.

Drilon said Mrs. Arroyo "should take corrective measures" on the issue of the Coast Guard vessels and alleged excessive appointments. "I am certain that these can be addressed."

"As to whether or not these constitute culpable violations of the Constitution, I, with due respect, disagree with my esteemed colleague, Senator Pimentel," he stressed. ó With Jess Diaz, Marichu Villanueva

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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