House holds closed-door session on Duterte impeachment

Mara Cepeda
House holds closed-door session on Duterte impeachment
(UPDATED) In the first hearing on the impeachment complaint against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, critics and allies debate its sufficiency in form

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – After more than 3 hours of debates, the House committee on justice decided Monday noon, May 15, to hold a closed-door session on how to tackle the impeachment complaint filed against President Rodrigo Duterte. 

The committee held its first hearing on the complaint on Monday morning, two months after opposition lawmaker and Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano filed it before the House. The committee on justice is tasked to review the document’s sufficiency in form and substance.

Justice panel chairperson Reynaldo Umali called for an executive session after it became apparent the committee members were divided whether or not deeming the complaint insufficient in form effectively means the dismissal of the impeachment complaint. 

Before the executive session, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas grilled Alejano in a long interpellation about the complainant’s personal knowledge of the accusations he made against the President. 

These include Duterte’s alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings, his family’s alleged unexplained wealth, and his supposed involvement in 1,400 killings by the Davao Death Squad. (READ: Duterte impeachment complaint ‘a fight for all Filipinos,’ says Alejano)

The Majority Leader based his questioning on Alejano’s verification of the impeachment complaint, which reads: “I/We hereby confirm and affirm that the material allegations made therein are true and correct of my/our own personal knowledge and as culled from authentic records.”

Fariñas asked Alejano: “Do you have personal knowledge of these 1,400 individuals killed in Davao City?”

Alejano conceded he did not personally see the murder of these individuals, but argued he based his accusations against Duterte on authentic records.  

“I have no personal knowledge as a witness but I have personal knowledge as a complainant based on the records,” said Alejano, an ex-soldier and former coup plotter.

But he did not convince Fariñas, who said: “The purpose of verification is to secure an assurance from the complainant that allegations are true and correct, not speculative.”

Alejano also later explained that his best evidence against Duterte are the President’s statements on the drug war and the country’s ties to China. “They are public knowledge,” he insisted.

At that point, Umali called for an executive session. (READ: Alejano denies impeach bid part of destabilization plot)

A divided justice panel?

Other lawmakers supported Fariñas’ claim that Alejano based his complaint on hearsay and online materials that were “not authentic.”

“While I must admit initially that we should give way to a full-blown hearing on the substance of the complaint…with the intelligent discourse on the part of the Majority Leader, I was really perplexed on how the answers were given [by Alejano],” said Oriental Mindoro 1st District Representative Paulino Salvador Leachon. 

“With my conscience… hindi ho puwedeng gamitin ang committee na ito as an instrument na further na magulo pa ang bansa natin (this committee cannot be used as an instrument to further cause chaos in our country),” he added.

But some lawmakers said Alejano’s complaint is sufficient in form.

Opposition lawmaker and Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman argued that Alejano met the minimum requirements for the complaint to be deemed sufficient in form.

“With respect to form, let me reiterate there are only two questions to be asked: Is there a verified complaint? Has the complainant sworn to the complaint? We are not going outside the periphery of verification,” said Lagman.

“Before we jettison the complaint, we should give him a chance to be heard,” he added.

Rules on impeachment proceedings

Alejano filed the complaint last March 16, alleging that Duterte:

  • Culpably violated the Constitution
  • Engaged in bribery
  • Betrayed the public trust
  • Committed graft and corruption
  • Committed other high crimes

Based on the rules, the House justice committee shall then determine whether the impeachment complaint is sufficient in form and substance, and if there is probable cause to pursue it.

The same rules say that once the complaint is dismissed based on insufficiency in form, the House secretary-general would return the complaint to the complainant explaining to him why it was dismissed. (READ: FAST FACTS: How does impeachment work?)

The House of Representatives, dominated by allies of the President, is the sole institution that has the power to determine the validity of impeachment complaints.

During the Monday hearing, Minority Leader Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez said the complaint “won’t fly,” citing the high popularity ratings enjoyed by the President. (READ: Suarez-led minority bloc won’t back Duterte impeachment)

“At the end of the day, we need to satisfy people. What I’m saying is, I am in the end of my political career… I’ve never seen a president – sabagay, wala pa siyang one year – who is not interested in enriching himself and that is one quality that we need: an honest president,” Suarez, a longtime ally of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said.

Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia said she considers impeachment a “divisive” move. “It holds us back from what should really be our jobs,” she said. – Rappler.com 

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.