Solon hits SC TRO on ouster hearings vs Ombudsman

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 18 2010 04:13 PM | Updated as of Sep 19 2010 10:18 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Akbayan representative Walden Bello believes the Supreme Court has overstepped its boundaries when it issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) on the Congress impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

In ANC’s Strictly Politics Tuesday, Bello said the high court, composed mostly of appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, cannot dictate on a co-equal branch of government.

“The TRO of the Supreme Court is to be set aside because it is an interference with the prerogative of a co-equal branch of government,” Bello said.

Further, Bello stressed that the Congress has the constitutional right to “promulgate” its own rules on impeachment proceedings. The order from the high court has triggered a “constitutional crisis,” shared Bello.

“[The] Congress promulgates its own rules on this (impeachment) issue,” Bello said. “[The] Congress did not seek this kind of action. This is a provocative act by majority of the [justices in the] Supreme Court.”

Earlier this week, House Speaker Sonny Belmonte issued an ambiguous statement, saying that they will give courtesy to the Supreme Court but will not hamper committee processes.

“This is a challenge that has been thrown at Congress, both the House and Senate. On their invalid and flimsy grounds, we did not violate the constitution. We're following our own rules,” Bello added.

Constitutional crisis

Although the court has issued a TRO, the House justice committee headed by representative Neil Tupas has decided to continue the impeachment hearing set on Sept. 28. Once the justice committee decides to continue the impeachment proceedings, a constitutional crisis will occur.

Last week, the House has approved the two impeachment complaints against Gutierrez as both sufficient in form and substance. The lower house is giving Gutierrez 10 days to prepare her counter-argument and 3 days to present it to the committee. Once presented to the justice committee, members will vote if the complaint has sufficient grounds.

“Wala pang nawawalang karapatan ni Gutierrez for the Supreme Court to stop Congress from fulfilling its constitutional mandate. Why should the Supreme Court prevent the impeachment process when no rights have been violated?” Bayan Muna representative Teddy Casiño explained.

With the TRO, Casiño expects the Ombudsman will not issue her side but reiterated that the committee meeting will push through.

‘Highly political decision’

Bello added that the TRO released by the court was a political decision expected of Arroyo appointees.

“The problem here is that this is a highly political decision... Highly political because it is really an effort to protect the Ombudsman from the impeachment process,” he said.

Furthermore, Bello stressed that the court's move was meant to protect not only Gutierrez, but also the former president, whose accountability in the last 9 years had not been questioned by the Ombudsman.

Casiño added that Gutierrez’s presence has tarnished the institution’s reputation and the snowball support in the lower house to continue the impeachment raps is a fulfillment of President Benigno Aquino’s campaign promise to hold Arroyo accountable.

“Parang ang Ombdusman is the first line of defense. Now na threatened na ang first line of defense, the majority in the Supreme Court are coming in to support the first line of defense,” Bello said.

The decision also further lessens the integrity and independence of the high court especially since no grounds required a restraining order, Bello added. “If you ask me, for me its very transparent that it is a partisan political decision.”

Up to Malacañang

Casiño, on the other hand, believes that the Palace will dictate whether or not to continue the proceedings as House Speaker Belmonte said that the members of ruling Partido Liberal will vote by conscience.

“If the President musters political will and rallies his troops then this impeachment will go on, but if there is a wavering of political will of intent to really remove the Ombudsman then the SC ruling is a very convenient excuse to back down,” Casiño said.

Bello, however, is confident that the Aquino administration will decide for the impeachment complaint.

“I am confident that the President will see this through. It will take political will not only on the part of the administration but also in the part of majority in Congress and I hope that political will will be shown,” he said. - With ANC