MANILA, Philippines – Does the planned impeachment case against President Benigno Aquino III have legal basis? Will it even prosper?
These are the questions surrounding calls from leftist lawmakers to impeach Aquino over the Supreme Court decision declaring acts under the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said it best when she said that impeaching the President is both a legal and a political issue, and these two factors cannot be separated from each other.
Moments after the SC decision was released, militant lawmakers in the House led calls to impeach Aquino.
Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon, who was also one of the petitioners in the DAP case along with fellow lawmakers in the Makabayan bloc, said the unconstitutionality of DAP "constitutes the impeachable offense of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust."
House leaders, meanwhile, said they believe the SC decision cannot be a basis for impeachment since the implementation of DAP, which was designed to use savings from low-disbursing projects to high-disbursing ones, was done in "good faith." Malacañang has also repeatedly echoed this statement.
For Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr, Aquino cannot be impeached because the SC decision is not retroactive.
In the 92-page decision penned by Associate Justice Lucas Bersamin, however, the court said the "authors, proponents and implementors" of DAP must be investigated first before they can get off the hook.
Leftist lawmakers said Aquino cannot claim "good faith" over the botched scheme since he had been aware as a former senator of the legal ramifications of impounding the budget without congressional approval.
Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares said: “President Aquino knows that DAP, which is basically an impoundment of budget funds and realigning these to nonexistent projects, is wrong. In fact, he filed a bill (Senate Bill) 3121 as senator illegalizing President Gloria Arroyo’s impoundment of the budget without congressional approval."
He added: "He did not ask for congressional approval for his DAP so he actually continued the practice of President Arroyo when he became president. The people have also to press on the complete elimination of the pork barrel by prohibiting and criminalizing allocation and use of lump sum discretionary funds via a people's initiative."
Leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan said they have copies of documents showing that Aquino approved the release of funds under DAP from 2011 to 2013. This contradicts what Justice Antonio Carpio pointed out during oral arguments on the scheme – that the budget department under Abad moved funds sans Aquino's approval.
But before the President could be impeached, there must clear legal basis for it, as well as proof that the money benefited Aquino, constitutional expert Father Joaquin Bernas said.
"It seems to me it's more of ignorance of the Constitution, and ignorance is not a ground for impeachment," Bernas told ABS-CBN.
House coalition blocs won't support impeach moves
With the legal basis on the impeachment of Aquino still subject to debate, will impeachment raps prosper in Congress in the first place?
Cavite 4th District Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr said lawmakers pushing for impeachment would be hard-pressed to gather the one-third vote of the House membership – the minimum number of votes required to approve a resolution to impeach the President.
At least 244 or about 85% of the more than 290 lawmakers in the House belong to the administration-backed majority bloc.
Various House blocs on Thursday, July 3, issued separate statements announcing that they would reject moves to impeach the President, including the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) and lawmakers from Visayas and Mindanao.
UNA Secretary General Toby Tiangco said the party will follow the lead of Vice President Jejomar Binay.
"UNA will not participate in moves to impeach the President on the unconstitutionality of DAP, out of delicadeza (sense of propriety) and for reasons of conflict of interest since the Vice President is the second highest official of the land. The VP has made his position clear that impeachment is divisive and unproductive," Tiangco said.
Iloilo City Representative Jerry Treñas said the 34-member Visayas bloc belonging to the majority coalition will also reject such moves.
“We have reached a consensus that we will resist any move to impeach President Aquino. The DAP was a lifesaver for many of our people especially in areas devastated by calamities such as the massive earthquake in Cebu and Bohol and the Super Tyhoon Yolanda,” Treñas said.
Deputy Speaker and Lanao del Sur Representative Pangalian Balindong said the Muslim bloc in the House would also not support any impeachment attempt.
He said Muslim lawmakers would rather prioritize the deliberations on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, which would create an enhanced autonomous government in Mindanao.
"Assuming that they would be able to garner the required minimum votes, the Senate will not be able to complete the hearing of the impeachment complaint. Since 2016 is an election year, our sessions will end in all likelihood by the end of February or at the latest within the first 2 weeks of March," Balindong said.
Other blocs in the House majority, including lawmakers from Bicol, Mindanao, Metro Manila, Quezon City, Caloocan and Ilocos have also reiterated their support for the President, Eastern Samar Representative Ben Evardone earlier told House reporters.
On a practical sense, Barzaga said there would not be enough time to complete the hearing on the impeachment complaint since 2016 is an election year and Congress session will likely end around February or March 2016.
Sack Abad – UNA
While most House coalition leaders are in consensus that the planned impeachment raps against Aquino won't fly, UNA Secretary General and Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco said the party supports calls to sack Abad.
He should also be charged with plunder, Tiangco said.
"Dapat lamang na kasuhan ng plunder si Butch Abad dahil nakakalula ang perang involved na nasa P170 billion ($3.9 billion*) na halos 17 beses ang laki kaysa perang nakulimbat ni Napoles," he said.
(It is but right for Butch Abad to be charged with plunder because the money involved – P170 billion [$3.9 billion], which is 17 times larger than the money received by Napoles, is overwhelming.) – Rappler.com