Philippine lawmakers on Wednesday quashed an impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the second time in a year, dealing a major blow to efforts to oust her on allegations of vote-rigging, corruption and other improprieties.
The House of Representatives’ justice committee, dominated by Arroyo allies, had been widely expected to dismiss the new impeachment bid. The full 232-member House will vote, probably next week, on whether to endorse the committee’s action.
Last year, they voted 158-51 to uphold a committee decision to dismiss the first case against Arroyo, who has had a rocky time since taking over when predecessor Joseph Estrada was ousted by a “people power” revolt in January 2001. She won her own six-year term in 2004, an election that the opposition claims she stole.
The justice committee, which has 102 voting members _ 71 of whom back Arroyo _ voted unanimously last week that the new complaint had the proper legal form. It moved this week to the more crucial debate over whether it is “sufficient in substance” _ if the allegations constitute impeachable offenses.
22 charges against president
The complaint accused Arroyo of 22 charges, including rigging the election, corruption, human rights abuses, violating the Constitution and other accusations that she has steadfastly denied.
The vote against it was 56-24, committee chairman Simeon Datumanong said. He said he would allow committee members to explain their votes but opposition lawmakers refused and walked out. Protesters in the gallery repeatedly yelled, “Impeach Gloria now!”
The opposition legislators were met in the House lobby by cheering followers, who applauded and waved white envelopes marked “bribe,” an insinuation that some pro-Arroyo lawmakers were bribed to kill the complaint.
“Again, we’ll not be able to resolve the issues we’ve been facing because they trashed the impeachment complaint,” opposition leader Rep. Francis Escudero.
Anti-Arroyo followers, some weeping in disappointment, turned the House lobby to a protest venue before police special forces forced them out. They raised anti-Arroyo posters calling her a fascist and urging her ouster. Some lit candles outside the gates of the House building.
“We will see them in 2007 and the people will get back the mandate that was given this so-called House of Representatives,” said a teary-eyed Dinky Soliman, who resigned from Arroyo’s Cabinet and backs the impeachment efforts. She was referring to a threat by activists to campaign against pro-Arroyo lawmakers in local and congressional elections next year.
‘We owe it to our people’
Opposition Rep. Teodoro Casino said anti-Arroyo groups would now be forced to take to the streets to seek her ouster. “The fight is not yet over. In the days ahead, there will be protest actions,” he said.
Even before the debate was over, some impeachment proponents had virtually conceded they wouldn’t be able to send the case to the Senate for trial.
“Although we don’t have the numbers, we have to do it not for ourselves. We owe it to our people,” Rep. Henedina Abad told reporters.
Pro-Arroyo lawmakers took turns lambasting the charges as they rehashed allegations from last year’s failed impeachment bid that was cobbled together by the opposition without complying with legal requirements.
Rep. Luis Villafuerte likened the complaint to chop suey: “Delectable to eat, but as a form of complaint and impeachment, it’s unacceptable.”
Opposition lawmakers pleaded to be allowed to present evidence, which they said filled seven large boxes. The fact that Arroyo and her allies were blocking instead of answering the charges was strong indication she could be guilty, they claimed.