Friday July 20, 2018

Can Gwen be suspended sans violating Constitution?

HOUSE Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez intends to defy the Office of the Ombudsman’s order to dismiss Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia for grave misconduct.

Alvarez said that enforcing the dismissal order would be unconstitutional since it is not within the power of the Ombudsman to suspend or remove any member of Congress.

Can the Ombudsman order the dismissal of a House member without violating the Constitution? If Garcia allegedly committed the offense when she was the governor, can she still be dismissed now as a congresswoman?

In its decision dated April 18, 2001, the Supreme Court ruled to dismiss the petition for certiorari filed by the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who had been ordered suspended for 90 days by the Sandiganbayan for approving the application for legalization of the stay of about 32 foreigners.

The Constitution states the House “may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its members, suspend or expel a member. A penalty of suspension, when imposed, shall not exceed 60 days.”

In October 1988, Santiago, who was then chief of the Commission on Immigration and Deportation (CID), approved the application for legalization of the stay of 32 aliens.

A group of CID employees later filed the complaint against Santiago for alleged violations of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

They accused her of violating the anti-graft law and Executive Order 324, which prohibits the legalization of disqualified aliens.

‘Applies to any office’

But Sec. 13 of RA 3019 states: “Any incumbent public officer against whom any criminal prosecution under a valid information under this Act or under Title 7, Book II of the Revised Penal Code or for any offense involving fraud upon government or public funds or property whether as a simple or as a complex offense and in whatever stage of execution and mode of participation, is pending in court, shall be suspended from office.”

Should he be convicted by final judgment, he shall lose all retirement or gratuity benefits under any law, but if he is acquitted, he shall be entitled to reinstatement and to the salaries and benefits which he failed to receive during suspension unless in the meantime administrative proceedings have been filed against him.”

If Garcia allegedly committed the offense when she was the governor, can she still be dismissed as a legislator?

Section 13 of RA 3019 does not state that the public officer concerned must be suspended only in the office where he is alleged to have committed the acts with which he has been charged.

So, the Court has ruled that the use of the word “office” would indicate that it applies to any office that the officer charged may be holding, and not only the particular office under which he stands accused. RA 3019 does not exclude from its coverage members of Congress and, therefore, the Sandiganbayan did not err in ordering Santiago’s suspension, the Court said. (GMD)