The Supreme Court (SC) issued on Tuesday a “status quo ante order” enjoining the House of Representatives from proceeding with the impeachment case against Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez.
The High Court’s order would restore the prevailing situation prior to the issuance of resolutions by the House Committee on Justice which found the two impeachment complaints filed against Gutierrez sufficient in form and substance, according to Court Administrator and SC Spokesman Jose Midas Marquez.
“The Supreme Court has spoken. I welcomed the development and I shall await further proceedings that it may order or direct,” said Gutierrez in a statement she released right after the High Tribunal issued a status
quo ante order.
Marquez said the SC voted 8-3 to “require the parties to observe a status quo prevailing before the issuance of the September 1, 2010, and September 7, 2010, resolutions of the House Committee on Justice."
He said the Court found the petition earlier filed by Gutierrez “meritorious on its face” and thus, it required respondents House Committee on Justice and impeachment complainants to comment on the petition within 10 days from receipt of the order.
“Considering the issuance of this status quo ante order, the Court finds the petition of Ombudsman Gutierrez sufficient in form and substance,” Marquez told a press conference.
The court official, however, clarified that the one issued by the Court was only an “initial order,” meaning it would still wait for the comment of the respondents before it decides whether the status quo ante order “will remain or be lifted or to call for an oral argument.”
Marquez said those who voted in favor of the issuance of the order were Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero J. Velasco Jr., Diosdado M. Peralta, Lucas P. Bersamin, Mariano C. del Castillo, Roberto A. Abad, Martin S. Villarama Jr., and Jose P. Perez.
Associate Justices Antonio T. Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales, and Ma. Lourdes P.A. Sereno dissented, while Associate Justices Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura, Teresita Leonardo de Castro, Arturo D. Brion and Jose C. Mendoza are on official business.
While the resolution issued by the Court did not state the reason why Justices Carpio-Morales and Sereno dissented, Marquez said “one can surmise they do not see the need for the issuance of the status quo ante order.”
Marquez said this was not the first time the SC stopped an impeachment proceedings in Congress.
He recalled that in 2003, the High Tribunal issued an order stopping the House of Representatives from filing the impeachment complaint against then Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. before the Senate for trial.
“If the Supreme Court can stop the impeachment proceedings against the then Chief Justice, the more reason it can stop the impeachment proceedings against other impeachable officials,” Marquez said.
Last Monday, Gutierrez petitioned the SC to nullify the resolutions of the House Committee on Justice finding the two impeachment complaints filed against her sufficient in form and substance.
In her petition, the lady Ombudsman asked the Court to issue a temporary restraining order against the Committee, chaired by Iloilo Rep. Neil Tupas Jr.
The country’s top graft buster said she filed the petition to shield herself from the “arbitrary, capricious and whimsical exercise by the Committee of its power to impeach.”
Two groups have filed separate impeachment complaints against Gutierrez for allegedly failing to act on the corruption and human rights violation cases filed against former President now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The complainants charged Gutierrez of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.
On September 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.
Gutierrez argued in her petition that the Committee violated her right to due process when it acted with “indecent and precipitate haste” in issuing the two resolutions.
She also questioned the rules of procedure in impeachment proceedings followed by the Committee, saying it 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.”
The Ombudsman likewise argued that the Committee’s finding that the two complaints against her are sufficient in form violates the one-year ban rule on impeachment proceedings.
Under the Section 3(5), Article XI 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 August 3.
“We respect the decision of the Supreme Court and we are confident that they will decide on the case based on the evidence and arguments presented,” Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
But the House of Representatives will continue to conduct hearings on the two impeachment cases against Gutierrez despite the Supreme Court order.
Iloilo Rep. Neil Tupas Jr., chairman of the House Committee on Justice, said they will ignore the High Tribunal's TRO since the decision encroached on the sole constitutional right of Congress to hear impeachment complaints.
“As chairman (of justice committee), we have recommended that we proceed with the scheduled hearings on Sept. 28 and 29 for the voting on the sufficiency of the grounds of impeachment,” Tupas said.
“We are duty bound as the proceeding is within the sphere of our jurisdiction,” Tupas said.
Tupas said their plan cannot be seen as defiance since the Constitution gives Congress a total of 60 session days to finish the proceedings on the impeachment complaints, a provision which SC cannot amend.
He also clarified that it would be up for the members of the House Committee on Justice to cooperate with his recommendation as the panel waits for the go signal of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to push through with the plan.
House Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III explained that the continued hearing of the two impeachment complaints against Ombudsman will uphold provisions in the Constitution to conduct impeachment proceedings, which the SC has violated by issuing TRO.
Tañada insisted that the manner and schedule of impeachment proceedings are solely within the sphere of the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives, arguing that SC encroached this congressional right by issuing the TRO.
Edmer Panesa, Manila Bulletin