, July 25, 2005
(STAR) By Jess Diaz - Opposition congressmen, joined by colleagues from other political parties, are set to charge President Arroyo today with four impeachable offenses enumerated in the Constitution.

The offenses of bribery, graft and corruption, culpable violation of the Constitution, and betrayal of the public trust will be contained in the amended complaint that Minority Leader Francis Escudero and his colleagues will file with the House of Representatives this morning.

The complaint amends the petition filed last June 27 by Marcos loyalist lawyer Oliver Lozano, which accuses Mrs. Arroyo of betraying the public trust largely because of her alleged conversations about vote rigging with an election official believed to be missing former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano.

San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, who heads the opposition’s impeachment team, said the charges to be leveled against the President will focus on the issues of "lying, cheating and stealing."

Assistant Minority Leader Rolex Suplico said each of the impeachable offenses would be supported with specific crimes that Mrs. Arroyo has allegedly committed.

Suplico was one of opposition lawmakers who warned yesterday they would take the battle to oust Mrs. Arroyo to the streets if her dominant allies in Congress block the impeachment complaint.

Lawmakers were finalizing the complaint - a draft claimed Mrs. Arroyo "stole, cheated and lied" to rise and stay in power - that they plan to file today before she delivers her State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Congress.

Suplico said administration lawmakers have taken steps to block the new complaint on a legal technicality.

"If there is no chance for our complaint to be accepted by the House (of Representatives), we intend to withdraw it and tell the people that there is no hope in the impeachment process," Suplico said. "We can now go to the streets."

Even if she has not been required to, the President has answered the Lozano petition, denying she betrayed the public trust and sought the dismissal of the complaint.

The advance answer has prompted Zamora, Escudero and their colleagues to suspect that Mrs. Arroyo could be preempting their amended complaint. However, the President’s lawyer, Pedro Ferrer, has denied the claim.

The House is expected to act today on the Lozano petition, together with the revisions the opposition is scheduled to present.

On the eve of the start of the Second Regular Session of the 13th Congress, Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. announced that he would act expeditiously on the complaints.

"I will exercise my constitutional duty to place the two impeachment complaints in the order of business now and to transmit them to the committee on justice, even if the same Constitution allows the luxury of 10 session days within which to make such transmittal," he said.

"If there are any amended complaints duly endorsed by a member or members of the House, I shall see to it that the same are included in the transmittal, not within 10 session days, but also today, as soon as I receive them," he said.

The Lozano complaint has been endorsed by Rep. Rodante Marcoleta of the party-list group Alagad. Rodante is an administration ally and was among the President’s defenders in the House inquiry on the "Hello, Garci" tapes.

A second petition has been filed by lawyer Jose Lopez of Malate, Manila, who just basically adopted the Lozano complaint. The Lopez petition has been endorsed by another administration ally, Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez, who belongs to the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino, the political party Mrs. Arroyo founded in 1997 when she was still a senator.

De Venecia is sending the two complaints, and possibly the opposition’s revisions, to the justice committee even if the House has yet to approve its rules on impeachment.

Majority Leader Prospero Nograles said the House will try to tackle the rules beginning tomorrow.

"We are interested in having the rules swiftly approved," he said.

The amended impeachment complaint is expected to be signed by the 28 members of the minority, more than 10 House members belonging to the Liberal Party, several members of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), at least 10 party-list representatives led by Satur Ocampo of Bayan Muna, and some congressmen belonging to the majority bloc who have called for the President’s resignation.

The signatories from the minority include Juan Edgardo Angara of Aurora, only son of Sen. Edgardo Angara. While the young Angara is for Mrs. Arroyo’s removal from office, his father has been silent on the issue of the President’s resignation, for which he has received flak from Senate colleagues.

Though the Liberal Party headed by Senate President Franklin Drilon has taken a stand calling for Mrs. Arroyo’s resignation and her impeachment in case she refuses to step down, about half of LP congressmen have refused to sign the complaint.

