ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
It was providential that the House of Representatives approved the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez just a few days before the Senate was scheduled to go on a one-and-a-half month Holy Week recess. The long hiatus would give all the parties concerned time to reflect not only on their individual lives and sins, but on what to do with this crucial political exercise. The long recess would also give parties in the opposite sides of the fence to cool off and contemplate on the merits of the case, or at least on the consequences of removal or acquittal.
On the other hand, the long recess would also allow room for wheeling and dealing by both sides, an impeachment process being a purely political exercise. One can expect the Aquino administration to utilize its vast resources to convince the senators to vote for removal. Gutierrez has been pictured, after all, as the biggest stumbling block to President Aquino’s promised goals of curbing corruption and sending to jail officials of the previous administration who used their position to enrich themselves.
At the same time, the long recess would give Gutierrez time to reflect on whether it would be worth facing a lengthy and destructive trial to salvage whatever is left of her credibility and integrity. Maybe, the Lenten atmosphere during this long recess would give her enough motivation to resign before the trial and spare the country from such a highly divisive exercise, and, at the same time, spare herself from the humiliation of an impeachment trial.
I’m sure Gutierrez is aware that an impeachment trial will not only subject her to even more ridicule, but more importantly, will give the critics of her longtime friends and allies, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, an opportunity to bring back to public consciousness two of the biggest corruption scandals involving the Arroyos.
The two – the unresolved P728-million fertilizer fund scandal and the $320-million NBN-ZTE broadband deal — are among the six charges presented in the Articles of Impeachment submitted by the House to the Senate just before the congressional recess.
The House had voted to impeach Gutierrez by an overwhelming vote of 212-47 for the following charges:
• The Office of the Ombudsman’s allegedly dismal performance as shown by its low conviction rate
• Gutierrez’s allegedly unreasonable failure to take prompt and immediate action on the complaints filed against various public officials, including former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in connection with the botched national broadband network deal with China’s ZTE Corp.
• The allegedly inexcusable delay of the Ombudsman in investigating the death of Ensign Philip Andrew Pestaño aboard a Philippine Navy vessel
• Gutierrez’s alleged inaction on the P728-million fertilizer fund scam that involved the alleged diversion of government funds into Arroyo’s 2004 presidential campaign
• Her alleged inaction on the election automation deal between the Commission on Elections and Mega Pacific Corp., which was nullified by the Supreme Court for being anomalous
• Her alleged inaction on the case of the so-called Euro Generals—ranking police officers who took millions of pesos worth of euros with them to a conference in Russia.
In effect, Gutierrez will not only be the one on trial here, but Arroyo herself. I will be shocked if the House panel tasked with prosecuting Gutierrez would not call the Arroyo couple to the witness stand and subject them to intense grilling on at least the two charges pertaining to the fertilizer scam and the broadband deal. The Arroyos would most likely be asked about their close relationship with Gutierrez, and whether they had a hand in the Ombudsman’s inaction on the two cases.
The prosecuting panel will have to prove that there were enough grounds to indict the Arroyos and the other officials involved in the five cases cited, but still Gutierrez did not file the charges. To do this, they will call on witnesses and those tagged in the anomalies all over again.
While Gutierrez may escape removal because she was not directly involved in any one of the cases and the prosecutors may not be able to gather the 16 votes required to remove her, her friends and benefactors, Gloria and Mike Arroyo, will emerge from the whole episode brutally bruised, if not criminally charged for the two corruption scandals.
Still, the impeachment trial will be a no-win situation for her because even if the Aquino camp fails to get the needed votes to impeach, Gutierrez’ integrity will almost certainly be ruined beyond repair.
Even so, I must admit I admire her courage in fighting for her integrity and honor, although I must lament that by doing so, she will be dragging the country into another highly divisive and distracting exercise.