House panel to continue impeachment trial vs Ombud-A A +A
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
MANILA -- The impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez will proceed despite the Supreme Court (SC) order suspending the hearing, the justice panel head said Tuesday.
Iloilo Rep. Niel C. Tupas Jr., chair of the committee on justice, said he will recommend to the House leadership for the hearings to continue, citing that the arguments of Gutierrez did not justify the SC intervention.
Tupas's committee issued two separate resolutions last week finding the impeachment complaints filed against Gutierrez to be sufficient in form and substance.
The Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order Tuesday enjoining the House panel from proceeding with the impeachment hearings against the Ombudsman.
Court spokesman and administrator Jose Midas Marquez said the order was issued pending the decision on a petition for certiorari and prohibition filed by Gutierrez.
The court ordered the House panel to comment on Gutierrez's petition in 10 days, Marquez said.
According to Tupas, the SC decision could trigger a constitutional crisis as the power to act on impeachment cases is solely given to the Congress.
"The committee and the House of Representatives will continue the proceeding. It is up to the respondent to cooperate or not. Under the Constitution, the committee has subpoena powers," Tupas told reporters on Tuesday.
Tupas said they are not really defying the SC order because the Constitution has given the committee 60 days to finish the impeachment process. "Not even the SC can amend the Constitution. The SC can only interpret the Constitution," the lawmaker said.
House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III agreed with Tupas, saying the tribunal's order put the credibility of the House at stake.
"We would not want to add to the already tense situation but this is a very dangerous precedent. If we allow this to happen, anybody can go now to the SC and seek a TRO (temporary restraining order) against any action done at the House," he said.
"What if a member of the SC is under investigation for impeachment, does this mean they can issue a status quo ante order once we found the complaint sufficient in form and substance?," he added.
Tañada cited that during the impeachment proceedings against former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., the High Tribunal did not issue a temporary restraining order but instead immediately came up with a decision on what the one-year ban rule means.
In contrast, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said he will abide by the court's status quo order.
"As a courtesy to a co-equal branch of government, we shall, in the meantime, abide by the court’s order," said Belmonte.
But the Speaker said the House will not abdicate on its duty to perform its mandate which gives the justice committee 60 session days for the referral and the corresponding resolution to the plenary.
The committee was set to meet again on September 21.
Malacañang, meanwhile, expressed no objection on the Supreme Court order.
“We respect the decision and we are confident that they will decide on the case based on the evidences and arguments presented,” said Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda.
Supreme Court magistrates acted on Gutierrez's petition on Tuesday following an eight-seven vote during an en banc session.
Those who voted in favor of the petition were Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Roberto Abad, Jose Perez, Mariano del Castillo, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, and Martin Villarama.
Those who voted against are Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales and Ma. Lourdes Sereno.
Associate Justices Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion and Jose Mendoza were on official business, according to Marquez.
Marquez said the directive was just a preliminary relief and that the Court would still review and decide on the merit of the petition once all the parties have submitted their comments on the issue.
“This is only an initial order of the Court, we have yet to hear the parties and we have yet to decide with finality on the issue,” Marquez said.
Gutierrez filed the petition for certiorari and prohibition on Monday accusing the House committee on justice of violating her right to due process when it issued resolutions finding the two impeachment complaints against her to be sufficient in form and substance.
The complaints stemmed from her alleged failure to act on the corruption and human rights violation cases of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to whom she is perceived to be a close associate.
The complainants charged Gutierrez of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.
The first impeachment complaint was filed with the Secretary General of the House of Representatives on July 22, 2010 while the second complaint was filed on August 3, 2010.
On September 1, the House committee on justice found the two complaints sufficient in form. Six days after, the same panel, voting 41-16, declared the complaints sufficient in substance. (Kathrina Alvarez/Jill Beltran/JCV/PNA/Sunnex)