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ESTRADA IMPEACHED

A powerful bang of the gavel and history was made: President Estrada became the first leader of the Republic to be impeached by Congress yesterday.


The House of Representatives’ impeachment of Mr. Estrada set the stage for his trial at the Senate for alleged bribery, corruption, betrayal of public trust and violation of the Constitution.


The House gallery erupted with shouts of "Erap resign" followed by the singing of "Bayan Ko," prompting one pro-administration congressman to threaten the crowd later with arrest for rowdiness.


Anti-Estrada legislators raised their fists and embraced each other, while the President’s surprised allies vainly protested what they described as a breach in parliamentary procedure.


Speaker Manuel Villar Jr. swiftly moved to impeach the President after leading a traditional prayer as se-veral hundred pro- and anti-Estrada demonstrators protested outside the Batasang Pambansa building in Quezon City.


Without missing a beat, Villar segued into reading an order for the House secretary general "to immediately transmit to the Senate the impeachment complaint constituting the Articles of Impeachment" before striking the gavel to cut off any further debate.


"It’s official now that the impeachment rap is with the Senate," Villar said. "It’s now up to the Senate to start the trial. We have indicted the President."


Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, constitutional successor to Mr. Estrada, described the House’s impeachment of the President as "an act of bravery."


"We respect Congress’ independence. We just hope that this will not be used to derail what the people are hoping for," she told an anti-Estrada rally yesterday in her home province of Pampanga.


The entire process took only about seven minutes and the process caught by surprise the pro-Estrada legislators, who had vowed to unseat Villar as payback for his having bolted the ruling Lapian ng Masang Pilipino party 10 days ago.


Villar stressed that the impeachment motion had already received a minimum number of 73 votes or a one-third majority in the 218-member House as required by the Constitution.


The House’s task became "peremptory and ministerial" as its justice committee had already endorsed the impeachment motion on Nov. 6 after exhaustive debates, he said.


"This is what the people have been waiting for," Villar said in a television interview after a recess. He defended the manner by which the charges were endorsed to the Senate, saying the demands of the Constitution were "higher than the House rules."


He said he expected the estranged allies to "question it" and "delay the election of the prosecution panel" from among the House members. "But in the end, we have done our job."


The Speaker said he was sending the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate in compliance with the provisions of the Constitution and the rules of his chamber.


Villar’s masterstroke caught those plotting to oust him flatfooted. Many of them thought that the justice committee report was still part of his prayer.


One of the leaders of the oust-Villar group, Rep. Anthony Dequiña (LAMP, North Cotabato), described the procedure the Speaker followed in transmitting the complaint to the Senate as "defective and improper."


He said the Speaker cannot on his own do that and should have entertained a motion to approve the justice committee report and the transmittal.


"We intend to question this in the proper forum, perhaps the courts," he said.


Makati Rep. Joker Arroyo, who is with the pro-impeachment camp, said Villar was correct in saying that his job was only ministerial.


"The Speaker interpreted the Constitution correctly. Under Article XI of the Charter, an impeachment complaint or a resolution of endorsement signed by at least one-third of all House members shall be endorsed directly to the Senate in the same manner as an approved bill of the House," he said.


After suspending the session, Villar abandoned his podium, went down to the floor and relished the historic moment with cheers from the opposition and pro-impeachment congressmen led by Minority Leader Feliciano Belmonte Jr. (Lakas, Quezon City).


The gallery, which was packed with an anti-Estrada crowd, broke into thunderous applause in victorious celebration of the impeachment process.


Pro-impeachment congressmen joined the gallery in the singing of "Bayan Ko," while the President’s allies watched in their seats helplessly.


It was anarchy and mob rule abetted by Villar, complained Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella (LAMP, Camarines Sur), the candidate of the pro-Estrada group for the speakership.


Both Dequiña and Fuentebella belong to the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) wing of Mr. Estrada’s LAMP. The NPC is led by Ambassador Ernesto Maceda and presidential friend and San Miguel Corp. chairman Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr.


Tempers also flared as Rep. Jose Mari Gonzalez of the President’s hometown of San Juan, approached Bayani Fabic, a retired military officer and the House sergeant-at-arms, and without provocation, slapped and punched him.


Some pro-Estrada congressmen had earlier asked Fabic and his men to stop the gallery from applauding, but the House security personnel could not stop the anti-Estrada crowd. Apparently, Gonzalez took it against Fabic.


During the suspension of session, other members of the anti-Villar group, including Reps. Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte, Rodolfo Agbayani of Cagayan and Rodolfo Tuazon of Western Samar, shouted at the crowd through their session hall microphones to stop applauding and to respect House members.


At one point, Tuazon asked that the gallery be cleared.


In his prayer entitled, "A Prayer for Light and Unity," Villar implored the Lord to "have mercy on our country and people in the midst of this great crisis, a crisis of leadership that reflects an erosion of people’s confidence in their government;


"A crisis of political confidence that is rending brother Filipinos against brother Filipinos; a crisis of economic confidence that is threatening to make the poor even poorer; a crisis of social confidence that is testing the strength of our democratic institutions."


For his colleagues who were plotting to oust him, he sought "strength to withstand the temptation of money and power, reject pressures of friends and family in order to discern right from wrong in as clear a manner as distinguishing light from dark."

Senate cannot act on impeach move

Senate Majority Leader Francisco Tatad said they cannot act immediately on the Articles of Impeachment because the Senate has not yet adopted the rules governing such a trial.


"How can we act on the articles of impeachment if we have no rules governing its proceedings?" he asked.


Newly-elected Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. had filed a resolution calling for the adoption of a set of rules, while Sen. John Osmeña file a joint resolution seeking the adoption of rules on impeachment by both the House and Senate.


Tatad said the Senate committee on rules, which he heads, would hold public hearings on the rules before the plenary could adopt them. He has scheduled a hearing this morning.


Senate Minority Leader Teofisto Guingona said that it could take several days before the Senate can adopt the rules on impeachment proceedings.


He and Sen. Renato Cayetano warned that this delay would prevent the Senate from performing the constitutional mandate for the chamber to act expeditiously on the Articles of Impeachment.


Guingona and Cayetano appealed to the chamber to maintain the leadership "because there is a greater need to heed the constitutional mandate on impeachment."


Tatad, however, gave assurances that the Senate would act quickly on the rules and on the impeachment articles should they reach the chamber.


He also stressed that Congress should not be faulted for the late consideration of proposed rules.


"We had never expected this to happen. In the entire history of Congress there were only three impeachment petitions filed, and none of them ever went beyond the committee," Tatad said.


Allegations by Ilocos Sur Gov. Luis "Chavit" Singson that Mr. Estrada accepted more than P400 million in payoffs from illegal gambling bosses and tobacco tax kickbacks have triggered widespread calls for his impeachment or resignation.


Mr. Estrada has acknowledged having been offered a bribe by the governor, but insists he refused it. – With Efren Danao, AP, AFP

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