MANILA- House Committee on Justice Chair Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali said Friday that lawmakers were open to talks with the judiciary amid a seeming standoff between the two branches of government over the detention of six Ilocos Norte officials.
This even as Umali stressed that legal processes must still be observed.
"While we are open, we have got to go through processes and this is one instance where this cannot be made through media... they have got to file motions also, motions for reconsideration before the committee, because no one member, not even the chairman, can reverse a decision of the committee which was voted upon by its members unanimously," he said in an interview on ANC's "Early Edition."
Since May 29, the House has held Pedro Agcaoili, chair of the provincial 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.
The employees had appeared before a committee 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 in 2011.
In the hearing, the officials repeatedly said they could not remember the transactions, earning the ire of lawmakers for their “refusal to answer questions." Lawmakers then decided to hold the officials in contempt, detaining them at the House.
Responding to a petition for habeas corpus, the Court of Appeals then ordered that the detained employees be presented at its hearings. The House did not comply with the order.
The appellate court later granted the employees' petition for bail and subsequently issued an order for their release. The House has defied this court order, with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez even threatening to dissolve the CA.
On Wednesday, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. called on the House to recall the show cause order it had issued against the appellate court to explain why it should not be cited in contempt for ordering the detained officials' release.
Responding to Sereno and Reyes' statements, Umali said back channel talks seemed to be a better way to resolve issues.
"Their statements were already made and I don’t know if this is the better way of doing it. I guess back channeling is the better way of doing it because we cannot do this through the media, because if we do it through the media, we may create more harm than good," he said.
Umali also reiterated that House members believ they are being prevented from doing their duty due to "unwarranted action by an inferior court."
"We are open, but again this has something to do with Congress as an institution and the separate and independent powers by Congress that we believe are being prevented from being performed because of the unwarranted action by an inferior court. When I say, inferior although it is collegial, it is inferior to the Supreme Court, which is the co-equal body of the House of Representatives," he said.
DISSOLVE THE CA?
Asked whether the House would follow through with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez's earlier threat of dissolving the Court of Appeals, Umali said "it can be done."
He explained that, as chair of the House Committee on Justice, he saw the need to change the organizational structure of the judiciary.
"From where I see it, not because of this case but because of my role as chair of Committee on Justice, I see [the] need also for changes in the organizational structure of the judiciary for as long as we do not violate the Constitution," he said.