SC asked to lift halt order on Ombudsman impeachment

By Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at Jan 17 2011 03:07 PM | Updated as of Jan 18 2011 06:56 AM

Lawmaker warns proceedings will continue absent a green light

MANILA, Philippines - Former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros and other anti-corruption advocates on Monday urged the Supreme Court to finally lift the status quo ante order it had earlier issued on the impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

In an urgent motion to resolve, the group said the SC's slow handling of the case “gravely undermines the efforts of the new administration to combat graft and corruption in the government.”

Hontiveros was joined by retired Brigadier General Danilo Lim, University of the Philippines Law Professor Ibarra Gutierrez III, and Felipe and Evelyn Pestaño, parents of slain Philippine Navy ensign Phillip Andrew Pestaño.

The high court in September suspended the proceedings at the House Committee on Justice following a petition filed by Ombudsman Gutierrez.

It gave credence to her assertion that 2 impeachment complaints filed over a 1-year period is barred by the Constitution. Hontiveros’ group is one of 2 that filed a complaint.

"The truth is, the court's status quo ante order on the impeachment process has far greater consequences. It is not only restraining the conduct of the impeachment process, it is also obstructing the mandate given by the people to the new government. What it is actually bringing to a standstill is not Congress's bidding but the people's will," Hontiveros added.

She said the delays "effectively eats out the remaining time" allotted to the House Committee on Justice to fulfill its task of completing the impeachment hearings.

Proceedings to continue

Article 11, Section 3(2) of the Constitution dictates that the Committee on Justice must submit its report on the impeachment complaint to the plenary within 60 days from its referral.

The SC already explained earlier that the status quo ante order issued also effectively stalled the 60 days from running.

Hontiveros, however, insists that the committee has less than 15 session days to complete its task.

The impeachment complaint was first filed on July 22, 2010. It was referred to the Committee on Justice on August 11.

In a separate interview with ANC, Committee on Justice chairman Niel Tupas, Jr. said if the SC still fails to come out with a decision “within the month, we have no recourse but to continue.”

He said he met SC spokesman Jose Midas Marquez this morning and told him “we can wait but we also have a deadline…it will lapse in March.”

The SC earlier said a decision may come out this month.

The committee was supposed to continue with the proceedings even with the halt order.

It decided to give way, however, to a request from House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. that it stop the proceedings absent a go-signal from the high court.