Tiyak na ibabasura ang kaso ng Kapa

Hindi naman sa pinangungunahan ko ang Korte Suprema, pero tiyak na ibabasura lamang nito itong kaso na inisampa ng Rhema Int’l Livelihood Foundation, Inc. laban kay Pangunlong Rodrigo Duterte kaugnay sa pagpasara sa operasyon ng Kapa Ministry International Inc.

Una, may tinatawag tayong “immunity from suit” si Pangulong Duterte habang naka-upo ito sa puwesto. Ang ibig sabihin, hindi puwedeng kasohan ang Pangulo kahit sa anumang dahilan except for impeachable offenses. Ang kasong ito ay petition for certiorari, prohibition and mandamus at pinangalanan si Pangulong Duterte bilang respondent.

Diyan pa lang, bagsak na ang kaso.

Pangalawa, hinihiling ng Cirfund — yan ang tawag nila sa project na kumukolekta ng “donasyon” galing sa mga miyembro — na sampahan ng “impeachment case” si Pangulong Duterte.

Halatang ignorante sa batas ang mga taong ito.

Ang impeachment ay hindi pina-file sa Korte Suprema. Doon yan ginagawa sa House of Representatives. Walang jurisdiction ang Supreme Court sa usapin tungkol sa impeachment.

Talagang matigas ang ulo ng mga opisyal ng Kapa. Pinipilit pa rin nila na legal ang ginagawa nitong pag-tanggap ng pera galing sa mga miyembro.

Dapat arestuhin na yan si Apolinario. Kung naloko niya ang 5 million members ng Kapa, huwag siya mag-akala na kaya na niya suwayin ang mga batas ng Pilipinas at his Pangulong Duterte.

PNoy’s breakfast with Senator-Judge Bong was wrong!

When the Senate constituted itself as an Impeachment Court in accordance with the Constitution, its members ceased to become political animals and even wore judicial robes to elevate them to a different plane. They ceased to be legislators each time they wore the robes. They represented justice, fair and objective. Above suspicion. But President Aquino corrupted the whole process.

Mark Jalandoni quits as Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon

The resignation of Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Mark Jalandoni is a reason for jubilation for Filipinos who want to see his boss, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, removed from office. It is a signal that convulsions inside the agency are becoming so strong even her own right hand man has decided to jump ship even before her impeachment trial could begin next month. Jalandoni is known to be the real power behind Gutierrez, a handpicked man of the former First Couple, to make sure things move as they desired in the country’s anti-graft agency.

Jalandoni’s resignation came in the heels of three complaints over his usurpation of authority and abuse of discretion in dismissing cases, a prerogative that belongs to the Ombudsman or, in her absence, the Over-all Deputy Ombudsman. A spokesman for the Office of the Ombudsman said Jalandoni chose to resign rather than face the administrative case “to spare the Ombudsman from the controversy”.

Jalandoni was appointed to the position on March 8, 2010, the last day before the election bad on appointments took effect. It was a clear midnight appointment. The papers were doctored to make it appear it was signed by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before the prohibition took effect. But documents I had obtained showed that the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) submitted its ranking list for the candidates for the position to the Office of the Executive Secretary at 2:58 p.m. on March 8, 2010. Those who understand how the bureaucratic mill grinds know that it usually takes two or three days before it lands on the desk of the Executive Secretary.

The date “March 8, 2011” is handwritten on the top portion of Jalandoni’s appointment, an indication that it was issued at a later date, but only made to appear to have beaten the deadline. Otherwise, his appointment papers would have taken a bullet train across the bureaucracy, which would still be an indication the appointing power had made up her mind before the JBC short-list was submitted. Incidentally, Jalandoni wasn’t even number one on the list. The top-ranked candidate was Director Roque Dator of the Field Investigation Office. But Jalandoni was already the sidekick of Gutierrez, and he was elevated to the position of Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon to make sure he effectively filtered the big-time graft cases. All cases filed against Cabinet secretaries and generals land on his desk.

Jalandoni was the “hatchet-man” of Gutierrez. He did the dirty job of sweeping the filth of Arroyo’s plundering cohorts to make sure they stayed out of jail. He was also responsible for crafting decisions to harass and oppress known enemies of the previous administration. No other man wielded so much power as Mark Jalandoni inside the agency. He rose above Orlando Casimiro, the Over-all Deputy Ombudsman. He was the most trusted man of Gutierrez; insiders describe him as the only person who could make the beleaguered Ombudsman laugh during tense moments.

