THE way things are proceeding at the House of Representatives, people should expect a tediously drawn-out impeachment process.
This early, technicalities are the order of the day as the amended impeachment complaint filed on Monday's opening of Congress only had 41 representatives endorsing it. That same day, Speaker Jose de Venecia included the complaint in the House order of business and referred it to the justice committee — by far the only swift action that's been done on the case.
With only 41 signatures, the opposition is opting for a "creeping impeachment" similar to the process that led to the impeachment of former president Joseph Estrada when fewer than 20 opposition congressmen filed the complaint. Once it had the needed number of signatories, then House Speaker now Senator Manuel Villar immediately transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate without anymore waiting for the report of the justice committee.
But Rep. Simeon Datumanong, current committee chairman, is insisting that the complaint can no longer be transmitted to the Senate because it did not have the required signatures of at least one-third of the House membership when it was filed.
Lawyers of the opposition, however, say they are ready to contest Datumanong's interpretation before the Supreme Court.
But with the rules of procedure governing impeachment proceedings still to be finalized for a lack of quorum, the justice committee has also yet to convene. Nonetheless, we've learned that a preliminary impeachment schedule has been drawn that will, at the minimum, last until the end of September. Mark these dates:
- August 9 — for the justice committee to undertake a preliminary determination of sufficiency in form of the verified complaint and/or resolution
- August 16 — for the justice committee to undertake a preliminary determination of sufficiency in substance of the verified complaint and/or resolution
The committee shall have 20 session days to determine sufficiency in form and substance of said complaint from the date of referral (June 25).
- August 24 — for the justice committee to furnish written notice to respondent, who is given five days to reply from receipt of notice and complainants given three days from receipt of answer
- August 31 — start of committee hearings scheduled three times a week (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday)
The last week of September, meanwhile, is set for the determination of probable cause, a step that Rep. Edcel Lagman has been stressing in plenary debates on the impeachment rules, but which opposition lawyers say will lend to the process criminal proceedings of the nature of preliminary investigations done by a fiscal or prosecutor. This, they say, is contrary to the spirit of the impeachment, which is non-criminal in nature.
Based on the draft rules, the committee has 30 session days from the start of the hearings to submit its report to the House provided that the submission is within 60 sessions days from the time the complaint was referred to the committee.
Only then can the House in plenary be able to vote within 30 days on the resolution of the justice committee either to approve and set forth the article of impeachment or dismiss the complaint.