IF only to restore public respect and faith in the Congress, the House of Representatives of the 17th Congress should treat with seriousness the current move of a score of congressmen and several civil-society organizations to file an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales for “criminal negligence,” betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
This is important for two reasons.
First, the 17th Congress needs to prove that it is an improvement on the 15th and 16th Congress, which were significantly marred by the pork barrel scandal, the first-ever impeachment of a sitting chief justice of the Supreme Court, and the railroading of initiatives from President Benigno Aquino III.
The legislature ended the first six months of its first regular session by passing only two laws:
1. The law postponing the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections from October 31, 2016, to October 21, 2017 or Republic Act 10923.
2. The 2017 budget law – Republic Act 10924 or the 2017 General Appropriations Act, amounting to P3.35 trillion.
This is niggardly and insignificant, considering the huge amounts that the nation spends on the antics and perks of the congressmen and senators and on their grandstanding committee investigations that lead nowhere.
Second, the impeachment move against Morales is important because Ombudsman Morales made a big show of filing charges against former PNP Director General Alan Purisima and former Special Action Force Director Getulio Napeñas over the failed Mamasapano operation that resulted in the brutal slaying of 44 SAF commandos. And yet, she significantly failed to hold to account the one public official who from first to last authorized the fateful and tragic mission in Mamasapano on January 25, 2015 – former President Benigno Aquino III.
Ombudsman Morales committed this grave error of omission despite the two-year clamor of the public and aggrieved families for justice and closure in the Mamasapano tragedy. This stands in marked contrast to the decision of President Duterte to convene an independent commission to conduct a new inquiry into Mamasapano.
By impeaching Ombudsman Morales, the Congress will not be taking an unprecedented step. It is not forgotten by the public that during the term of President Aquino III (2010-2016), the House of Representatives of the 15th Congress impeached then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on charges of the alleged underperformance of her office and her failure to act on several cases during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
On March 22, 2011, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Gutierrez, sending the committee report as the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate which would act as an impeachment court. Gutierrez resigned on April 29, 2011, thereby canceling the impeachment trial at the Senate.
The pattern of presidential orchestration and congressional obsequiousness would be repeated in the case of the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. The Senate trial pushed through because Corona to the end refused to quit. He contended and many agreed that Aquino wanted him impeached for writing the Supreme Court decision on Hacienda Luisita and holding for the rights of the farmers.
It is uncertain at this point whether the impeachment movers can muster enough votes in the House for an impeachment complaint against Morales to be formally entertained by the chamber. As of the latest count, the impeachment movers said they can already count on 20 House members who would vote for the complaint. The number will swell if the House leadership decides to support the impeachment effort.
A vote of one-third of all the 293 members of the House of Representatives is needed to elevate the complaint to the Senate, which will sit as an impeachment court to try the case.
For her part, Ombudsman Morales can count on the support of Liberal Party representatives and senators to beat back an impeachment complaint against her.
Some party legislators have pooh-poohed the chances of success of any move to impeach Morales.
We think the issue is a good test of the mettle of the Congress in acting on matters of grave public import.
If the legislature can act with wisdom on a case involving partisanship and dereliction of duty by the Ombudsman, we can trust the Congress with the task of deliberating on the priority initiatives of the administration, that include:
1 Revising the Constitution and installing a federal system of government;
2 Legislating a new peace formula for conflict in the Philippine South;
3. Restoring the death penalty in the criminal justice system; and
4. Granting emergency powers to President Duterte to solve the traffic crisis in Metro Manila.