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Ombudsman asks SC to block impeachment proceedings

September 13, 2010 12:03pm
Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on Monday asked the Supreme Court (SC) to stop the impeachment proceedings against her at the House of Representatives.

In a petition for certiorari and prohibition, the Ombudsman asked the SC to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the House committee on justice from hearing the two impeachment complaints filed against her by former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and the militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).

The Ombudsman claimed that the House panel allegedly railroaded the approval of the two impeachment complaints even though the 1987 Constitution bars the hearing of more than one impeachment complaint against the Ombudsman within one year.

Section 3(5), Article XI of the Charter says that "No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official [in this case, the Ombudsman] more than once within a period of one year."

"Wherefore... it is respectfully prayed that.. a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction be issued restraining the committee from proceeding with its present impeachment proceedings," read the petition.

In a text message to GMANews.TV, however, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas, House justice committee chair, said the SC had earlier ruled that the “initiatory action means the filing of the complaint and referral to the committee on justice."

“The Constitution prohibits initiation of two impeachment proceedings, not two complaints initiated at the same time," Tupas said.

Gutierrez also asked the court to void and set aside the House justice committee's two resolutions that found the impeachment complaints sufficient in form and substance.

Gutierrrez said the court should conduct a "judicial review" of the issue so that she may be accorded with "plain, speedy, and adequate relief from the arbitrary, capricious, and whimsical exercise" by the House justice committee.

In a separate motion, Gutierrez asked the SC to raffle the case to a division immediately.

"Due to extreme urgency and in order not to render any judgment in the case ineffectual, petitioner Ombudsman has sought immediate injunctive relief from the Honorable Court. Thus, there is a need to immediately raffle the case so that the Honorable Court may include the same in its agenda (on Tuesday) and consider petitioner Ombudsman's urgent plea," said the motion.

Ties with the Arroyos

Gutierrez, who was named to the post in 2005, has been accused of protecting former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband, former First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo by allegedly sitting on cases where the former First Couple have been implicated. Gutierrez and Mr. Arroyo were batch mates at the Ateneo School of Law.

Hontiveros' impeachment complaint against Gutierrez listed the following alleged wrongdoings of the Ombudsman:

- Failure to act promptly on cases filed against the Arroyo couple and other public officials involved in the overpriced $329-million national broadband network deal, which Mrs. Arroyo suspended in September 2007;

- Incurring inexcusable delay in the investigation on the death of ensign Philip Pestaño, with the United Nations even calling the Ombudsman to task for failure to probe the case;

- Issuing a decision to uphold the legality of the arrest and involuntary detention of Hontiveros by the Philippine National Police in 2005;

- Failure to investigate the P1-million dinner for Mrs. Arroyo's presidential party at the Le Cirque restaurant in New York;

- Repeated failure to take prompt action on various cases involving Mrs. Arroyo such as the Mega-Pacific scam, among others;

- Refusal to grant ready access to public records such as the Statement of Assets, Net Worth and Liabilities of former Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo.

House isn't violating Constitution

On Monday, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said the House justice committee is not violating the Constitution because it is tackling two impeachment complaints in one proceeding.

"Both complaints pending before the justice committee were referred at the same time and thus, form only one proceeding. It is time the House of Representatives end the impeachment rat race, where only one complaint, whoever is first to file, is entertained. If that is the interpretation, then it will always be a race to file the first complaint, even if it is defective," Reyes said in a text message.

In a separate statement, Hontiveros said Gutierrez is "running scared" and "in a state of alarm and panic."

“Realizing perhaps that the impeachment threat is real, Gutierrez is running to the Supreme Court to protect her from persecution, however, unwittingly exposing herself to the public not only as a coward but also somebody who is guilty of the charges hurled against her," said Hontiveros.

Separation of powers

Reacting to the Ombudsman's petition, lawmakers said the SC should respect the separation of powers between the legislative and judiciary by allowing the impeachment case against the Ombudsman to run its course.

The lawmakers insisted they did not commit a grave abuse of discretion when they found the impeachment complaints sufficient in form and substance.

Thus, the SC should dismiss the petition filed by the Ombudsman to stop and review the impeachment case, House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada said in a text message to GMANews.TV.

“The Ombudsman is obviously clutching at straws to protect herself and her patron, former President Arroyo, from accountability. The SC should not allow itself to be used by the Ombudsman in her ploy to undermine the impeachment proceedings," said Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño.

Casiño dismissed the Ombudsman’s move as a tactic to thwart the House from exercising its constitutional powers against erring officials.

Tañada said the Ombudsman has the opportunity to respond to the allegations against her in the impeachment complaints. She can respond with an affidavit and an evidence to prove that she did not violate the constitution, he said.

“The Ombudsman cannot say that there “is grave abuse of discretion" if the impeachment proceedings have not been terminated," he added. –with Amita Legaspi, VVP/VS/YA, GMANews.TV
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