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Ombudsman appeals SC ruling on impeachment case

February 28, 2011 6:00pm
(Updated 8:16 p.m.) On the day before the justice panel of the House of Representatives resumed its impeachment proceedings against her, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on Monday asked the Supreme Court to overturn its ruling that legitimized the committee’s bid to impeach her.

In a 75-page motion for reconsideration, Gutierrez said the SC erred when it gave weight to the House panel’s arguments that the simultaneous referral of the two complaints did not violate the rule barring two impeachment proceedings within one year.

The two impeachment complaints were filed separately by a group led by former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and by militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN). The complaints were referred simultaneously to the House justice committee in August last year.

Gutierrez said this violated Section 3(5), Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, which provides that within one year, only one impeachment proceeding can be initiated against an impeachable officer.

She said contrary to the SC ruling, the initiation of an impeachment proceeding begins when a complaint is filed, not when it is referred to the House committee on justice.

“Hence, the filing of two impeachment complaints and the simultaneous referral of the complaints to the House panel violated the Constitution," Gutierrez said.

Saying public officials like her risk harassment from those seeking political vendetta, Gutierrez then asked the high court to reconsider its ruling that allowed the House justice committee to resume its impeachment proceedings.

“Petitioner Ombudsman begs the Honorable Court to take a second look at this procedural issue which she raised not only to protect herself from the unprecedented two impeachment complaints filed against her upon the fiction that they were simultaneously referred to the respondent (House justice committee) but also other impeachable officers who may be similarly subjected to the draconian measure of impeachment," a portion of the motion read.

The motion for reconsideration was filed by a representative from the Office of the Ombudsman.

Gutierrez’s removal from office is sought for allegedly shielding former President and now incumbent Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her family and allies from prosecution for various corruption scandals.

SC’s Feb. 15 ruling

Last Feb. 15, majority of the SC justices voted to dismiss Gutierrez’s petition that sought to prevent the House justice committee from proceeding with its hearings on the two impeachment complaints. The high court lifted the status quo ante order it had issued last September, which prevented the House panel then from hearing the two complaints.

The justices ruled that Gutierrez’s right to due process was not denied when the House panel found as sufficient in form and substance the two impeachment complaints against Gutierrez. They also said Gutierrez should have exhausted legal remedies — such as filing an answer at the level of the House justice committee — instead of seeking redress from the SC right away.

The SC likewise said that to limit the impeachment proceedings to the filing of one impeachment complaint per year “renders the impeachment mechanism both illusive and illusory" and “puts a premium on senseless haste" because whoever gets to file the first impeachment complaint will get the House of Representatives’ attention.

“A prospective complainant, regardless of ill motives or best intentions, can wittingly or unwittingly desecrate the entire process by the expediency of submitting a haphazard complaint out of sheer hope to be the first in line. It also puts to naught the effort of other prospective complainants who, after diligently gathering evidence first to buttress the case, would be barred days or even hours later from filing an impeachment complaint," the SC said.

The Ombudsman’s contention

In her motion, Gutierrez contended that the court deviated from what it held in its ruling in Francisco vs House of Representative case, that an impeachment proceeding begins when the complaint is filed.

“In Francisco, this Honorable Court held that the term ‘initiate’ means to file the complaint and take initial action on it, nowhere did the Court reckon the initiation of impeachment proceedings from the referral of the complaint to the Committee on Justice. Rather, it reckoned initiation from the filing of the Complaint," the motion read.

“Thus, once a complaint is filed before the appropriate office or tribunal, a corresponding action or proceeding is at once initiated. The mere act of filing the complaint is the very act which commences an action or proceeding," it added.

Harassment, mob rule

Gutierrez also warned that the SC’s Feb. 15 ruling may set a bad precedent on mechanisms against impeachable officers like her.

“Petitioner Ombudsman begs this Honorable Court not to create a bad and dangerous precedent which is anchored on a contrived factual fiction, and worse, one which leaves to the authority sought to be limited by the Constitution, the discretion to determine when a mandatory self-executing constitutional provision can be invoked," her motion said.

She added that because of the SC’s ruling, impeachable officers may be subjected to multiple impeachment complaints within one year and spend their time defending themselves from the complaints.

She added that Congress will also be sidetracked in its legislative duties.

“The constitutional provisions on accountability of public officers do not constitute unbridled license to harass, oppress, harangue and trample upon the rights of public servants, who are among the highest officials of the land. Entry into government service does not entail a concession of one’s constitutionally-guaranteed rights. Accountability, by no means, sanctions indiscriminate filing of frivolous and baseless complaints against impeachable officers," her motion said.

Gutierrez also said the high court must require “a well-defined set of transcendent rules" of impeachment.

She said such rules should be “beyond the reach of temporary political majorities so that the mechanism of accountability of public officers is not trivialized into a mere mob rule shorn of due process." - KBK/MRT, GMA News

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