By Helen Flores
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Slightly more than half of Filipinos favored making Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez face impeachment proceedings, results of a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey show.
The SWS survey, conducted from March 4 to 7, found 52 percent of 1,200 respondents agreeing with a Supreme Court (SC) ruling giving the House of Representatives the go-signal to resume impeachment proceedings against Gutierrez.
Only 15 percent of the respondents disagreed, 29 percent were undecided, and four percent opted not to answer the survey question, “Do you agree or disagree with the Supreme Court decision that allows the moves in the lower House to file an impeachment case against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez?” The newspaper BusinessWorld commissioned the survey.
“We are pleased that a majority of our people believe in making their public officials accountable. We hope they keep up their vigilance by closely monitoring the progress of the Senate trial,” Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operations Office said in a text message.
“We urge our people to express their sentiments and make this known to their elected representatives,” he said.
On Feb. 15, the SC lifted a status quo ante order on the impeachment proceedings at the House against the Ombudsman.
The survey also revealed that support for the SC’s decision was highest in Metro Manila at 68 percent. Six of every 10 respondents in the ABC class or the upper middle class support the SC decision.
In the rest of Luzon, support for the SC move was at 53 percent and in Visayas and Mindanao, 47 percent and 42 percent, respectively.
Half of class D respondents were in favor of allowing the House to pursue impeachment proceedings against Gutierrez, while only four in 10 from class E backed the SC ruling.
The SWS poll also found a majority of Filipinos criticizing Gutierrez for entering into a plea bargaining agreement with former military comptroller, retired Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia.
Eight in 10 respondents or 83 percent agreed that Garcia should be charged with plunder, while only 15 percent disagreed.
The plea bargaining agreement allowed Garcia to plead guilty to lesser offenses of direct bribery and facilitation of money laundering instead of the non-bailable plunder charges. He also agreed to return to the government P135 million of the P303 million he was accused of plundering.
The SWS said discontentment against Garcia was noted in large majorities in all regions: 84 percent in Metro Manila, 85 percent in the rest of Luzon, 83 percent in Mindanao and 79 percent in the Visayas.
By class, nine in 10 Filipinos from class ABC and eight in 10 from classes D and E believe that plunder charges should be filed against Garcia.
The survey also showed that net satisfaction rating of Gutierrez was at -9, unchanged from last September’s figure during the initial stages of the impeachment proceedings.
Gutierrez’s trust rating was lowest at -22 in June 2009. It was at its highest in June 2006 at +4, it said.
The House impeached Gutierrez on Tuesday with an overwhelming vote of 212-46 with four abstentions.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. gave assurance that work on pending bills in the chamber would not be sidetracked by the looming impeachment trial of Gutierrez in the Senate.
Gutierrez is being accused of betrayal of public trust for allegedly sitting on major corruption and human rights cases involving former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and some of her officials.
Congressmen have expressed elation at the SWS survey result and urged the public to be more vigilant as Gutierrez prepares to stand trial in the Senate.
“I am happy with the result of the survey. It shows the strong support of the people to remove the Ombudsman from office and to hold her accountable (for her actions),” Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. said.
“I hope the Filipino people will remain vigilant to remove an obstacle in our campaign against graft and corruption when we go to the Senate for the impeachment trial,” he said.
Tupas chairs the justice committee, which has endorsed the ouster of Gutierrez through the impeachment process.
His senior vice chairman, Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte, said the survey result “only proves my argument that our respective constituencies want to make her accountable for betrayal of public trust based on the evidence submitted by the complainants.”
Two days after the House voted to impeach Gutierrez, Tupas and Fariñas, together with other committee members, transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said the strong public opinion against the Ombudsman, as reflected in the SWS survey, “was the reason so many House members voted to impeach Gutierrez.”
“They were being sensitive to the electorate’s opinion. As usual, the people are, in this case, ahead of their representatives,” he said.
Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III said the poll result “shows that the people are strongly against corruption.”
“It shows that the people believe that the Ombudsman made a mistake in entering into a plea bargain deal with Garcia,” he added.
Anti-corruption advocate and former finance secretary Jesus Estanislao called Gutierrez’s performance “terrible” and that impeaching her would “send signal that we mean business.” Estanislao served during the administration of President Corazon Aquino, the president’s mother.
No special session
President Aquino, meanwhile, ruled out the need for a special session to expedite the impeachment trial of Gutierrez at the Senate and the passage of the bill seeking to postpone the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
But the President said he was open to discussing the urgency of the ARMM bill with the leaders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“The special session, I think is, not necessary for the impeachment. It is a trial, they will have to proceed at the pace that is dictated by the Constitution,” Aquino said in an ambush interview after speaking before Filipino-Chinese businessmen in Pasay City.
Aquino also said he was “reasonably confident” that the Senate would be able to finish deliberations on the ARMM bill without a special session.
If the Senate would not be able to finish, “then with consultations with both leadership, the leadership of both chambers, we will reiterate that there is an urgency because the elections are by August.”
The House of Representatives already passed its version of the bill but is facing rough sailing at the Senate. Congress goes on break this week and will be back in May.
Meanwhile, ANAD party-list Rep. Pastor Alcover Jr. has accused the Aquino administration of using the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel to buy the votes of House members for Gutierrez’s impeachment. The Palace earlier denied threatening to hold off the PDAF of anti-impeachment lawmakers.
“In fact, what ANAD is seeing here is a grand plan of forces out to destabilize government. The justice committee’s report was a result of the complaint filed by Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel of Akbayan, espousing Euro-Communism, and Renato Reyes of Bayan, the umbrella organization of all Maoist communist sectoral front organizations in the country,” he said. - With Jess Diaz, Aurea Calica, Alexis Romero, Delon Porcalla, and The Freeman