The impeachment issue has split not only the LP but also the NPC, the political group founded by San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., and the Nacionalista Party, which is headed by Sen. Manuel Villar Jr.

Several NPC members, including Escudero and Agusan del Sur Rep. Rodolfo Plaza, are among the complaint’s signatories. On the other side of the fence are Arroyo loyalists, including Marcelino Libanan of Eastern Samar and Eduardo Veloso of Leyte. Tarlac Rep. Gilberto Teodoro Jr., the acknowledged leader of the NPC bloc in the House, has been silent on the impeachment issue.

Assistant Minority Leader Allan Peter Cayetano and Cavite Rep. Gilbert Remulla, who belong to Villar’s NP, have signed the amended petition. The NP has not taken a stand on the President’s impeachment. Remulla’s elder brother, Jesus Crispin, is expected to sign the complaint.

Representatives Roilo Golez of Parañaque and Edmund Reyes of Marinduque, who have joined the calls for the President’s resignation, will most likely be among the signatories.

Meanwhile, a ranking administration lawmaker called on his colleagues to vote on the impeachment complaint "according to their conscience and the merits of the case."

Davao Oriental Rep. Joel Mayo Almario said lawmakers belonging to the ruling coalition should not consider party lines on the issue but vote accordingly.

Almario called on his opposition colleagues to stop begrudging their members who are reluctant to support the case and maligning them with bribery tales.

"We call on our colleagues to do their duty to their constituents and the country without fear or favor. On the part of the opposition, it should not stand in the way of their members who are inclined not to support the impeachment case for lack of substance and merit," Almario said.

Almario slammed reports of some lawmakers being bribed to back off from the impeachment complaint.

He said the bribery tales were apparently being propagated by the opposition in an apparent attempt to discourage more of their members from rejecting the complaint.

"The blanket accusations of bribery being hurled against reluctant members are demeaning to the image and reputation of the House and its members," Almario said.

Almario reminded the opposition that a broad sector of society have collectively called for the rule of law as the solution to the issues raised against the President by the opposition.

Since it is now apparent the opposition does not have the numbers to push for a direct referral of the complaint to the plenary, Almario said the opposition should let all lawmakers give the case due course.

They should study the case according to its merits and act on this based on House rules and their individual discretion, Almario said.

"The opposition should give the justice committee full rein to study the case, dissect the issues and hear all sides before submitting its findings to the plenary," Almario said.

"The findings of the justice committee will provide solons enough information about the case which will help them decide on this in the plenary," he said.

On the eve of the President’s State of the Nation Address, Bayan Muna’s Ocampo echoed the impassioned plea of former President Corazon Aquino for Mrs. Arroyo to spare the nation the pain and divisiveness of an impeachment process by stepping down.

Ocampo said there is no better time for the President to announce her resignation than in her SONA.

"She must step down now because she is the hindrance to national unity and genuine reforms," he said.

Last week, Ocampo and five militant colleagues bolted De Venecia’s majority bloc to support the impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos said Mrs. Arroyo should "confess, save herself from shame and bid goodbye."

"Parting might be such sweet sorrow, but for the majority of the Filipinos who are calling for the President’s resignation, parting would be GMA’s sweetest gift to the nation in the time of jueteng and Gloriagate scandals," she said.

Because of heightened political tensions, De Venecia has ordered stricter security in and around the Batasan complex in Quezon City.

"We have the responsibility to ensure the maximum security of House members, our guests, the community, and all sectors of society," he said.

As for the plan of opposition senators and congressmen and Ocampo’s group to boycott the SONA, Nograles said members of Congress are "duty-bound to listen to the President’s address to be enlightened on the country’s state of affairs and what needs to be done."

He said it would be "unparliamentary" for members to boycott or walk out of the SONA.

But Ocampo and his colleagues said they have the right not to listen to Mrs. Arroyo’s rhetoric.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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