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‘Impeach cases won’t disrupt Senate work’

MANILA, Philippines — There will be no disruption in the Senate’s deliberations on key measures like the 2018 budget and tax reforms if the chamber convenes as an impeachment court to hear the case against elections chief Andres Bautista, Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said yesterday.

The Senate is awaiting the Articles of Impeachment from the House of Representatives, which voted on Wednesday to impeach Bautista.

The impeachment came hours after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) chief announced his intention to resign by the end of the year.

While claiming to be not familiar with the details of Bautista’s resignation, Pimentel said an impeachment trial “must stop” once the resignation takes effect.

“It must stop because the aim of impeachment is to remove him from his post. If he is no longer in position, then there is point to continue this,” Pimentel said.

He stressed an impeachment trial, if ever there will be one, would only be held on non-session days Thursday, Friday and even Saturday.

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Congress is rushing the passage of the national budget for 2018 and the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) program.

For Minority Leader Franklin Drilon however, all work in the Senate would have to give way to an impeachment trial once the chamber receives a verified impeachment complaint against Bautista from the House.

He said everything must take a backseat to the impeachment trial, including the approval of the proposed P3.767-trillion national budget for 2018 and the TRAIN.

Under Article XI, Section 3 (6) of the Constitution, the Senate has the sole power to decide all cases of impeachment. As a result, he said, delays would be unavoidable.

“The impeachment trial is a constitutional duty that the Senate is bound to perform without any delay. We should give it the highest priority,” Drilon said. Congress has adjourned for a month-long break until Nov.  13.  

“Our calendar is too tight and the impeachment case will eat up a lot of our time when we resume session in November. Legislative work will be seriously affected and that is a matter that the leadership should highly consider,” Drilon said.

Resign now

 Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez renewed his call for Bautista to resign immediately if he wants to avoid a rigorous impeachment trial.

“He should resign effective today so that we would no longer have anyone to impeach. As of yesterday, as of today, he is still the sitting Comelec chief so we still have an official to impeach,” the Davao del Norte congressman said in an interview over radio station dzMM.

“For instance, if he resigns today or tomorrow, the case would no longer reach the Senate because there would be no one to impeach,” Alvarez, a PDP-Laban stalwart and ally of President Duterte explained.

The Speaker warned Bautista an impeachment trial could open a can of worms, as there is enough documentary evidence against the elections chief to pin him down.

As this developed, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said the House justice committee chaired by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali is now preparing the Articles of Impeachment for transmission to the Senate.

“But I will recommend, upon resumption of session, for it to conduct a hearing or two for that purpose,” the Ilocos Norte congressman said, adding he would also be nominating and designating the 11 prosecutors who would be elected in plenary on Nov. 13.

“I, as the majority leader, will have the 11 prosecutors elected in plenary,” Fariñas said. 

Under the 1987 Constitution, House members are the prosecutors in an impeachment court where senators sit as judges.

At the same time, Fariñas brushed aside observations that the plenary’s overriding a justice committee’s earlier rejection of the impeachment case against Bautista was a slap on their faces.

The Umali committee threw out the Bautista complaint in a vote of 26-2 on technicality. Fariñas and Umali were among the 75 who voted to uphold the dismissal, which was overturned by the 137 House members who wanted Bautista impeached and made to undergo trial at the Senate.  –  With Delon Porcalla, Ghio Ong

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