MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. asked the Supreme Court (SC) yesterday to lift its status quo ante order and to respect the “exclusive power” of the House of Representatives in initiating the impeachment case against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
In his Motion for Leave to Intervene and Comment in Intervention Ex Abundanti Cautela, Belmonte said the status quo ante order issued by the high tribunal “emasculates the power of the House of Representatives to exact any form of accountability” from the Ombudsman, and endows Gutierrez with “the status of an untouchable.”
Gutierrez earlier petitioned the SC to stop the impeachment proceedings against her. Belmonte was represented in his intervention by professor Marvic Leonen, dean of the UP College of Law.
Akbayan and Bayan Muna party-lists filed separate impeachment complaints but they were referred to the House committee on justice simultaneously. The party-lists wanted Gutierrez ousted for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust for allegedly sitting on controversial cases involving former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Belmonte also defended the committee against allegations that it violated the constitutional provision barring the initiation of impeachment proceedings against the same official more than once within a period of one year.
The Speaker, citing the previous case of Francisco vs. House of Representatives, noted that an impeachment complaint is deemed initiated upon its referral to the committee, and not when it is filed.
He said only one impeachment proceeding was initiated when the two complaints were simultaneously referred to the panel.
Belmonte criticized the previous practice, which barred the reception of other complaints after the first impeachment complaint against the same official is filed.
The practice, he said, “rewards speed even if it results in hastily crafted complaints” and “defeat(s) public clamor for accountability.”
He branded the practice as a “way to inoculate an impeachable officer with immunity.“
The Speaker also asked the Court to dismiss Gutierrez’s petition for being premature. He said Gutierrez should have followed the rules and filed her answer to the charges against her at the Committee on Justice instead of petitioning the SC.
He said the propriety of the acts of the committee is a matter for the House in plenary to decide, and not for the court.
Belmonte pointed out the Ombudsman, being “charged with exacting accountability from other public officers,” should not fear scrutiny by the House.
He justified his intervention in the case as it “affects the prerogatives of the House of Representatives.”
He, however, stressed he is “not conceding the constitutional status of the House of Representatives as a co-equal,” and that his intervention should not be interpreted as his “endorsement of the merits of any of the existing charges” against Gutierrez.
Paolo Romero, Philippine Star