MANILA, Philippines—The House of Representatives will reply to the Supreme Court status quo ante order issued last Tuesday, calling for the committee on justice to suspend the impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
But administration lawmakers, who took turns assailing the high court and defending the House’s powers and prerogatives on the floor on Wednesday, said the message would include a reminder to the high tribunal that it was “infringing” on the powers of Congress
The Supreme Court voted to issue a status quo ante order in response to Gutierrez’s petition asking the high court to rule on whether the House panel violated the Constitution in hearing two impeachment petitions in the space of a year.
Defiant legislators threatened to ignore the high court order and continue with the impeachment proceedings, eliciting a warning from the Supreme Court administrator that they risked a contempt citation from the highest court.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. Thursday said he had instructed Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II to prepare the reply.
“I don’t know if we have officially received the summons of the Supreme Court, or the copy of the order, but at any rate it’s more judicious to file a reply to it or whatever is called for conditionally,” Belmonte said.
But he has yet to issue an order to the justice committee, chaired by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., not to continue with the hearings set for Sept. 28 and 29.
But Gonzales was emphatic that the scheduled committee hearings would not be stopped by the House leadership.
“To stop it will be worse than the Supreme Court. It’s like we are part and parcel of violating the constitutional provision,” he said.
Still a long time
Belmonte tactfully said that Sept. 28 was “still a long time.”
“It’s not my idea to have a confrontation,” he said.
Gonzales said the House would not be stopped from performing its “mandate,” explaining that the justice committee was under a constitutional imperative to finish its work and submit its report on the complaint within 60 session days.
He said the chamber would not allow the high court to “eat up the 60 days” and would expect it to resolve with dispatch the issues raised by Gutierrez in her petition.
In a plenary session late Wednesday, members of the House majority took turns denouncing the high court order as an “attack” on the legislature.
Deputy Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, a bar topnotcher, criticized the high court’s giving due course to Gutierrez’s petition.
He said the House was not even a party to the case as it was the justice committee that Gutierrez had sued. It was like “suing a minor without the consent of the parent,” he said.
Gonzales said that the high tribunal’s action was premature considering that whatever decision the justice committee would make would still be subject to approval by the plenary.
Not yet ripe
“It’s not yet ripe for judicial adjudication” said Gonzales, another lawyer.
Akbayan party-list member, Kaka Bag-ao, still another lawyer, also questioned the “justiciability” of the issues that the Ombudsman raised in her petition.
“The Ombudsman is already questioning the grounds for her impeachment, which under the Rules of Impeachment, she should have done so before the House committee on justice and not the Supreme Court. And yet, the Supreme Court is now being asked to rule on these issues. Are these justiciable issues already or better left to the committee to determine?” said Bag-ao.
“Is this not an encroachment or curtailment on the power of Congress?” she asked, adding that this could lead to an impeachment complaint against the Supreme Court justices themselves for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.
Michael Lim Ubac, Phil. Daily Inquirer