SC clears way for Ombudsman impeachment process

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 15 2011 04:38 PM | Updated as of Feb 16 2011 04:11 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez may have won round one in her legal battle to keep the House of Representatives from proceeding with the hearing of two impeachment complaints against her when the Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order in September which halted the proceedings, but she has just lost round two.

Voting 7-5-2 with one abstention, the Supreme Court en banc junked Gutierrez's petition and lifted the status quo ante order effectively allowing the House justice committee and the House of Representatives to proceed with the impeachment proceedings.

Speaking to reporters in a news conference today, Supreme Court Administrator and Spokesman Justice Jose Midas Marquez said the majority maintained that the constitutional provision barring two impeachment proceedings against one impeachable officer within a period of one year was not violated in the case of Gutierrez.

"In this particular case, you will notice that the two (complaints), though filed at different times, were referred to the House justice committee at the same time, and the justice committee, although there were two complaints, was doing only one proceeding," Marquez said.

"The (constitutional) prohibition should be interpreted to the institution of more than one impeachment proceeding. In this case, there is one single proceeding. It would seem that the justice committee proceeded simultaneously," Marquez added.

The majority decision, which is at least 50 pages long, is penned by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales.

She is joined by Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Martin Villarama, Jr., Roberto Abad and Jose Mendoza.

The dissenters are Associate Justices Arturo Brion, Teresita Leonardo-de Castro, Diosdado Peralta and Lucas Bersamin and Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, Jr. took no part because his son is a member of the House justice committee.

Dissenters' arguments

Those who voted against the junking of the petition were of the opinion that the impeachment proceedings violated due process because there were "no duly published House rules on impeachment proceedings" when the two complaints against Gutierrez were found sufficient in form and substance.

Marquez said the dissenters argued that "in this case, the justice committee published the rules on September 2, after it found on September 1 that the complaints were sufficient in form; there is jurisprudence that says it has to be published for 15 days before it can take effect."

Gutierrez's camp argued that this in effect rendered invalid the proceedings of the justice committee.

The high court's majority, however, maintained there was no denial of due process since Gutierrez was given a chance to answer after the complaints were found sufficient in form and substance.

The first complaint against Gutierrez was filed by former Akbayan party-list Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel on July 22, 2010, the second by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and other progressive groups on August 3, 2010.

The House justice committee issued resolutions on September 1 and 7, 2010 declaring that the impeachment complaints against Gutierrez were sufficient in form and substance.

Instead of giving her answer to the lower House, Gutierrez went to the high court to halt the proceedings insisting, among others, that the committee acted "with indecent and precipitate haste, arbitrarily and whimsically disregarded the clear and express provisions of Section 3(5), Article XI of the 1987 Constitution, which bars more than one impeachment proceeding against the same impeachable officer within a period of one year; and Section 13, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court, which provides that a complaint must charge only one offense."

Exercise of prudence required

The Supreme Court, meantime, asked all parties to "exercise prudence" and await finality of the decision.

Gutierrez has 15 days upon receipt of the decision to file a motion for reconsideration.

"Perhaps to do away with the confusion, it would be more prudent that we wait for the finality of this. Anyway, this case has been prioritized by the court," Marquez said.

Meantime, the office of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez said they have not yet "received the Ombudsman’s official copy of the said decision."

"Pending such receipt, the Ombudsman is still studying her options, including the filing of a motion for reconsideration on the said decision," her office said