SC-Congress showdown looms over impeach threat

By David Dizon,

Posted at Mar 07 2011 10:31 AM | Updated as of Mar 07 2011 10:27 PM

The stage is set for a possible showdown between the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives after a majority lawmaker threatened to file impeachment cases against 8 SC justices for allegedly impeding the work of Congress on the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

In an interview, Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said he is now finalizing an impeachment complaint against 8 magistrates who voted to issue a status quo anti-order to the House of Representatives justice committee on the impeachment of Gutierrez.

Fariñas is anchoring the complaint on the notes of Associate Justices Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales and Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who all claimed that the magistrates voted to grant Gutierrez a stay order despite some magistrates failing to read Gutierrez's petition. Carpio said he only got a copy of the petition in the afternoon of September 14, 2010 after the en banc had already voted to issue the order.

Fariñas said the SC decision interfered with Congress' work on Gutierrez's impeachment and stalled the process for more than 5 months. Even worse, he said the order was issued even after some of the concurring justices had yet to even read the petition.

"We are a co-equal branch of government and we weren't given the proper respect due us including the reading of the complaint. The status quo anti-order meant we did nothing on the case for 5 and a half months and then the court said we were right," he told ABS-CBN's "Umagang Kay Ganda."

The congressman said he has asked the Supreme Court to issue a certification on when the justices received copies of Gutierrez's petition.

He said that aside from the 3 who dissented, 2 other justices also did not get a copy and had not read the petition before the voting.

"I asked for a certification that aside from the 3, there were 2 others who received copies of the petition one day after the voting," he said.

He added: "No justice has been put under the impeachment process. I think it's time to remind the justices that pwede sila managot sa taumbayan through the House of Representatives."

3 justices didn't read Gutierrez plea

For his part, Supreme Court Spokesman and Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said the Supreme Court en banc conducted debates on Sept. 14, 2010, one day after Gutierrez submitted her petition. He said the status quo anti-order gave the SC more time to read the impeachment complaints against Gutierrez.

"The majority said: 'Wait first, status quo muna and let us study this further.' This is just an initial order to allow more time to study the case," he said.

He also admitted that the 3 dissenting justices in the Sept. 14 ruling might not have read Gutierrez's petition before the voting. "The 3 probably didn't ready it but the 3 cannot speak for the rest," he said.

The 8 justices who voted for the status quo anti-order and are facing possible impeachment are: Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Mariano del Castillo, Lucas Bersamin, Diosdado Peralta, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama, Presbitero Velasco and Jose Portugal Perez.

Weakening the institution

Marquez said the impeachment threat against the Chief Justice and 7 other SC magistrates could weaken the institution.

"[Filing impeachment] is the right of Congressman Fariñas and we trust in his knowledge and experience as a government official, He has been in politics for a long time. But you have to study it really hard. The threat of impeachment especially based on the decisions of the Supreme Court can weaken the institution, especially if it comes from a lawmaker," he said.

He noted that the work of the Supreme Court is to determine if any branch of government including the executive and legislative have committed violations of the Constitution. "If they do their work then they are not betraying the trust of the people," he said.

The congressman, however, said the impeachment process will restore the people's trust in the Supreme Court.

"I don't think it will weaken the institution but will instead strengthen the trust of the people (in the Supreme Court) because they know that the  SC can be held accountable for their actions," he said.