Why was Jalandoni so powerful? He wasn’t handpicked by the former occupants of the Palace from nowhere. The middle-aged lawyer is the son of Julio “Boy” Jalandoni, the reputed bag-man of the Arroyos. He is now the jueteng lord of Negros Occidental. A few months ago, I wrote an investigative piece about Boy Jalandoni being in the top 100 stockholders of blue-chip companies like Ayala Land Inc., Globe and Jollibee. The Jalandonis of Jaro were rich, but certainly not that rich. Clearly, Boy Jalandoni held those investments — worth billions of pesos — for somebody else. I don’t have to tell you who that somebody is.

That is the connection that Mark Jalandoni enjoyed to have landed such a powerful position. His sudden departure will demoralize Gutierrez. Her back-up man abandoned ship before she could even start to face trial. This resignation will rattle and shake the agency like a 9.1 magnitude earthquake. And this will hasten the discovery of more anomalies in the previous administration.

No return, no exchange

Former Iloilo governor Niel Tupas Sr. holds the singular distinction of having been indicted by the beleaguered Ombudsman, Merceditas Gutierrez, twice in a three-year period.

In January 2007, Tupas was slapped the penalty of dismissal and perpetual disqualification from public office for allegedly pocketing P20,000 that the Iloilo provincial government gave a national organization of provincial board members as financial assistance. Tupas stood his ground and refused to step down as he questioned the order before the Court of Appeals. It was nothing more than political persecution, he believed, because he withdrew his allegiance to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. He was among the governors who sympathized with the Hyatt 10 over the “Hello, Garci” issue and stuck to the Liberal Party position of fighting the corrupt administration of GMA.

Tupas knew the risks, but he stood firm on principle. When the dismissal order came, he refused to kneel and beg before GMA through her lieutenant, then DOJ secretary Raul M. Gonzalez. This steadfastness nearly proved deadly. The GMA administration, using the Ombudsman order of dismissal, sent 300 heavily armed policemen to storm the Iloilo Capitol to forcibly remove Tupas. The timely fax transmission of a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Court of Appeals in Cebu stopped the policemen in their tracks as they prepared for the final assault to break open the door to the governor’s office. People would have been hurt, or lives even lost, had that happened.

Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ombudsman order was invalid. Tupas was denied due process, and the penalty of dismissal was an overkill in relation to the alleged offense he committed. This is a classic example of the distorted sense of justice that Gutierrez dispenses: protect the plunderers while sending the small fry to the gas chambers. And this was clearly a fabricated charge that had no basis in truth and in fact.

As the wheels of justice ground to a complete halt in its supposed investigation of mega-anomalies like the ZTE-NBN scandal, P720-million fertilizer fund scam, the multi-million highway robbery of Boboy Syjuco, the Ombudsman’s machinery was revving when it came to cases filed against Tupas.

Just two weeks before the May 10, 2010 elections, the Ombudsman handed down the second decision on the supposed irregularity in the grant of a quarry permit to a businessman in Iloilo. This is now the case that leaped to the centerstage in this epic impeachment drama. In the most stupid of stupidity, the Ombudsman, through Over-all Deputy Ombudsman Orlando Casimiro, ruled that Tupas should suffer the severe penalty of dismissal from office AGAIN in the administrative aspect of the case.

But, as the stupid decision put it, Tupas was absolved of any liability in the administrative case under the Aguinaldo doctrine. Tupas overwhelmingly won over his opponent in the 2007 local elections by a 220,000 vote margin, which extinguishes his administrative liability, if ever, over an alleged offense committed in 2004. Any lawyer would know that the proper thing to do, as the case was filed in 2008, was to dismiss the administrative complaint outright on the basis of the Aguinaldo doctrine. Gutierrez, hiding behind Casimiro, did not. She used the case to harass Tupas.

Anyway, the criminal complaint was rushed to the Sandiganbayan less than 24 hours after the resolution was penned. The indictment served another purpose — negative propaganda against Tupas, who was running for Congressman of the 4th district of Iloilo against incumbent Rep. Ferjenel Biron. It was an express train that was intended to throw Tupas off-balance trying to fend off a warrant of arrest two weeks before the elections. Actually, the plan was to keep it under wraps and spring an ambush on Tupas by serving him a warrant of arrest a few days before the elections. It was by accident that I stumbled upon the story through the ABS-CBN website at 5 o’ clock a.m. The element of surprise was deleted.

Tupas filed a motion for reconsideration on the decision shortly afterwards. He lost to Biron in the face of super-massive vote buying, but his son, Niel Jr., trounced his first cousin, Rolex T. Suplico, the 5th district of Iloilo. As fate would have it, Rep. Niel Jr. was chosen to become chairman of the House justice committee, and it was on his laps that two impeachment complaints were lodged against Merceditas Gutierrez. The younger Tupas didn’t ask to be made justice committee chair; he didn’t orchestrate the filing of impeachment complaints against Gutierrez.

