Will the Tupas committee rise to the challenge?

Among the hundreds of “tweets” that rolled across my Twitter feed yesterday, there was one that changed the complexion of the loud debate about the abuses of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and gave a clue as to where the impeachment cases filed against her before the House of Representatives (HOR) Justice Committee will be headed in the coming days.

UP law professor Ibarra Gutierrez III, through his @barrygutierrez Twitter account said: “Prepping new motion for SC to dismiss case filed by Merci Gutierrez so that impeachment can push thru. We’ve had enough of her, right?”
Gutierrez, obviously not related to the Ombudsman,  is the lead counsel for a group of complainants that includes former Akbayan party list Rep. Risa Hontiveros.
With this motion expected to be filed this week before the Supreme Court, supporters of the impeachment move felt renewed confidence the proceedings before the House justice committee under its chairman, Iloilo 5th District Rep. Niel “Junjun” Tupas Jr., can pick up where it left off on the cases four months ago. Tupas, according to sources, has been given the green light by Malacanang to go full throttle on the impeachment. President Noynoy Aquino is aware his campaign to prosecute corrupt officials of the Arroyo administration will get nowhere for as long as Gutierrez stays in office, the sources said. The necessary first step to achieve his goals is the impeachment of Gutierrez.
The Tupas committee has shown every courtesy to the Supreme Court by suspending its impeachment hearings after making a finding of suffiency in form and substance of the charges filed against Gutierrez. Tupas had wanted to ignore the status quo ante order handed down by the High Court. He relented as an accommodation to House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr. who didn’t want to force the issue and avert a possible constitutional crisis. But the delay of four months is taxing the patience of President Aquino, sources say. Every single day that goes by translates to a creeping victory for Ombudsman Gutierrez, and the proceedings must have to go on.
The filing of this motion to dismiss the case before the Supreme Court could be a tactical move to show one last gesture of respect and courtesy to the judiciary. A few days ago, SC spokesman Midas Marquez said the high tribunal has set another round of deliberations in three weeks. Marquez reiterated that the status quo ante order issued by the SC remains in effect. That will set back the timetable further back, and only fuel the growing frustration of the people. If the Supreme Court continues to dilly-dally, the Tupas committee might just release the parking brake lever and get on with urgent business. It could tell the tribunal, “we’ve given you enough time on this and we can’t wait any further.”
Rep. Tupas knows how important this matter is, and he has given every indication he will not run away from a good fight. He is determined to fulfill a mission for his nation and pave the way for the “matuwid na landas” advocacy of President Aquino to become reality.

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.