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House panel kills impeachment case vs Duterte

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas, center, gestures during a hearing by the Justice Committee on an impeachment complaint filed against President Rodrigo Duterte at the House of Representative in Manila, Philippines on Monday, May 15, 2017. AP/Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines (Update 3, first published at 1:41 p.m.) — The House justice committee declared on Monday that the first impeachment complaint filed against President Rodrigo Duterte is sufficient in form but insufficient in substance.

Emerging from a closed-door session after a morning of public deliberations, 42 members of the committee effectively dismissed the complaint, filed by Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano who accuses Duterte of violating the Constitution.

The complaint, the first against Duterte who was inaugurated president last year, was filed in March by Alejano who accused the president of hand in the killings linked to the war on drugs and treason in conferral with China on matters of the maritime domain.

An impeachment complaint requires the majority vote of committee members to be endorsed to the House plenary, where the complaint would require the vote of a third of the chamber.

Monday's session was the first step in the impeachment process, with the justice committee tasked to determine whether the verified complaint was "sufficient in form and substance," stated in the rules of procedure.

"Form" refers to a complaint's technical details following established methods, while "substance" refers to material allegations, of whether or not there is a cause for impeachment. It also refers to the jurisdiction of the body deliberating on it, according to a 2008 Supreme Court decision.

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House rules also indicate that the requirement of "substance" is met if there is a detailed statement of facts constituting the offense charged.

The House of Representatives has the exclusive power to initiate cases of impeachment, which could be filed by any member of the lower chamber or citizen. Complaints should be accusations on culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust.

At the session, members of the so-called supermajority allied to the Duterte administration grilled Alejano on the content of the complaint, which indicates that 8,000 individuals were killed in the context of the war on drugs.

Alejano said that the facts stated in his complaint have been verified, and were partly culled from news reports and testimonies of confessed hired killers who allegedly answered to orders of Duterte when he was still Davao City mayor.

Alejano said he had no personal knowledge as a witness, but that he had personal knowledge as a complainant based on official records, affidavits of witnesses and Duterte's public pronouncements. His appeals to be allowed to explain were rejected.

Magdalo party-lit Rep. Gary Alejano gestures before a Justice Committee hearing on the impeachment complaint that he filed against President Rodrigo Duterte at the House of Representatives in metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Monday, May 15, 2017. AP/Aaron Favila

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, a member of the committee, however, argued that Alejano should demonstrate personal knowledge of the violations alleged in the complaint.

"Newspaper reports are not authentic records," Fariñas said, despite anecdotal evidence in news reports of extrajudicial killings in the drug war.

"This is the last time the House will entertain a complaint that violates the rules of verification," he added.

The Senate, however, has the sole power to examine evidence, hold trial and decide on cases of impeachment. The House panel, meanwhile, was tasked to determine if the charges are valid for an impeachment case.

Opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman urged the committee to allow Alejano to be heard, saying to determine substance, there only needs to be a recital of facts on offenses charged and determination that they are under the committee's jurisdiction.

"While it is true that an impeachment proceeding is a political exercise, it is not a partisan enterprise," Lagman said.

The dismissal of the complaint was the expected outcome in a Congress controlled by the popular Duterte, whose campaign against illegal drugs enjoys wide support but is also heavily criticized for its violence and high death toll. — with reports from the Associated Press

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