Sometime in the 2nd week of September 2010, Tupas was surprised to find Casimiro waiting at his office. The House justice committee had commence its work on the complaints, and had in fact poisted to vote on the sufficiency in form and substance. Casimiro engaged Tupas, in the presence of his legal assistant, Atty. Joenar Pueblo, in light talk about his father’s case. “It was really weak right from the start,” Tupas quoted Casimiro as saying. But the deputy ombudsman said he was ordered to indict the older Tupas just the same. It doesn’t take too much brain power to figure out who could order him to do that.

“Then, Casimiro told me the case can be dismissed by way of approving the pending motion for reconsideration,” Rep. Tupas said. Casimiro’s voice dropped in a conspirational whisper: “What can you offer the Ombudsman in exchange?”

It was a horse-trade that Casimiro had proposed — unethical, illegal and unprofessional. The Ombudsman will drop the case against the father provided the son treats Gutierrez with leniency and allow her to squirm her way out of the impeachment. A very tempting offer, indeed, said Tupas.

But Tupas said “no”. His father will face the case squarely. He will not hide. He will not drop to his knees and pray for reversal of the indictment. “I cannot abandon my principles in exchange for my father’s case,” the younger Tupas said. The former governor agreed. The same issue had been decided by a Regional Trial Court in Iloilo in 2005 after a full-blown trial. The quarry permit was validly issued, the individual who obtained it was qualified, and then Gov. Tupas did nothing wrong. That decision was, and is, the best evidence in favor of Gov. Tupas.

Rep. Tupas revealed this secret offer immediately after the Ombudsman, again through Casimiro, rejected the motion for reconsideration. “I didn’t disclose it earlier because I didn’t want to sidetrack the focus,” Rep. Tupas said. “But I continued to fulfill my mandate despite this sword of Damocles hanging over the head of my father,” he added. Now that the Ombudsman had revived the case in apparent retaliation to the unshakable principle shown by the younger Tupas, he felt this attempt to bargain with him had to be exposed.

Casimiro, as expected, denied having tried to lobby for his boss. But he can’t hide the fact that he visited the office of Rep. Tupas in September. I am told there was even a second visit in which Gov. Tupas was present; Casimiro came to reiterate the offer. The logbooks would show that he went to see the son at his office. Was it just a social call? Did Casimiro go there to have coffee and just engage in friendly banter? He was the one who signed the original decision, as often happens when Gutierrez wants to wash her hands from a case. Certainly, Tupas wouldn’t feel too comfortable chatting with a man who tried to fire his father a second time.

The firm position taken by Tupas has frustrated Gutierrez. Her usual tactics didn’t work this time. She tried to deal with a person who adopted a “no return, no exchange” policy. No barter, no withdrawal of cases. Now she wants to use the issue to cast doubt over the credibility of Tupas. However, her lies will not bring her anywhere. The public isn’t likely to be deceived. A coincidence? The resolution was dated August 10, 2010. The lapse of five months before it was signed only reinforces the story of Rep. Tupas. It was kept hanging to be used as a bargaining tool.

Merceditas Gutierrez has done the country grave wrongs. There is growing anger among Filipinos as details about her anomalies are revealed. It is the position of the Tupas family that they can take the blows for the sake of making sure that the ends of justice and equity are served. Gov. Tupas survived an assault by 300 heavily armed policemen. He is not about to run away from this case, much unlike Merceditas Gutierrez who is getting more desperate in trying to stop the impeachment process.

Ombudsman is a big-time protection racket

About a year ago, a high-ranking official of the Ombudsman from Manila visited me at the Iloilo Capitol to obtain my affirmation of the graft charges I had filed against Augusto Boboy Syjuco, Judy Jalbuena Syjuco, et al regarding the P6.2 million ghost purchase of 1,582 units of Nokia 1100 cellular phones purportedly for a communication system in the 2nd district of Iloilo.

I was filled with excitement as this official revealed that his unit’s investigation validated my findings that Syjuco had orchestrated this ghost purchase using funds from the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) by having the signature of then Sta. Barbara town mayor Isabelo Maquino on the invoice property receipt to make it appear that the cell phone units had been delivered.

This Ombudsman official also interviewed Mayor Maquino to confirm the forgery of his signature. Mayor Maquino was then asked to execute an affidavit on the matter to be made part and parcel of the case that was in the final stages before being submitted to his superiors. There was no stopping the filing of the case, the official told me.

