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SC suspends impeachment proceedings vs Ombudsman

September 14, 2010 1:19pm

(Updated 4:05 p.m.) The Supreme Court on Tuesday threw a legal obstacle in the House of Representatives justice committee's impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

On Monday, Gutierrez said the House panel violated the 1987 Constitution which does not allow two impeachment proceedings against an official within one year.

Gutierrez invoked Section 3(5), Article XI of the Charter, which provides 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." (See: Ombudsman asks SC to block impeachment proceedings)

Court administrator and spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the court issued a status quo ante order, which means that the parties to the case should observe status quo (before) the issuance of the resolutions that found the separate impeachment complaints, filed by former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, sufficient in form and substance.

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

The respondents in the case are also required to submit their comments on Gutierrez's motion within 10 days from notice.

Gutierrez promptly welcomed the Supreme Court's order. "The Supreme Court has spoken by issuing the status quo ante order. I welcome this development and I shall await further proceedings that it may order or direct," she said in a statement.

8-3-4 vote

Marquez said eight of the 15 high tribunal's justices voted to issue the order, three dissented, while four are on official business.

Those who voted to issue the order were Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Mariano del Castillo, Jose Perez, Roberto Abad, Lucas Bersamin, Martin Villarama, and Diosdado Peralta.

Those who dissented were Associate Justices Antono Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales, and Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who is President Beningo Aquino III's first appointee to the high court.

Those who are on official business are Associate Justices Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Jose Mendoza, and Eduardo Nachura.

An Arroyo court?

On Tuesday, Marquez rejected speculations that the Supreme Court issued the order because Gutierrez allegedly has close ties with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

"Hindi naman, dahil two of the dissenters are also PGMA appointees (Not really because two of the dissenters are PGMA appointees), " said Marquez.

Throughout Aroyo's nine-year term, it has been widely perceived that she named people close to her as SC justices so that she and her allies may have legal protection when they are no longer in power.

"Considering the issuance of the status quo ante order, the court finds the petition of Merceditas Gutierrez sufficient in form and substance. The court will then consider the comment to be filed by respondents and thereafter, will decide whether or not the status quo ante order should remain, should be lifted, or oral arguments can be called," he added.

In her petition for certiorari and prohibition, Gutierrez 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).

Constitutional crisis

Iloilo Rep Niel Tupas, chairman of the House justice committee hearing the impeachment complaint against Gutierrez, on Tuesday warned against a constitutional crisis after the SC issued a status quo order on the proceedings.

“The status quo ante order issued by the SC is surprising considering the exclusive power given by the Constitution to the House of Representatives to hear impeachment proceedings. Further, the arguments of the Ombudsman do not justify such an order. This order could trigger a constitutional crisis," he said in a text message to GMANews.TV.

He added the committee will conduct a meeting to assess their legal options.

In a separate text message, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino and Akbayan Rep. Kaka Bag-ao expressed disappointment with the High Tribunal’s haste in issuing the order.

Casino said the SC should have been more prudent in interfering with the impeachment process considering that this is the exclusive domain of Congress.

“The Ombudsman is apparently one of the few people who can make the SC jump and act on a petition within 24 hours. It certainly doesn’t look good for Arroyo appointees (in the SC) to help each other out of this way," Casino said.

Bag-ao said the suspension order is not proper as she criticized the Ombudsman for her alleged dilatory tactics.

"Why is she complaining about the rules when it was under the same rules that the previous impeachment complaint against the same Ombudsman was dismissed last year? She didn't complain then," Bag-ao added.

On the other hand, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, House justice committee vice-chairman, said the panel will comply with the TRO.

He believed that the order does not necessary violate separation of powers as it is the duty of the SC to look into allegations of abuse of discretion even on the part of the legislature.

“But that is not without limit. I'll have to read the petition and order of the SC to give a thorough answer," he said. — with Amita Legaspi, RSJ/VVP, GMANews.TV
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