[PHOTO AT LEFT - Pro-administration congressmen, including (from right) Edcel Lagman, Matias Defensor, Simeon Datumanong and Pablo Garcia, raise their hands to vote against the impeachment of President Arroyo at the House of Representatives yesterday.]

MANILA, NOVEMBER 27, 2008 (STAR) AP By Delon Porcalla - The House justice committee voted 42-8 to dismiss yesterday the fourth and latest impeachment complaint against President Arroyo for “lack of substance,” with one prominent administration lawmaker likening the development to a “hearse of exhumed carcasses” being “led back to the graveyard.”

“Litigations must not be interminable. Exhumation of carcasses of dismissed causes of actions is not sanctioned since there must be an end to litigation,” declared Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, vice chairman of the panel headed by Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor.

He argued that four of the seven grounds for impeachment were “recycled, rehashed.”

“The committee on justice, by virtue of the vote just taken, has declared to dismiss the complaint against President Gloria Arroyo,” Defensor said, as he declared the proceedings over.

Lagman said the issues on “Garci tapes,” the national broadband network deal with ZTE Corp. of China, the alleged 2004 electoral fraud, the extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, the Northrail project and the fertilizer scam have all been decided upon, or junked in the 2005, 2006 and 2007 impeachments.

As for the three other grounds – the P500,000 alleged bribery to congressmen, the exploration of gold at Mt. Diwalwal and the alleged Quedancor scam – Lagman said they are all “destitute of substance.”

The decision will be put to a vote in the full 238-member house next week, but the legislature is packed with supporters of Mrs. Arroyo and is certain to endorse the dismissal of the complaint.

Under the Constitution, another complaint against her can only be filed one calendar year after an earlier complaint is dismissed.

“I am perplexed why the complainants have not learned their lesson from their failures in the previous impeachment cases which were all dismissed for insufficiency of substance for alleging deficient or infirm recital of ultimate facts,” Lagman added.

“Either there is a failure in craftsmanship and advocacy or the complainants cannot in truth and conscience really make out a case for impeachment,” Lagman said.

“I believe it is not the default of legal craftsmen but a void of legitimate causes of action, a dearth of impeachable offenses attributable directly and personally against the President,” he maintained.

Only House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora, and Reps. Satur Ocampo, Liza Maza, Teddy Casiño, Teofisto Guingona III, Abigail Binay, Cinchona Gonzales and Rufus Rodriguez voted for the impeachment.

Before the crucial vote was made, Casiño voiced his frustration at the majority lawmakers’ disregard of what he called overwhelming evidence against Mrs. Arroyo accusing them of playing “bulag, pipi at bingi (blind, mute, deaf).”

Defensor ordered Casiño’s remarks expunged from the records upon the motion of Lagman, who described the militant lawmaker’s statement as “unparliamentary.”

Also just before the vote, Maza alleged that some members of the justice committee had received up to half a million in bribes on Tuesday night from the government to dump the impeachment bid.

Casiño recalled that as an “impeachment veteran,” being among those who voted to impeach Estrada in November 2000, their complaint then didn’t have to go through the stage they underwent in the 2005, 2006, 2007 and the current impeachment cases.

Defensor reminded him that during that time, the impeachment complaint reached the needed 85 votes or enough for it to make it to the Senate for trial.

“We are still in the stage of determining substance. There is no argumentation if this is true or false. We are not saying the President is already guilty. We just have to go to another stage,” Rodriguez argued.

Zamora, head of the 28-man opposition bloc, stressed that they have met the requirement put forth in the House rules on impeachment, including the recital of facts – a procedure over which the justice committee has jurisdiction.

He said the principle of res judicata (barred by prior judgment), as explained by Lagman, does not apply.

“The determination of substance is entirely different from probable cause,” Zamora pointed out.

“We feel that we have passed that test on recital of facts,” he said. “There is no need to present evidence at this stage.”

‘Temporary defeat’

Opposition politicians however were clinging to the faint prospect that the full House could overturn the committee’s decision.

“We suffered a temporary defeat,” said former speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.

“But the fight will go on. The next battle on the floor will take place on December 2 and 3 and, depending on the flow of public opinion, there could be reversals,” De Venecia said.

“It can happen. History can be made, knock on wood,” he said.

“Our day will come,” Zamora said after resting the opposition’s case.

Casiño warned that blocking democratic avenues to remove Mrs. Arroyo may impel Filipinos to resort to another “people power” uprising, as they did to oust Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 and Joseph Estrada in 2001.

“They’re courting danger by not allowing this democratic search for truth,” he said.

Highlighting the days of heated nationally televised impeachment debate was the appearance of De Venecia who accused Mrs. Arroyo on Monday of bribing him and other lawmakers to ensure the defeat of last year’s impeachment complaint.

De Venecia had a falling out with the administration after his businessman son Joey III linked First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo to the controversial NBN deal with China’s ZTE Corp.

Mrs. Arroyo cancelled the deal after irregularities unraveled.

Mrs. Arroyo succeeded Estrada in 2001, then won her own six-year term in 2004 in a vote that the opposition claimed she and her aides rigged.

She is the longest-serving head of state since Marcos, but surveys have consistently ranked her the most unpopular.

Alongside her domination of Congress, Arroyo is supported by the military and some top prelates in the powerful Catholic church. She is not eligible to seek re-election when her term ends in 2010 but she and her allies are suspected of extending her term through Charter change.

Analysts have said prominent politicians are unlikely to join any bid to have Arroyo removed by impeachment, with most of them preferring to conserve their energies for the 2010 election campaign. – With AP (From The Philippine STAR)

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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