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Philippine MPs set to impeach anti-corruption chief

MANILA, March 8, 2011 (AFP) – Philippine legislators on Tuesday launched impeachment proceedings against the country’s top graft prosecutor over allegations she stood aside as ex-leader Gloria Arroyo stole public funds.

The House of Representatives justice committee voted to recommend that parliament begin a formal proceeding to remove Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez from her post, its chairman Neil Tupas said.

“The committee of justice finds the existence of probable cause to impeach Merceditas Gutierrez for betrayal of public trust,” Tupas said at the end of the public hearing, which aired live on national television.

The House, the lower house of parliament, is expected to vote next week on the committee’s recommendation, Tupas said.

Ninety-four votes in the 282-member chamber would send the impeachment complaint to the Senate, the upper chamber, whose 24 members would sit as judges.

Gutierrez, who was once justice minister in Arroyo’s cabinet, had been accused by Arroyo’s foes of failing to pursue officials suspected of large-scale corruption during her boss’s nine-year rule.

Gutierrez boycotted the parliamentary proceedings Tuesday, calling them a “kangaroo court” and insisting on her innocence.

President Benigno Aquino welcomed the launching of the impeachment, his spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

“He (Aquino) wants judicial reforms and part of it is having a proper ombudsman in office,” Lacierda told reporters.

He said Gutierrez’s performance was an impediment to Aquino’s vow to end entrenched corruption blamed for widespread poverty in the Philippines.

“This is a call for good governance. Whether one agrees or not, the call for good governance is a primary concern of this government,” Lacierda said.

“So we would like to see that this call is carried through. The President only has six years… and would like to leave a government that stood by his promise of good governance.”

Shortly after winning the presidency by a landslide in May last year, Aquino vowed to go after his predecessor Arroyo, accusing her of large-scale corruption.

In an unprecedented move, however, Arroyo ran for election to parliament and won a seat, giving her immunity from prosecution over the next three years.

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