SC stops impeachment

- Christina Mendez, Aurea Calica -
The Supreme Court issued yesterday a status quo order that effectively stopped Congress from continuing with the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. until petitions assailing its constitutionality are resolved.

In a five-page unanimous resolution, the Supreme Court, sitting en banc, enjoined "the parties and all others acting for and in their behalf, to refrain from committing acts that would render the petitions moot."

The resolution prohibits the transmission of the second impeachment complaint from the House of Representatives to the Senate, which has also been ordered not to act on it in case the House forwards it just the same.

The court required Speaker Jose de Venecia, Senate President Franklin Drilon, complainants Reps. Gilbert Teodoro Jr. and Felix William Fuentebella and the Office of the Solicitor General to comment within a non-extendible period of five days on the petitions.

The six petitions seeking to nullify the second impeachment complaint against Davide were filed by Deputy Speaker Raul Gonzalez and Rep. Salacnib Baterina; former solicitor general Francisco Chavez; lawyer Ernesto Francisco; lawyers Arturo de Castro and Soledad Cagampang; lawyers Herminio Harry Roque, Joel Ruiz Butuyan, Ma. Cecilia Papa, Napoleon Reyes, Antonio Abad Jr., Alfredo Ligon, Joan Serrano and Gary Mallari; and Associate Dean Sedfrey Candelaria and Prof. Carlos Medina of Ateneo de Manila University School of Law together with Dean Henedina Razon-Abad of the AdMU School of Government.

The Supreme Court set the cases for oral argument at 10 a.m. on Nov. 5 at the session hall of the new Supreme Court building without giving due course to the six petitions, which had been consolidated.

The high tribunal also appointed as amici curae or "friends of the court" former Senate president Jovito Salonga, retired Supreme Court justices Hugo Gutierrez Jr. and Florenz Regalado, former justice minister and solicitor general Estelito Mendoza, former members of the Constitutional Commission Joaquin Bernas and Regalado Maambong, and Dean Raul Pangalangan of the University of the Philippines-College of Law to speak during the oral arguments.

Friends of the court are invited to argue for or against the petitions since they are considered constitutional law experts.

Davide has no part in the resolution while Senior Associate Justice Josue Bellosillo, Associate Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago and Dante Tinga were on leave.

Prior to the deliberations, Associate Justices Reynato Puno and Jose Vitug offered to recuse themselves but the Supreme Court rejected their offer, while Artemio Panganiban inhibited himself but the high tribunal directed him to participate.

The petitioners all sought a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction against the impeachment proceedings but the Supreme Court chose to issue a status quo order in respect to Congress, which is a coequal branch of government.

The petitioners said the filing of a second impeachment complaint was a violation of Article 11 Section 3 of the Constitution, which states that "no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once in a year."

The second complaint against Davide was in connection with his alleged misappropriation of the judiciary development fund (JDF). The first one, which was filed on June 2, 2003 and dismissed for lack of substance, involved his and seven other justices’ decision to swear in then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo into power after the ouster of former President Joseph Estrada during the EDSA II revolution in January 2001.

"Acts of Congress are subject to the standards set by the Constitution and the implementation of these standards must not exceed what the Constitution has provided," Gonzalez and Baterina said in their petition.

The petitioners pointed out the lawmakers who initiated and signed the second impeachment complaint acted with "abuse of discretion" amounting to excess of jurisdiction in making such action.

The petitioners said the good intentions of the legislators in investigating Davide for the JDF mess should not prevail over the Constitution.

"The intentions and agenda of these representatives are totally irrelevant for the time being. Rather, the petition seeks to have the mandate of our sacred Constitution obeyed by no less than the very people entrusted by our citizenry to legislate," they said.
Judicial Supremacy
Meanwhile, former justice secretary Sedfrey Ordoñez said the Supreme Court invoked judicial supremacy in issuing a status quo order.

"The Supreme Court can enforce the order in asserting the sovereignty of the people… It is in the doctrine of judicial supremacy," he said, adding that in assuming jurisdiction over the impeachment complaint, "anyone who defies can be sanctioned."

At a forum at Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan yesterday, Ordoñez said the impeachment proceedings will be virtually stopped once a sufficient number of representatives have withdrawn their signatures from the complaint.

