MANILA, Philippines >> Twenty-eight people, including activists and a retired Catholic bishop, filed an impeachment complaint Monday against Philippine President Benigno Aquino III for his implementation of a major economic stimulus program that the Supreme Court has declared partly unconstitutional.
The complaint, filed in the House of Representatives, accuses Aquino of culpable violation of the constitution and betrayal of public trust by funding projects outside the Congress-approved annual budget. Lawmakers from three left-wing political parties endorsed it, making it the first valid impeachment complaint against Aquino, but it’s unclear whether it will get enough support in a Congress dominated by Aquino allies.
Aquino has said that under the Disbursement Acceleration Program, enforced from 2011 to last year, government savings and non-allotted revenues were used to provide electricity to remote villages, build schools and finance other projects. He has insisted that his administration acted in good faith and the money was not stolen, as alleged by critics.
The son of revered pro-democracy icons, Aquino won the presidency by a wide margin in 2010 on a promise to rid his Southeast Asian nation of corruption and widespread poverty.
The Supreme Court ruled early this month that Aquino and his officials violated the constitution when they used the executive branch’s financial savings to augment the funding of other offices outside that branch of government. It said excess, non-allotted funds were withdrawn from some government agencies and were declared as savings even before the end of a fiscal year.
The administration has appealed the court’s ruling, saying the use of savings and unused funds pooled under the disbursement mechanism was legal and within the president’s authority under the constitution.
Monday’s impeachment complaint said Aquino violated the constitution when he “usurped the powers of the legislature and undermined the system of checks and balances.” It said he betrayed public trust on several grounds, including when he illegally centralized billions of pesos in public funds and rechanneled them to his pet projects and favored politicians, and “committed tyrannical abuse of power when he usurped the power of the purse of Congress.”
Aquino has said the Supreme Court failed to take into account the legal basis that his government used in appropriating revenue savings for projects in one government branch to another.
“We will leave it with the House to assess the allegations of the complaint,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters.
Rep. Neil Tupas, head of the House’s justice committee and an Aquino ally, said the complaint will be given priority. “Voting is really a numbers game, but as the chairman of the Committee on Justice, we will be fair and we will follow the House rules,” he added.
He said the complaint will be taken up after Congress, currently on break, resumes session next Monday. The Speaker has 10 days to refer it to the Committee on Justice, which will then have three days to determine if the complaint is sufficient in form and substance. The Committee on Justice has 60 session days to hear a verified complaint, then it will submit a report that will be the basis of voting by the House.
A third of, or 97, votes from the 290-member chamber are needed to transmit the complaint to the Senate. The votes of two-thirds of 24 members of the Senate are needed to remove Aquino from office.
“Let it not be a numbers game. Read, study what (the complaint) contains,” said Rep. Neri Colmenares, one of endorsers of the complaint.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, an administration ally, said the “politically motivated” complaint only aims to “weaken the presidency” but will not likely prosper.
“There is no willful violation of the constitution that President Aquino committed, he also does not have indisputable moral offense against the Filipino people,” he added.
Archbishop Socrates Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, said the decision of Archbishop emeritus Oscar Cruz to sign the complaint was his alone and the assembly of Catholic bishops neither supports the complaint nor will it begrudge anyone the right to file one.