MANILA - Invoking separation of powers and judicial independence, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Court of Appeals (CA) Presiding Justice Andres Reyes, Jr. urged the House of Representatives on Wednesday to recall its show cause order for magistrates of the appellate court’s Special 4th Division to explain why they should not be cited for contempt for ordering the release of 6 employees of the Ilocos Norte provincial government being detained by the House.
In a joint statement released to the media, Sereno and Reyes said there are other "legal remedies" available to the House “that are provided to it under the Constitution, the law, and the Rules of Court" if it disagrees with the CA magistrates’ order.
“Cognizant of its implications on separation of powers and judicial
independence, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals, express deep concern over the Show Cause Order issued by the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability against Court of Appeals Justices Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon, and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela who comprise the Court of Appeals Special Fourth Division.
“Without inquiring into the merits of the issues currently pending before the Special Fourth Division and subject of the House Committee’s inquiry, we note that the House of Representatives is not without any speedy legal remedy that is consistent with the separation of powers should it disagree with the action of the Court of Appeals, such as an appeal,” the statement read.
Pedro Agcaoili, chair of the bids and awards committee, and provincial planning and development officer; Evangeline Tabulog, provincial budget officer; Josephine Calajate, provincial treasurer; Eden Battulayan, provincial accountant; and provincial treasurer’s office staff Genedine Jambaro and Encarnacion Gaor have been detained since May 29, upon the order of the House Committee on Good Governance and Public Accountability.
The employees appeared before the committee’s inquiry into the alleged misuse of tobacco excise tax amounting to P66.45-million in the purchase of mini trucks, mini cabs, and second-hand buses, where they repeatedly said they could not remember the transactions.
The committee was irked at their “refusal to answer questions,” and held them in contempt, thereby detaining them at the House.
A petition for habeas corpus was filed with the CA, which ordered that the detained employees be presented at its hearings. The House did not comply with the order.
A petition for bail for the employees’ provisional release was filed, which was granted by the appellate court. The CA subsequently issued an order for the release of the employees.
This earned the ire of the committee and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who insisted that the CA had no jurisdiction over Congress’ contempt powers, and must respect the separation of powers of the branches of government.
Alvarez even threatened to dissolve the CA, stressing that it was not a co-equal branch of Congress and a mere creation of the legislature.
The CA Special 4th Division issued a show cause order directing the House to explain its defiance of the release order.
In response, Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali moved to issue a show cause order on the magistrates of the CA, which, according to him is "an inferior court." His motion approved via unanimous vote of 30.
“When an officer of Congress is now being required to show cause, this will equally warrant show cause of these justices, who unwarrantedly issued the resolution and caused the issuance of the release order.
“I am constrained to also move that we require the three justices of the [CA] be equally required to show cause before this committee so we would now be able to better understand powers of the three independent, co-equal branches of government,” Umali explained.
Cruz, one of 12 applicants to the post to be vacated by SC Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes on July 6, said during his public interview on Monday with the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) that he and the other members of his division were only doing their job.