House body to push through with impeach proceedings vs Ombudsman

September 29, 2010 10:31 am 

By Lilybeth G. Ison

MANILA, Sept. 28 — Majority of the members of the committee on justice of the House of Representatives on Tuesday decided to push through with the impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez despite a status quo ante order earlier issued by the Supreme Court (SC).

Thirty-three members voted in favor to pursue the case against the Ombudsman, 14 voted against it, saying they do not want to be held in contempt by the High Tribunal, while one (Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon) abstained.

House Deputy Speaker and Quezon Rep. Lorenzo "Erin" Tanada III said "the Constitution is structured around the independence and equality of the branches of government, which the Supreme Court is itself in danger of violating by its undue interference in purely legislative matters such as this impeachment proceeding."

Tanada said he believes that "it is now incumbent upon Congress to check the possibility of an encroachment by the judiciary upon the internal affairs of the committee on justice."

The House committee on justice earlier issued resolutions stating that the two impeachment complaints against the Ombudsman were sufficient in form and substance.

The two impeachment complaints were filed by former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros and militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).

On September 14, Court administrator and spokesman Jose Midas Marquez announced that the Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order on the impeachment complaints against Gutierrez, which means that the parties to the case should observe a status quo.

"The court has just issued a status quo ante order requiring the parties to observe the status quo prevailing the issuance of the September 1, 2010 and September 7, 2010 resolutions of the House committee on Justice which found the separate impeachment complaints sufficient in form and substance," said Marquez.

However, House justice committee chair and Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas on Tuesday called a hearing to discuss the status quo ante order of the High Court and majority voted to proceed with the hearing of the case against the Ombudsman.

"The position of the chairman and the committee is that the SC can interpret the Constitution but cannot amend it. The 60 days continues to run despite the status quo order," he said.

Under the Constitution, the panel only has 60 session days to finish its investigation and submit its report to the plenary.

Tupas said they would consult the House leadership on when they could schedule the next hearing to determine the sufficiency of the grounds for impeachment.

He said the next hearing would most likely be in October because they have to finish first the plenary debates on the 2011 proposed national budget.

The Lower Chamber wants to approve the proposed 2011 national budget before the October 15 recess of Congress.

In deciding to push through with the impeachment proceedings against the Ombudsman, Tanada maintained that this is not meant to be a brush-off to the SC order.

"We proceed because to do so is not only the committee's right but also its duty. It is not meant to disregard the processes of the Supreme Court. In fact, we will file our comment to the Ombudsman's petition," he said.

Gutierrez earlier filed a petition with the SC to stop the impeachment proceedings against her, citing Section 3 (5), Article 11 of the Charter which states that "No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year."

Tanada noted that there is a conflict between filing a comment to the Ombudsman's petition and continuing the work of taking up the impeachment complaints.

"Doing both should not be a problem. It would not make much sense for the committee to just drop what it is doing at this point because we have consistently held the position that we are fully within our rights to consider the complaints," he said.

At the same time, the Deputy Speaker said, it would be rude to dismiss an order of the Court.

"This is a happy compromise — each branch considers each other's position while keeping to their duties. It is check-and-balance at its finest," he said.

Meanwhile, Tupas said they are now finalizing the comment which will be filed before the SC on October 30.

He also said that the Solicitor General and retired SC Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza will be representing the House justice committee in the oral argument, together with committee vice-chairman and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas. (PNA)

DCT/LGI

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