"At this point, since the complaint has not been transmitted before the Senate, that would have the same operating result. That means there will be no more impeachment complaint," he said.

Camilo Montes, supervising lawyer of Bantay Katarungan, explained that the Supreme Court had virtually blocked the transmittal of the complaint to the Senate.

He added that the convenors of the impeachment court have to wait until the "jurisdictional questions" have been settled by the Supreme Court before they continue.

"In a sense the impeachment proceedings is at a standstill," Montes said.

Salonga, representing Kilosbayan and Bantay Katarungan, said both chambers of Congress should abide by the Supreme Court’s order.

"I don’t think the Senate can ignore this tidal wave of support for Davide," he said.

Salonga said that Davide is "completely innocent" of the charges found on the second page of the impeachment complaint alleging that "he has the sole and exclusive authority to authorize the disbursements and expenditures from the (JDF)."

He said the authority of the chief justice is covered by Presidential Decree 1949, which established the JDF, issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos in 1984. The chief justice at the time was Enrique Fernando.

Salonga also turned the tables on several former chief justices closely identified with deposed President Joseph Estrada and businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, saying they had "taken full advantage" of the prerogative to authorize disbursements and expenditures from the JDF.

"Unlike his predecessor Chief Justice Andres Narvasa, Davide has transformed his sole and exclusive power and duty" into an instrument of democracy by appointing several committees to study, discuss and recommend disbursements, he said.

Salonga also noted that once the impeachment case against Davide succeeds, the entire judicial process may crumble in the face of attacks by those with vested interests.

There are "several cases pending before the Supreme Court. The magistrates are being threatened not to behave against… or they will suffer the same fate as Davide," he said. "If the chief justice falls, you may be next."

Salonga pointed out the "crucial case" of Cojuangco, whose ownership of 20 percent shares in San Miguel Corp. is pending at the Sandiganbayan. Other controversial cases whose results are "under threat" include the legality of the sale of hectares of reclaimed land along Roxas Boulevard by the Public Estates Authority to Amari Coastal Bay Development Corp. The second motion for reconsideration filed by Amari is pending before the Supreme Court.

Another case cited by Salonga is that of the Philippine International Air Terminals Co., which has filed a motion for reconsideration after a Supreme Court en banc ruling last May 5 deemed as null and void the award of the contract for the construction, operation and maintenance of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3, as well as the government’s build-operate-transfer arrangement with Piatco.

Salonga added that in pushing for Davide’s impeachment, the House also endangered the Supreme Court’s rulings on other cases such as the forfeiture of the $683-million Marcos Swiss funds to the government and the remanding of the controversial Kuratong Baleleng multiple murder case to the Quezon City regional trial court.
Impeachment To Go On
Assistant Minority Leader Gilbert Remulla and Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras (Lakas) said the congressmen who filed the complaint are considering physically bringing the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

Paras, however, said the House will transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate on Nov. 10, when Congress comes back from recess.

"We have agreed, including the Speaker and the minority leader, that our lawyers will tell the Supreme Court that we don’t recognize the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as far as the encroachment on the powers of impeachment (is concerned)," he said.

De Venecia warned the SC order is "ushering in a constitutional crisis" but said the House will respect the order.

He said House leaders and their political parties will meet today to work out a "positive, constructive and united position."

"We will prepare the strongest possible legal position," De Venecia said. "The House is not defenseless."

He said he is in constant communication with Drilon "to put up a united position and we are hopeful that with our expression of sincerity, good faith and statesmanship, we can resolve this impasse."

De Venecia said the House will form a panel of legal eagles to defend itself.

He noted that the congressmen chose to respect the decision to avert a constitutional crisis and that fears of a possible military takeover are valid.

"We do not wish military adventurers and merchants of disaster and destabilization to take advantage of the situation," De Venecia said.

He said that whatever position the House will take, it will always be in the interest of the country and the Filipino people.

Cotabato Rep. Darlene Antonino-Custodio and Senior Deputy Minority Leader Constantino Jaraula lashed out at the Supreme Court for "double-crossing" the House, which has been negotiating for a settlement.

"The Supreme Court was negotiating in bad faith. It was not looking for a compromise, but it was buying time so they can deliberate on a (temporary restraining order) while feigning interest in a settlement. The House has been stabbed in the back," Jaraula said. With Paolo Romero











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