Not a reckless adventure

In its editorial yesterday, Oct. 2, the Philippine Daily Inquirer painted the move of the House of Representatives Justice Committee to affirm its constitutional mandate on impeachment as a reckless adventure, akin to Don Quixote’s crazy lance assault against a windmill, and accused its members of flirting with a constitutional crisis. It wants the committee headed by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. to simmer down, and like a dog putting its tail between its legs, bow in subservience to the Supreme Court which had issued a status quo ante order on the impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

I beg to differ from the stance of the revered PDI on this issue.

First, there is no defiance on the part of the House justice committee. Its vote to uphold Congress’s autonomy on the issue of impeachment doesn’t fling the House into a collision course with the High Court. In fact, it is giving the Supreme Court due respect by submitting its comment on the petition filed by Gutierrez (with reservation) and take part in the oral argument set for Tuesday, Oct. 5. But the House justice committee is making it clear its stand on the matter is firm. It is giving the High Court space to make a ruling on whether the status quo ante order will stay after a reasonable period of time. That’s the respect the High Court is getting.

I’m not a lawyer, but there’s one point that is so obvious to a layman it’s hard to understand why the Supreme Court could stray from the intent and purpose of the law. The filing of a complaint can’t possibly be deemed as the initiation of impeachment proceedings as contemplated in the 1987 Constitution. At that point, there is no knowing whether the impeachment complaint is sufficient in form and substance, much less founded on valid grounds. To stick to the interpretation under the Francisco doctrine would make a mockery of the entire impeachment process. What would now prevent an impeachable official from filing a defective complaint at the first opportunity to block such actions for one year?

If the previous Congresses balked at a showdown with the Supreme Court in the impeachment cases against then Chief Justice Hilario Davide, it doesn’t mean that the present House of Representatives will just stick to that erroneous position. Impeachment is not a judicial proceeding; it is a political act to provide the people at large with an opportunity to exact accountability from public officials who otherwise can’t be removed through the expedient of an election or termination. The congressmen and women who will vote on whether a complaint should be elevated to the impeachment court — the Senate — are acting on behalf of their constituents. It is a power drawn from popular representation.

It has also been pointed out that the Supreme Court has no business meddling with Congress’s power on impeachment. That’s because the Supreme Court justices themselves are subject to impeachment. Hence, as shown in the Francisco case, the Supreme Court might be tempted into putting up obstacles to protect its members. With this in mind, the House justice committee is right in insisting the power to impeach cannot be taken away from it by the simple expedient of getting a prohibitory injunction from the Supreme Court.

I rest my case.