Ombud appeals High Court decision

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011


MANILA -- Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez accused the Supreme Court (SC) Monday of sanctioning a legal infirmity by allowing the House justice committee to proceed with the two impeachment complaints lodged against her.

The House justice committee will start the impeachment proceedings on Tuesday, said its chair Iloilo Representative Niel C. Tupas Jr.

But Gutierrez, in her motion for reconsideration, warned of setting a negative precedent in allowing the House committee to bend its own rules on "whim or caprice," by allowing multiple impeachment complaints to prosper before it at the same time and within a one-year period.

Gutierrez, through her lawyer retired SC Justice Serafin Cuevas, is seeking a reversal of the Court's en banc decision last February 15 dismissing her petition to stop the justice committee from hearing the impeachment complaints filed by party-list group Akbayan and the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).

In that decision, the SC voted 7-5, with two justices partially granting the petition and one abstaining, to affirm the right of the House committee to proceed with the impeachment complaints against Gutierrez.

In filing the complaints, Akbayan and Bayan cited the Ombudsman's alleged inaction on criminal cases lodged against her ally, former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, over her nine-year administration.

The High Court also ruled that the initiation of an impeachment proceeding takes place by the act of filing and referral of the impeachment complaint to the House committee on justice.

Since there was a simultaneous referral of the first and second impeachment complaints to the respondent committee, the one-year bar under the Constitution cannot be applied in Gutierrez case.

However, Gutierrez noted that the House's record of the plenary proceedings dated August 11, 2010 show that the two impeachment complaints were actually referred to the respondent committee "separately, one after the other."

"If the two impeachment complaints were indeed simultaneously referred to the respondent committee, the respondent committee must explain why it treated separately and distinctly at every stage of its proceedings the two impeachment complaints," she said.

"Clearly, the very liberal interpretation by this Honorable Court of the one-year bar rule on impeachment as embracing the possibility of multiple impeachment complaints against the same impeachable officer which may be 'simultaneously referred' to the House Committee on Justice would not effectively carry out the purpose of Section 3 (5), Article XI of the 1987 Constitution. On the contrary, it would thwart the very purpose of the one-year bar rule which the respondent Committee is constitutionally-mandated to effectively carry out," she added.

Gutierrez said that if the committee would follow through on such course of action, it would be arrogating unto itself the power to alter or amend the meaning of the Constitution, without need of referendum, a power denied to it by the 1987 Constitution and its own rules.

The petitioner said that unless the rule on duplicity is applied in impeachment cases, a complainant can allege multiple impeachable offenses that will not only wreak havoc upon the respondent in preparing her defense and in performing her official functions, but will also prevent the House from performing its principal function of making laws.

Gutierrez said the court should have ruled on the effectiveness and practicability of the standards of Criminal Procedure, which the House itself had deemed, fit to apply in impeachment cases.

She also cited the "bias and vindictiveness" of House committee chairman, Representative Tupas, against her, "which even some committee members raised during the hearings last September 1 and 7, 2010."

Among these were the committee chairman's advise to committee members to take cognizance of the two impeachment complaints in spite of the one-year bar rule; his declaration that "the committee may consider the matter of consolidation" of the two complaints; and, his denial of the motion of committee members request to be given more time to study the verification portion of the impeachment complaints to determine the sufficiency in form of an impeachment complaint.

Tupas also refused to inhibit himself from the proceedings in spite of repeated calls by committee members for him to do so, in view of the case against him pending before the Ombudsman, and the case against his father, against whom Gutierrez found probable cause for graft.

Gutierrez added that Tupas has been quoted in news reports to have guaranteed that petitioner "will be impeached" and that despite the status quo ante order issued by the SC on September 14, 2010, the justice committee will proceed with the impeachment proceedings against the Ombudsman, as it did on September 28, 2010.

"The respondent committee is equally guilty of manifest bias, partiality and hostility towards petitioner Ombudsman in that instead of declaring or passing a resolution that its chairman rescue himself from the impeachment proceedings against petitioner Ombudsman, it affirmed the rulings of the committee chairman on the objections raised during the hearings, including the latter's public declarations that petitioner Ombudsman 'will be impeached,'" Gutierrez said.

In its February 15, 2011 decision, the High Court found the Ombudsman's allegation of bias and vindictiveness bereft of merit, "there being hardly any indication thereof."

The SC likewise lifted the status quo ante order it issued on September 14, 2010, enjoining the House justice committee from proceeding with the impeachment case against Gutierrez.

On September 1, the House justice committee found the two complaints sufficient in form. Six days after, the same panel declared the complaints sufficient in substance, paving the way for the impeachment proceedings against the Ombudsman to proceed.

The first complaint was filed with the secretary general of the House of Representatives on July 22, 2010. The second complaint was filed on August 3, 2010 or just twelve days after the filing of the first complaint. (ECV/Sunnex)

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