Under fire


 

This is a news story lifted from the Philippine Daily Inquirer:

Gutierrez lawyer grilled for 5 hours

By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:22:00 10/06/2010

Filed Under: Impeachment, Congress, Judiciary (system of justice)

MANILA, Philippines—Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and a dozen congressmen led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Tuesday attended the oral arguments conducted by the Supreme Court on her petition to nullify the impeachment complaints against her and to stop the impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives.

At press time, former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, 82, had been defending his client, Gutierrez, for five hours. He was grilled by the justices on two issues—when the impeachment proceedings were deemed to have begun and whether Gutierrez had exhausted all remedies provided in the Rules of Court before she sought relief from the tribunal.

Cuevas stressed that aside from facing two impeachment complaints that violated the constitutional provision barring impeachment proceedings against the same public official within a year, Gutierrez’s right to due process was violated.

Before the oral arguments began, Gutierrez told reporters that she was “very confident” that the justices would favor her petition for certiorari.

She said she had sought relief from the Supreme Court because the process followed in Congress violated the Constitution, and added that she would abide by the high court’s ruling.

“In my view, there was a violation of my rights. In my view, there’s a constitutional issue that should be raised before the Supreme Court, and that’s what will be discussed now,” she said in Filipino.

The House committee on justice had begun impeachment proceedings against Gutierrez based on complaints filed by former Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros et al. and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes et al.

The Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order, or an order to return to the status quo before the proceedings.

Revenge

Cuevas argued that Gutierrez’s right to a constitutional process was violated because the impeachment proceedings against her were characterized with “haste, partiality, and [was] apparently an act of vindictiveness and revenge” against her.

He noted that there was a pending graft case against the father of the justice committee chair, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.

In her petition for certiorari, Gutierrez complained of “grave abuse of discretion for lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of Congress,” and that she had “no other plain, speedy and other remedy” but to take her case to the high court.

Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales asked Cuevas if his client would have had “a plain and speedy remedy” had she filed an answer to the complaints filed by Hontiveros et al. and Reyes et al. after the justice committee found them sufficient in form and substance.

Replied Cuevas: “That may not be effective at this stage, because the proceedings continued and she is prejudiced. She cannot stand by and wait… We are raising a constitutional issue … in connection with the bar provision of the Constitution that no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within the same period in one year.”

But Morales said the justice committee was not a “one-man committee”—a reference to Cuevas’ contention that Tupas had an axe to grind against Gutierrez.

Not satisfied

Justice Diosdado Peralta asked Cuevas if it would have been better for the Ombudsman “to refute the allegations in Congress rather than come here under Rule 65 [of the Rules of Court on certiorari] because all you’re talking about is abuse of discretion.”
Said Cuevas: “We are not fully satisfied with the existence of other remedies. That remedy must be equally effective and beneficial to other parties.”

Justice Eduardo Nachura said the rules on impeachment provided that the justice committee should conduct a hearing wherein a public official would have the opportunity to present his/her side.

But Cuevas insisted that Gutierrez’s right to air her grievance against the violation against her right to due process, could not be “ventilated” in Congress.

“It is an exercise in futility which will yield no favor. We recognize the fact that impeachment is a political exercise … the moment the tyranny of numbers will dictate the decision. It has happened during the old days, many times,” he said.

‘She made me suffer’

On Morales’ questioning, Cuevas conceded that for his client, the impeachment proceedings began with the filing of the case and not its referral to the plenary.

But Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno’s questioning of her former teacher at the University of the Philippines College of Law made Cuevas seemingly reverse himself.

“Which is superior? The substantive right of the House to exercise its right to initiate the impeachment complaint, or … the mere clerical act on who bears the stamp?” Sereno said.

Cuevas replied: “It is the House, it is the responsibility of the House … That acceptance [of the complaints by the House secretariat] does not automatically initiate the impeachment proceedings.”

Sereno, the most junior among the high court justices, grilled Cuevas for more than half an hour, saying she wanted “a clinical, surgical approach” to the issue at hand.

Cuevas later quipped that he never made Sereno “suffer during her school days with me, but she made me suffer.”

Sereno replied: “Let me primarily beg for your forgiveness. You did not make me suffer. In fact, you made me really learn.”

Filing vs proceeding

In his questioning, Associate Justice Arturo Brion said the mere filing of an impeachment complaint was different from an “impeachment proceeding.”

Brion said the filing of an impeachment complaint was just part of a process of initiating the process against an impeachable public official.

He said what the Constitution prohibited was conducting more than one impeachment proceeding against a government official within a year, “and not the filing of numerous impeachment complaints.”

“So there can be several complaints filed one after the other for as long as no impeachment proceeding has been completed in the House,” he added.

But Cuevas countered that in the impeachment case against then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., the Supreme Court ruled that “the moment a complaint is filed and taken cognizance of by the House justice committee, the subsequent complaints may no longer be entertained.”

“That will be violative of that article on the prohibition of the Constitution,” Cuevas said, echoing the position of constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas on the Davide case.

Showing courtesy

Before the oral arguments, Tupas told reporters that the House delegation had come to the high court with “an abundance of caution.”

“We are here to argue that the interference is premature. It is with an abundance of caution that we are here. But to show courtesy to the Supreme Court, we are here now. I hope they also give us courtesy by deciding as soon as possible [on the matter] before we conduct the hearing in November,” Tupas said.

The justice committee maintains that Congress is a separate, independent branch of government, and wants the Supreme Court to lift the status quo ante order.

On the other hand, Bayan’s Reyes said the whole procedure redounded to “making former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo accountable all the more difficult.”

“If you can’t impeach the Ombudsman, how can you go after the big fish like the [former] President?” Reyes said.

Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. did not take part in Tuesday’s discussion as his son, Lord Allan Jay Velasco, is an incumbent member of the House as the representative of the lone district of Marinduque. With a report from Marlon Ramos

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.

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