Impeach rap vs SC justice to set precedent: Tupas

By David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at May 19 2011 12:31 PM | Updated as of May 19 2011 08:31 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Is plagiarism enough reason to impeach a Supreme Court magistrate?

This is the question that will be answered in ongoing impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court Justice Mariano del Castillo who is accused of plagiarizing foreign authors’ works in a ponencia regarding the case of comfort women.

House justice committee chairman Niel Tupas Jr. said he expects a spirited debate on the issue after the panel voted 11-10-1 that the impeachment complaint against del Castilo was "sufficient in form."

"Does plagiarism constitute betrayal of public trust? Tingin ko mainit ang debate diyan. I almost had to break the deadlock. On the sufficiency of substance, it's possible that it could be defeated in the vote. Usually when we discuss impeachment, it is usually corruption or inaction on corruption which are clear impeachable offenses," he said in a radio dzMM interview.

"Before we discuss the substance, we will have to determine if plagiarize constitutes betrayal of public trust," he added.

Tupas said a previous SC ethics panel decision clearing del Castillo of plagiarism has no bearing on the impeachment process.

He said the justice committee vote on the sufficiency of substance of the impeach complaint will set a precedent, whatever the outcome. The committee will vote on the complaint's sufficiency in substance Wednesday next week.

"Under the law, it should be the person issuing the judgment that writes the decision. That's one of the points raised. Now if this is dismissed as a matter of substance, it will be precedent setting, that plagiarism is not an impeachable offense. But if it does pass the vote, that would be interesting because plagiarism is now considered a betrayal of public trust," he said.

House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman earlier said he sees rough sailing for the impeachment complaint against del Castillo.

“This is the first time in the history of the Committee on Justice where with respect on question on sufficient in form vote was very close. There is an apprehension or reservation on many members possibly  this impeach case will not hold water," he said.

Lagman expressed doubts the alleged offense of plagiarism constitutes betrayal of public trust.

“Hard to make a call whether impeachable or not because there’s a gray area whether it would fit into catch all phrase betrayal of public trust. Wala naming complainant. The one plagiarized - is he complaining? Ito bang allegedly plagiarized material material to the decision penned by justice? Baka nasa prefatory statement lang yan. Wala sa real disposition," he said.

He said the close vote on the test of sufficiency of form was a bellweather indicator of the sentiments of congressmen. With a report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News