Nothing happened since then. At that stage, the investigation work was all but finished, and a review of the findings and recommendations should really have taken more than a week. Apparently, the case got buried in the growing pile of graft cases that only gather dust in the records store room of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. If Gutierrez was serious about eradicating corruption, that case would have made a good example.

That cell phone anomaly case created a big uproar in Iloilo. But the Syjucos just hunkered down, and the issue died a natural death. It died with the inaction, apparently deliberate, of the Ombudsman. It’s the latest of the frustrating battles I had fought against the corruption of Boboy Syjuco. Previous cases I had filed against him, including one pertaining to the fertilizer fund scam, have either been dismissed “for failure to prove his involvement” or simply slept in the backrooms of the agency.

Knowing how Syjuco operates, I can surmise that these cases suffered from the same fate as the many other scandals that are now hogging the headlines — the Ligot and Garcia ill-gotten wealth controversies, among others. The Ombudsman is a big-time protection racket where graft cases against clear plunderers and thieves in government are just swept under the rug, obviously for a fee. Such protection isn’t cheap. Through the grapevine, I was told each “areglo” is worth millions of pesos, depending on the gravity of the case.

But I am not totally unhappy. Now, Gutierrez is being hailed before the House justice committee to account for her alleged malfeasances. This is the revenge of the entire Filipino people who were deprived of the services of a true Ombudsman. She sold the Filipino people to the plunderers; she will have to pay for that sin.

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.

Can Facebook hasten impeachment of Merci?

Gone are the days when causes are fought with signature campaigns. The battleground has shifted from paper and pen to cyberspace, where a click is enough to manifest a citizens stand on an issue. In a recent article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine, the ouster of Philippine President Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 2001 was attributed largely to the massive text messaging campaign that brought people to EDSA. That was that start of a new era where social media is believed to possess vast powers in shaping the political landscape of every nation.

The impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez has given birth to an experiment on whether Facebook can generate enough followers to manifest the people’s growing disgust over the corruption that her leadership at the anti-graft body has managed to engender rather than stop. Two impeachment complaints were filed before the House of Representatives last year against Gutierrez, but before the House of Representatives could even proceed with its hearings, Gutierrez already went to the Supreme Court and obtained a status quo ante order. The issue  is still pending before the Supreme Court. A few days ago, the SC spokesman said the tribunal will set another deliberation in three weeks, a move that many perceive as a delaying tactic.

The “Impeach Merci” Facebook page seeks to mobillize public opinion in support of a move by the House justice committee to pick up where it left off on the impeachment proceedings without waiting for a Supreme Court ruling. The Filipino sovereign is supreme over any governmental power in the land, and through this page, we can express our position. If you wish to make your voice heard, just click on the link below, and then click on the “Like” button at the bottom left of the page. We also encourage you to spread the word to your friends to make this movement “viral”.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Impeach-Merci/114445221960839?v=app_2373072738&ref=ts#!/pages/Impeach-Merci/114445221960839

Abuse of discretion

Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, through her counsel, ought to be ashamed about her claim that she is a victim of “abuse of discretion” when the House justice committee voted that the two impeachment complaints filed against her were “sufficient in form and substance”. If there is anybody who is consistently guilty of “abuse of discretion,” that could only be Gutierrez herself. Under her watch, the Ombudsman has become a tool for oppression. At the same time, it turned into a citadel where corrupt officials during the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presidency took refuge.

The oppressive nature of Gutierrez was manifested in the grossly unfair resolutions she handed down against public officials considered “enemies” of the Arroyo admnistration and “small fry” like P/Senior Insp. Rolando Mendoza. The list of victims is long. Then Makati City mayor, now Vice President, Jejomar Binay is one. Former Cavite Governor (now Rep.) Ayong Maliksi is another.

But there is one former local chief executive whose name Gutierrez can now never forget: Niel Tupas Sr., governor of Iloilo for nine years, and survivor of the infamous Iloilo Capitol siege on January 17, 2007. Gov. Tupas stands out as a lightning rod for the “fury” of the Ombudsman, having the singular distinction of being dismissed from the job twice (but the orders never got to be implemented).

A quick look at the list will reveal that nobody associated with Arroyo ever got indicted. The cases against them were even dismissed, or just lay buried in the archives of the agency. The Ombudsman became an enforcer for the Arroyo administration, a tool for oppression to keep everybody in line. Play by the rules, and you don’t get kicked in the butt — That was the way the Ombudsman worked under Gutierrez. And “abuse of discretion” is a good way to describe the way she ran the agency.

Hence, I find it disgusting that among all possible excuses, Gutierrez would pick “abuse of discretion” to justify her cause. Under the circumstances, it would be tantamount of “abuse of discretion” if the impeachment case against her would not now be allowed to proceed.

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

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.