Showdown at Merci’s corral

The Supreme Court reigns supreme when it comes to questions of law. As Fr. Joaquin Bernas put it, it is supreme even in its own errors. This supremacy will now face an acid test in a potential clash with a co-equal branch of government, the Congress, after the high court issued a status quo ante order to stop the House committee on justice from pursuing two impeachment complaints against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on Tuesday, Sept. 14. It certainly caught the HOR justice committee chairman, Iloilo Rep. Niel “JunJun” Tupas Jr. by surprise and he is contemplating options that might force a showdown. This can result in a constitutional crisis.

What is more surprising is that swiftness with which the Supreme Court tackled the petition of the Ombudsman to stop the impeachment proceedings. In the past, we’ve seen the Supreme Court take days, even weeks, before it deemed it appropriate to address burning issues which definitely appeared more urgent than the Ombudsman’s plea. But then, the actions of the Supreme Court are shrouded in mystery. Nobody can really tell what transpires in their sacred chambers. In a matter of 24 hours, the high tribunal convened an en banc session to deliberate on the petition and issued this controversial order.

It definitely isn’t a life-or-death issue. It’s not as if Gutierrez faced the risk of losing her job the next day. The next hearing of the HOR justice committee is a good two weeks away. In that haste, people are reading signals that a replay of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s “hello Garci” could have taken place. Arroyo is committed to defending Gutierrez. The latter’s downfall could open the floodgates for investigations into the previous administration’s plunder sins. Besides, Arroyo will need to demonstrate steadfastness in defending loyal subalterns to prevent allies from defecting into the other side and testify against her. This is speculation, but then in the absence of clear facts, ordinary mortals can’t be prevented from speculating.

So what will happen if the House of Representatives simply brushes aside this status quo ante order and proceed with the hearings? Rep. Tupas said Congress draws its power to carry out such an impeachment investigation from the 1987 Constitution. He believes not even the Supreme Court can remove that power. When two behemoths collide, the people have to scramble for safety. A constitutional crisis will put the entire nation into a state of suspended animation. Whose power will prevail? Who will referee the conflict? If the congressmen proceed with the next hearing, can the Supreme Court cite them in contempt? Who will physically stop the congressmen? In the mind of Rep. Tupas, Congress is merely performing its job. If a constitutional crisis ensues, the provocation didn’t come from the legislature, he maintains.

Rep. Tupas is worried this could derail the mandate of Congress which is given just 60 session days to dispose of an impeachment complaint. The issuance of the status quo ante order will not stop the clock from ticking. As nobody can dictate upon the Supreme Court on how fast to deal with the issue, Congress can find itself running out of time, thereby saving Gutierrez from trouble at least for another year.  This will frustrate the Filipino people’s desire to see reforms in the justice system. The SC order could be the monkey wrench that Gloria Arroyo has taken from the tool box to stall efforts to undo the damage Gutierrez has caused to the nation.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

One Response to Showdown at Merci’s corral

  1. Supreme Court sets oral arguments on petition of Ombudsman to stop impeachment proceedings on Sept. 30. Will this stop the House justice committee from proceeding with its scheduled hearings on Sept. 28 and 29?


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