, OCTOBER 15, 2007 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - Opposition congressmen will most likely boycott the hearings to be conducted by the House committee on justice on the “sham” impeachment complaint lawyer Roel Pulido has filed against President Arroyo.

“Some members of the minority, including myself, are inclined to boycott the impeachment proceedings,” Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez, one of the deputies of Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, said yesterday.

“We believe the Pulido impeachment complaint will tar anyone who takes it seriously,” he said.

The justice committee will begin conducting hearings upon the resumption of session of Congress early next month.

Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor, an administration ally, heads the committee. He is the father of Michael Defensor, former chief of staff and secretary of environment and natural resources of Mrs. Arroyo, and a defeated Team Unity senatorial candidate.

Instead of participating in the hearings, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and other minority members plan to question before the Supreme Court the process of referral of the Pulido complaint to the Defensor committee.

According to Rodriguez, the referral of the case by Deputy Speaker Raul del Mar violated the Constitution since the Charter specifically assigns such task to the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

He said since the Constitution is silent on the delegation of such function, the Speaker has to personally exercise it.

Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. authorized Del Mar to do the referral after he inhibited himself from the impeachment case since the complainant earlier lodged a case against him with the House ethics committee for alleged unethical conduct.

“I should like you to discharge my functions today, October 11, 2007, only for the purpose of properly disposing of the impeachment complaint,” he told Del Mar in a letter dated on the same day.

“Let me emphasize that my only reason for inhibiting myself is to avoid any complications of conflict of interest that may arise, considering that the same complainant also filed similar charges against my person.

“Let it not be said that I am doing this to seek any personal leverage or to await the filing of any other impeachment complaint. In my every official action in this House, I have always given primordial consideration to the interests of our nation and people,” he stressed in his letter.

De Venecia ordered the transmittal of the Pulido complaint to the justice committee less than 10 hours after he and more than 150 administration congressmen met with Mrs. Arroyo in Malacañang on Thursday morning and a few hours before Congress went on its first recess on Friday.

The railroading of the complaint was meant to shield the President from a hostile and more serious impeachment case that the opposition was planning to file during the three-week break.

De Venecia’s order of referral was a complete turnaround from the stand he had taken on Wednesday when he ridiculed the complaint in the wake of revelations by opposition congressmen that lawyer Francis Ver had offered them millions in cash and projects in exchange for endorsing the impeachment petition.

Ver, deputy secretary general of Mrs. Arroyo’s Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino party, denied the claims. His Kampi bosses immediately distanced themselves from him.

“This complaint is tainted with allegations of bribery. I would be contributing to this new scandal if I referred the complaint to the committee on justice now. Para nating ginagago ang tao niyan (It’s as if we are fooling the people),” the Speaker said in radio interviews Wednesday morning.

He had 10 days to refer the complaint to the justice committee. Even though the petition was filed on Oct. 5, only one session day had passed until the referral was made on Thursday night.

This is because the House suspended its sessions on a daily basis between Monday and Thursday last week since it was rushing work on the proposed P1.227-trillion 2008 national budget. Thus, the sessions on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were considered part of Monday’s deliberations.

De Venecia had nine more days to do his constitutional duty of sending the complaint to the committee on justice. That means he has until Nov. 21 to do that task. Congress resumes session on Nov. 5.

The Speaker, officers of the majority coalition in the House and Palace officials have a common explanation for the sudden referral of the Pulido complaint to the justice panel on Thursday: to preserve the coalition.

According to House sources, this means that De Venecia agreed to take back his words on Wednesday against prompt referral and to give Mrs. Arroyo a one-year impeachment shield provided her allies did not move to oust him.

Both the President and De Venecia accepted this quid pro quo arrangement. However, some Arroyo loyalists are still bent on ousting their House boss.

Probing the payoff

Two opposition senators, on the other hand, slammed Malacañang for its supposed intervention in the impeachment proceedings in the reported bribes on the congressmen last week.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he will initiate an investigation in the Senate to look into allegations the Palace bribed 189 congressmen.

Lacson was joined by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel who also wanted to investigate the alleged payoff by Malacañang to some local officials

Both senators noted the supposed bribes took place in the wake of the filing of the impeachment raps against Mrs. Arroyo and the reported bribe confirmed by Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio over the weekend.

“Now that a governor, no less than the local head of President Arroyo’s home province has provided first hand public testimony that money changed hands, it is appropriate to determine where the money came from,” Lacson said.

Panlilio has confirmed in a radio interview that he received cash contained in a brown paper bag after the meeting in Malacañang last Thursday.

He claimed a Palace emissary dressed in barong had told him to spend the money “freely” in view of the upcoming barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

Panlilio claimed the bag contained crisp peso bills in five bundles amounting to P50,000.

Lacson said he would file a resolution for the Senate to investigate the source of the funds distributed to local officials and congressmen.

“If the funds were public money, as Fr. Panlilio believes so, Malacañang should show transparency by coming out with the appropriate disbursement vouchers,” he said. – With Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero, Charlie Lagasca

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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