AS expected, the opening of the House justice committee hearing this morning to determine the impeachment complaint's sufficiency in form went haywire, abruptly halted less than half an hour into the proceedings with the committee chairman Rep. Simeon Datumanong (Maguindanao, Lakas-CMD) ordering its suspension until next Tuesday and subsequently calling for an executive session among its members.
Datumanong actually set the tone of the stalled hearing by stating what he said is an "unprecedented" case before the justice committee — the existence of "three complaints filed against the same impeachable official and referred to them one after the other on the same day.
"We may have these preliminary questions to consider," Datumanong said. "One, are we going to consider them one by one as they were referred by the House? Or are we going to consolidate them like bills on the same subject matter pending before the committee? Or do we find out what is the effect of the amended complaint on the first complaint of Atty. Oliver Lozano?"
The committee chair said that only after a decision has been made on these questions can the committee proceed to the determination of sufficiency in form.
Taking his cue from Datumanong's opening remarks, Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay, Aksyon Demokratiko) seized the opportunity to raise his own set of "prejudicial questions" that he said need to be fully debated and subsequently resolved by the committee in order to determine which complaint(s) shall be subject to the committee's jurisdiction. Lagman's questions are as follows:
- Was the amended complaint which was filed on July 25, 2005 properly or seasonably interposed or is it a prohibited pleading under Article XI of the Constitution and the pertinent Rules on Impeachment of the House of Representatives?
- Considering that the amended complaint was filed on July 25, 2005 when the House had not yet adopted the Rules of Procedure on Impeachment in the 13th Congress, under what standard or rule should the filing of the amended complaint be assessed?
- Since the amended complaint radically and substantially supplanted the original Lozano complaint, should it be considered as a separate, independent and new complaint?
- If it is considered a separate or new complaint, is it barred by the one-year rule which proived that "no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within period of one year." (Sec. 3 (5) of Article XI)?
- How will the amended complaint be assessed under the standard or definition of initiating impeachment proceedings in the case of Ernesto B/ Francisco Jr., et. al. vs. the House of Representatives, et. al.?
- Did the amended complaint supersed the original Lozano complaint so much so that the Lozano complaint will be subsumed under the amended complaint and consdiering further that Atty. Oliver Lozano signed the verification attached to the amended complaint thereby giving his conformity to the amended complaint?
- What is the import and effect of the respondent's filing of an early answer on the amended complaint?
Datumanong then told the committee that only members, including ex-officio members, will be allowed to participate in the debates.
At that point, two congressmen took turns in raising logistical issues of the not-so-easy access to microphones and the cramped space. Rep. Douglas Cagas (Davao del Sur, NPC) complained that some members were seated behind those occupying the front row, not allowing them the "equal opportunity to be able to speak out."
Rep. Mayo Almario (Davao Oriental, Lakas-CMD) was even more blatant. "May we know if there are first class and second class members of this House?" he asked. "I think we here are considered second class members because we are not entitled to the same privileges of those who are seated in front of us."
Meanwhile, Rep. Rolex Suplico (Iloilo, LDP) sought for a reconsideration of Datumanong's ruling. "As per my understanding based on the tradition of this House, the other members who are not members of this committee are allowed to ask questions for their own understanding because later on they will participate in the plenary hearings on the impeachment complaint," he said.
The committee chair, however, insisted that only regular members, including ex-officio members, of the committee will be recognized as it is "not any ordinary committee of the House, and pursuant to the mandate of the Constitution."
Datumanong added that the other members of the House who were present in the hearing — complainants or endorsers of the impeachment complaint — were invited because of their status but may not enjoy the same privileges in the matter of debate as members of the committee.
As a commotion started to break out, Datumanong was forced to call for a one-minute recess, and later, a suspension of the proceedings.
In the executive session, committee members argued at length what the minority bloc called Datumanong's "unilateral ruling" to suspend the hearing. They, however, later agreed to adopt procedures for the next hearings, now scheduled from noon to four in the afternoon every Tuesday and Wednesday. To be able to comply with the 60-session day requirement for the justice committee to come up with its report to the House, the debates will be limited to regular members (including ex-officio ones), co-complainants and endorsers. The committee is left with the discretion of allowing non-members to participate only after the said members have taken their turns.
On the sidelight, there was also a curious battle of symbols. Some women who were not in favor of the impeachment wore blue ribbons and Philippine flag pins. The pro-impeachment audience, obviously displeased withe the outcome, had "Impeach" buttons, peach ribbons and roses bearing "Impeach Gloria" tags.