By Cynthia Balana
|Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupaz Jr. (Photo Source: PolWatch)|
MANILA, Philippines—A high-ranking official of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) has been calling members of the House of Representatives, urging them to kill the impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., chair of the House committee on justice, said in making the disclosure: “Gumagapang na (They are furtively maneuvering already).”
“Members from both the Liberal Party and parties that are non-LP, and even some members of the justice committee, reported having received calls from this official from Iglesia,” Tupas said, without naming the official.
The Inquirer attempted to get a response from INC officials but they declined to comment.
Aside from the INC, Tupas said, former congressmen had also called up incumbent representatives of their districts to persuade them to vote no or abstain from voting when Gutierrez’s impeachment is taken up in plenary this week. He also did not name the former House members.
Tupas admitted that some congressmen who earlier promised him they would support the impeachment of Gutierrez were starting to have second thoughts after receiving calls from INC officials.
He said the plenary vote on the impeachment of the Ombudsman could commence on Tuesday as he deemed that debates over the move would not be finished on Monday.
“This is a big battle. I’m still confident of getting the 94 votes required to impeach Gutierrez for betrayal of the public trust. Let’s hope that we will make history on Tuesday,” he said.
Prediction of close fight
Tupas said the prediction of House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman that the voting would be a “close fight” between pro- and antiimpeachment congressmen could come about.
He acknowledged that the number of proimpeachment votes could be adversely affected by the votes from the Nacionalista Party and the National Unity Party, which broke away from the Lakas party.
Both the NP, which has 48 members in the House, and the National Unity Party, which has 30 members, have announced no stand regarding the impeachment move.
“The last three days (prior to the voting) had been very crucial. Backroom maneuvers have been plenty, but I’m still confident that we will be able to get the numbers. Let’s just hope,” Tupas said.
Votes of allegiance
He said that those who would vote no or abstain would be doing so out of allegiance to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo because she was the one who appointed Gutierrez as Ombudsman.
On the other hand, Tupas described as “black propaganda” text messages warning congressmen that they would not get their pork barrel allotments if they voted no or abstained. “That’s just black propaganda. There’s no such thing as far as I’m concerned,” he said.
He said that all congressmen were entitled to their share of the Priority Development Assistance Fund. Thus, there was no need to blackmail them.