MANILA, Philippines - Embattled Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez asked the Supreme Court (SC) yesterday to immediately stop the impeachment proceedings against her at the House of Representatives.
She specifically asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) enjoining the House committee on justice chaired by Iloilo Rep. Neil Tupas Jr. from continuing the hearing of the two complaints against her.
She also prayed for the nullification of the committee’s resolution finding the complaints against her sufficient in form and substance.
SC spokesman Midas Marquez said the petition of Gutierrez would be raffled off today and the Court would closely examine the need to issue a TRO in favor of the Ombudsman, who hired former SC justice Serafin Cuevas as her lawyer.
In a 60-page petition, Gutierrez alleged that the move of the committee to officially start her impeachment, which she described as “arbitrary, capricious and whimsical exercise of its power to impeach,” violated her constitutional right to due process since it is done in “indecent and precipitate haste.”
She said the rules and procedures used by the committee lacked “comprehensible standards in determining as to what amounts to sufficiency in form of an impeachment complaint and gives the members of the Committee unfettered discretion in carrying out its provisions.”
“Thus, it contravenes the Constitution and violates petitioner Ombudsman’s cardinal and primary right to due process, thereby tainting the hearing conducted before the Committee on 1 September 2010 in relation to the sufficiency in form of the two impeachment complaints with illegality and nullity,” she argued.
Gutierrez also argued that the committee’s ruling violates the one-year ban rule on impeachment proceedings.
Under Article XI Section 3 (5) of the Constitution, “no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.”
Gutierrez noted that the first impeachment complaint was filed by the group led by former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros on July 22, while the second complaint was submitted by the group of Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes on Aug. 3.
She said this makes the second complaint a prohibited pleading for it violates the one-year ban rule and the move of the committee to consolidate the two is a “circumvention” of such ban.
“If the committee would follow through on such course of action, it would be arrogating unto itself the power to alter or amend the meaning of the Constitution, without need of referendum, a power denied to it by the 1987 Constitution and its own rules,” Gutierrez said.
She said the impeachment complaints against her do not meet the standards laid down by the committee itself for the determination of sufficiency in substance.
She said assuming the allegations of the two complaints were true, none of them can be deemed of the same nature as the other grounds for impeachment under the Constitution.
According to her, the complainants have no legal right to compel her to file and prosecute offenses committed by public officials and employees, particularly former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
She said she is not duty-bound “to file an information (charge sheet) when she believes that there is no prima facie evidence to do so.”
Petitioners raising an eyebrow
But lawmakers seeking her impeachment slammed Gutierrez’s move to question the proceedings.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño said the Ombudsman’s move to petition the SC to stop the impeachment proceedings “is a wily tactic meant to prevent the House from exercising its constitutional power to remove erring officials.”
“The Ombudsman is obviously clutching at straws to protect herself and her patron, former President Arroyo, from accountability. The SC should not allow itself to be used by the Ombudsman in her ploy to undermine the impeachment proceedings,” Casiño said.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello said the petition blocking impeachment proceedings was “a sign of panic and alarm.”
Akbayan Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, one of the endorsers of the impeachment complaint, said he will not be deterred by the case filed by Gutierrez.
“What’s ridiculous is that for an official who’s known to delay cases lodged in her office, she is rushing the Supreme Court to issue an injunction,” Bag-ao said. “No, we won’t be deterred by this latest dilatory tactic from the Queen of Delay.”
Two groups have filed separate impeachment complaints against Gutierrez for allegedly failing to act on the corruption and human rights violation cases filed against Arroyo.
She is accused of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.
Last Sept. 1, the House Justice Committee found the two complaints sufficient in form. Six days after, the same panel, voting 41-16, declared the complaints sufficient in substance.
Eddu Punay & Paolo Romero, Philippine Star