MANILA, Philippines - Fifteen members of the Liberal Party (LP) allied with the super majority coalition in the House of Representatives have decided to steer clear of the impeachment complaints filed against President Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo.
Robredo herself said in an interview in Los Baños, Laguna yesterday that a “majority of the lawmakers present in the meeting were not supportive of any impeachment proceeding whether against the President or me.”
Robredo was referring to an LP meeting on Thursday that she presided. She said the party would hold another meeting before Congress resumes session on May 2 because many of their members were out of town and failed to attend last Thursday.
The Vice President said the impeachment proceedings would be divisive and polarizing.
Robredo is supposed to succeed Duterte if he is removed from office but she is also facing an impeachment complaint.
LP stalwart and House Deputy Speaker Romero Quimbo – the highest LP official in the chamber – expressed the same belief when asked about the party members’ position on the complaints.
“It’s just going to be a distraction to the important work that needs to be done,” Quimbo, who was at Thursday’s meeting, said of their “common consensus.”
LP president and Sen. Francis Pangilinan confirmed the matter of impeachment was discussed by the LP during the meeting but not as a party.
He clarified they have no party stand on moves to impeach Duterte and other impeachable officials, thus positions expressed are based on individual capacities of members.
Pangilinan said he and other LP senators would not comment on the impeachment complaint against Duterte because they could be acting as judges if it prospers in the House.
Quimbo said it would be best for the House to prioritize important legislative matters than support the impeachment complaints.
“We likewise reiterated our strongest commitment of support to the (Vice President), our party leader,” Quimbo said.
But a fellow LP member, Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat, who belongs to the so-called Magnificent 7 of the independent opposition bloc, said each and every member may have to make an individual decision on the impeachment complaints, ruling out a party consensus.
“If and when some of us will support the impeachment (complaint) against (Duterte), I believe it will not be a group decision,” he said.
Their group is led by Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, another LP member but originally from the Lakas-NUCD party.
The impeachment complaint against Duterte was filed by Baguilat’s and Lagman’s colleague, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, while the case against Robredo – a former Camarines Sur congresswoman – has yet to be filed.
Duterte is facing various charges based on Alejano’s complaint, including the extrajudicial killings happening in the country vis-à-vis his drug war and alleged unexplained wealth.
Meanwhile, Robredo caught the ire of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for her video aired in a United Nations event where she hit the administration’s war on drugs.
Marcos loyalists Oliver Lozano and Melchor Chavez filed an impeachment complaint against Robredo also because of the video.
Reliable sources in the House said the threat of Alvarez to have Robredo impeached when Congress resumes session on May 2 is more than real, carrying parallelisms with the late chief justice Renato Corona’s impeachment during the Aquino administration.
The sources said Alvarez, an ally of Duterte being secretary-general of the ruling PDP-Laban party and a fellow Davaoeno, has already garnered 100 lawmakers who were supposed to endorse her immediate impeachment last March.
Only 97 signatures out of 293 members of the House are needed for the complaint to be sent to the Senate for an impeachment trial – where select House members who signed the complaint will act as “prosecutors” while the senators will be sitting as “judges.”
“This is almost very reminiscent of the 185 lawmakers who signed Corona’s impeachment in 2011 without even the benefit of reading the complaint,” a senior congressman, who sought anonymity, said citing the LP’s bold move to send it to the Senate for trial.
“And mind you, this may well be the karma of LP who impeached Corona with hardly any evidence except the LP’s tyranny of numbers,” he warned, noting that Robredo is the country’s highest elected LP official.
Robredo, widow of former interior secretary Jesse Robredo who died in a plane crash in 2012, is an ally of former president Benigno Aquino III. In late 2011, Aquino wanted “all of the Supreme Court justices appointed by his predecessor Gloria Arroyo” – impeached, the sources claimed.
Former speaker and now Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. suggested to Aquino that Corona – whose alleged midnight appointment was upheld overwhelmingly by the SC twice – be impeached first, and that the other magistrates may have to follow.
The STAR also learned that Alvarez wanted the Robredo impeachment complaint to get past the House justice committee of Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali who himself was – ironically – instrumental in Corona’s impeachment.
“They want the complaint sent straight to the Senate, just like what they did to Corona,” the insider revealed, noting that they did so with hardly any evidence, and ended up only finding loopholes in Corona’s declared assets, which is not even a ground for impeachment.
But the Senate at the time voted 20-3 to remove Corona from office after finding him guilty of the charges.
Alvarez declared last month that the House leadership will adopt an independent policy after Duterte asked his congressional allies to lay off Robredo and let her fulfill her six-year mandate as duly elected leader.
“We respect the President but we have to do our duty as mandated by the Constitution,” Alvarez said.
“There are issues where we agree with the executive branch, so we support it. But there are also issues where we may not agree with the executive branch,” he added. – With Helen Flores, Paolo Romero