MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) - The Supreme Court has allowed the House of Representatives to proceed with the impeachment hearings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda announced in a press conference in Malacañang that 7 against 5 magistrates decided to allow the House Committee on Justice to proceed.
The SC earlier issued a halt order on the proceedings while it is studying the petition filed by Gutierrez, who had argued that 2 impeachment complaints filed over a 1-year period are barred by the Constitution.
Saying a resolution is long overdue, former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros and other anti-corruption advocates urged the high court to finally lift the status quo ante order.
They said the slow pace by which the high court is handling the case “gravely undermines the efforts of the new administration to combat graft and corruption in the government.”
Article 11, Section 3(2) of the Constitution says that the House Committee on Justice must submit its report on the impeachment complaint to the plenary within 60 days from its referral.
The impeachment complaint was first filed on July 22, 2010. It was referred to the House Committee on Justice on August 11, 2010.
The SC already explained earlier that the status quo ante order issued also effectively stalled the 60 days from running.
Hontiveros, in an interview with ANC, admitted surprise over the decision considering the unmoving stance of the SC in the beginning.
She, however, welcomed the decision noting that this should serve as a warning to former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo “that if we succeed in impeaching the partisan and ineffective Ombudsman, we’re coming after her next.”
Despite the apparently unevenness of the voting, Hontiveros said the SC would not want to go again through another “bloody” procedure in studying Gutierrez’s petition. The Ombudsman can still file a motion for reconsideration, which may again split in half the voting.
Hontiveros said she is confident and “our eyes are set on the road…it’s a full steam ahead.”
She said the SC has taken a step back and realized that it could not let a constitutional crisis to happen. Critics earlier said the high court has stepped on the powers of the legislature to impeach.
It has also stepped back on its “judicial overreach,” she added.
Garcia plea deal
Gutierrez has again been under fire because of the Ombudsman’s move to enter into a plea bargain deal with former military comptroller Carlos Garcia.
Hontiveros said she is not sure if the House Committee on Justice could still raise this in the impeachment proceedings.
Nonetheless, the available evidence included in their petition is more than enough to impeach Gutierrez, she added.
The petitioners said Gutierrez should be booted out of her job because of betrayal of public trust and violation of the Constitution stemming from the cases involving the fertilizer fund scam, the Euro Generals controversy and 5 more issues.
In another interview with ANC, Committee on Justice Chairman Niel Tupas said the complaint could be amended to include the Garcia case.
“Definitely, this could figure and affect the proceedings. Whether we include it or not, it’s still a factor,” he said.
Tupas, however, fears that this could result into legal technicalities or even delay the proceedings.
“The Committee will just decide when we get there,” he said.
He noted that the committee has until the third week of March to complete a report that will be submitted to the plenary.
He said they will do marathon hearings as early as next week if Gutierrez will not file a motion for reconsideration.
“Even if she does, I doubt that the decision will change,” he said.