WITNESSES in the looming impeachment trial of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez should have nothing to fear as they are on the side of truth, members of the House prosecution panel said on Monday.
The public prosecutors made the statement in reaction to Gutierrez recommending filing of plunder and graft charges against whistleblower Jose Barredo, who admitted in Senate hearings that he had served as a “runner” in the P728-million fertilizer fund scam.
Rep. Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list and a spokesman for the House prosecution panel noted that the Ombudsman’s recommendation would only create an atmosphere of vindictiveness and revenge.
“Although it is very hard for witnesses to come out in the open and testify, the only thing that will embolden them is that they are on the side of the truth,” Tugna said in a text message to The Manila Times.
Rep. Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna party-list and one of the 11 prosecutors of Gutierrez argued that the recommendation to file the plunder and graft charges against Barredo showed that the Ombudsman was desperately resorting to harassment to fight for her political survival and to protect former President Gloria Arroyo.
Gutierrez has been perceived to be shielding the country’s former leader from graft charges because Mrs. Arroyo’s Arroyo’s husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, was the Ombudsman’s classmate at the Ateneo de Manila University Law School.
“It (the recommendation to file the charges against Barredo) should even encourage witnesses against the Ombudsman to come forward. Those involved in the impeachment trial should not be cowed and must continue fighting for truth and justice,” Colmenares said.
Rep. Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro agreed.
“If the filing [of the plunder and graft charges] against Barredo is intended to harass witnesses, it will even embolden the witnesses to testify against the Ombudsman,” Umali said.
Among those who will testify against Gutierrez are Danilo Ramos of the non-government Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) and former Solicitor General Frank Chavez.
Gutierrez is facing six Articles of Impeachment, namely, her alleged inaction on the P728-million fertilizer fund scam in 2004, on the P1.3-billion Mega Pacific deal for election automation and on the death of Navy Ensign Philip Pestaño; the absence of a case against former police comptroller Eliseo dela Paz, who had tried to smuggle money from Russia; the exclusion of former President Arroyo and her husband from charges over the $330-million broadband deal; and the low conviction rate of the Office of the Ombudsman.