What rush? | Inquirer Opinion
Editorial

What rush?

/ 05:35 AM March 18, 2011

IT IS simply not correct to say that the impeachment case against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is being rushed. Even if we use as frame of reference the period that began when the Supreme Court rejected Gutierrez’s petition for certiorari and prohibition, on Feb. 15, we cannot say that the process was compromised by a congressional rush to judgment.

In the first place, the notion that the committee on justice of the House of Representatives should have waited for the Court to rule on the matter with finality is at best a legal interpretation with political implications. But the committee’s decision to proceed anyway (taken, we must emphasize the point for the benefit of those who did not follow the process closely, only after intense discussion at the committee level) is also a legal interpretation, also with political consequences—but it is a legal interpretation based on more solid ground (the interlocutory order to restrain Congress was lifted by a similar interlocutory order with similarly immediate effect), with political implications more advantageous to the public interest. Waiting for the Court to reject Gutierrez’s petition with finality would have cut into the 60 session days prescribed by the Constitution for the committee to take action.

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As it is, when the Court rejected Gutierrez’s petition (she alleged that the impeachment complaints against her were “capricious and whimsical”) with finality, it did not cite the committee for proceeding as it did. In other words, the notion that the committee should have waited for the final Court ruling was altogether ignored.

But why frame the discussion according to the day the Court lifted its controversial status quo ante order against the committee? That would benefit only the allies of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who insist on the rush-to-judgment narrative.

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The committee found the impeachment complaints filed against Gutierrez in July and then in August last year sufficient in substance only on Sept. 7. Then the Supreme Court, acting on the Gutierrez petition, stopped impeachment proceedings on Sept. 14. From that day until Feb. 15, or a total of five months, the committee did nothing. Where, we ask, is the unseemly haste that critics of Gutierrez’s looming impeachment allege?

The truth is, the steady, orderly process we have all seen on television and followed online since last month, in which the justice committee patiently dealt with the insufferable delaying tactics of the Arroyo minority, insisted on following procedures by the book and finally reached overwhelming majorities on the crucial votes, only looks speedy when contrasted with the deliberate sluggishness of the ombudsman’s own record.

That, ultimately, is what the impeachment process is all about: the pathetic record of an ombudsman who failed to act in the interests of justice in several high-profile corruption cases. If this were the frame of reference to be used, then Gutierrez’s looming impeachment is actually very late, coming as it does years after the bungling of the Mega Pacific contract, the inaction on the fertilizer scam, the indifference to the NBN-ZTE deal.

The cobbling together of the new majority in Congress, exactly like President Aquino’s own presidential campaign, is based on a simple promise: That the corruption of the Arroyo years must be investigated and stopped, and the corrupt held to account. The new majority took control in July last year, how can they be accused of rushing to judgment in the case of Gutierrez when the new justice committee took several weeks to begin the impeachment process, waited five months while the Supreme Court studied the issue, then conducted reasonably paced hearings (twice or thrice a week) that were open in the minutest detail to the public, heard out both Gutierrez’s side and the presentation of evidence of the complainants, before holding a vote?

Even the issue of evidence has been misinterpreted or misanalyzed. The task before the justice committee is roughly equivalent to that of a prosecutor: to find probable cause. The notion that the evidence must be vetted as though at a trial is mistaken. The impeachment process in the Senate is the trial.

Congress has yet to vote on the justice committee’s recommendations in plenary. An impeachment, however, seems likely. That is not proof of a rush to judgment, but a sign that the members of the new majority are listening to the people who sent them to Congress in the first place.

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TAGS: corruption, impeachment, ombudsman
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