May there be no constitutional "hang-up"

AS IT APPEARS - Lorenzo Paradiang Jr. -

The growing likelihood of a constitutional crisis, particularly involving the Supreme Court and the Senate as an Impeachment Court (SIC) appeared unavoidable just lately.

The initial “volleys” did erupt when the SC decided to grant a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) banning the SIC from compelling production of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s dollar accounts with the Philippine Savings Bank (PSB) pursuant to SIC’s subpoena.

The SC applied Section 8 of Rep. Act 6426 (Foreign Currency Deposit Act) mandating absolute confidentiality of foreign currency deposits, invoked by petitioner PSB through Pascual Garcia III, vis-à-vis the SIC subpoena earlier issued. As interlocutory ruling of the SIC – meaning provisional/temporary order on an incidental matter other than the main issue – it could have precipitated head-on collision course between the SC and the SIC.

In short, while the SIC appeared insistent then in ordering production and disclosure of respondent Corona’s five bank dollar accounts with PSB, the SC had a contrary stand that RA 6426 provides for absolute confidentiality, unless on written permission by the depositor concerned. The terse question then: Why did the SIC force on a legal stand violative of a specific prohibitive law which both chambers passed and approved by the President?

Had the SC and the SIC maintained fixated and opposing stands, the constitutional crisis could have thrown the Philippines into further political complications. The SIC’s lawyer members, like, Senator-Judges Teofisto Guingona III, Francis Pangilinan, and Franklin Drilon were very vocal that the SIC is a unique independent body beyond the pale of any other entity, including the SC. To recall also, law professor Ernst Maceda, and now Fr. Joaquin Bernas as perceived constitutional authority, and Corona’s defense panel, are of the view that interlocutory orders of the SIC touching on unconstitutionality issues are not beyond the power of the SC to interpret the law. Another impish question: Will the SC bask in self-ego by ruling on other SIC interlocutory orders later?

Meantime, there are two other related conflicting issues on the pending petition of the CJ for TRO to stop altogether the SIC impeachment proceedings, and on the SIC’s demand to summon any member of the SC to appear and testify at the impeachment trial…. On the first, SC spokesman, Atty. Midas Marquez, explained that the parties were given 10 days to comment on Corona’s petition. On the second, the SC has yet to come up with a set of guidelines. Again, should these two additional matters remain unresolved or later resolved unfavorable to the SIC, they would pose further legal turmoil.

Observers are also divided in their views, as well. It is possible that the situation would not worsen should the SIC not be inflexible to get hold of Corona’s foreign currency/dollar accounts with the PSB, or other banks, as prohibited by Section 8 of R.A. 6426. Moreover, many do not subscribe to Corona’s petition to stop the impeachment proceedings, as beyond the SC’s ambit.

Indeed, Fr. Bernas could be correct that the SC’s TRO against production of Corona’s dollar accounts doesn’t mean that it is superior to the jurisdiction of the SIC. He argues that the Constitution delineates the independence of the three branches and their spheres of responsibility; and that, “There is no superiority of one over the others, it just so happens that the Constitution has placed in the SC to determine with finality the meaning of the law.”

In the interim, the anxious sovereign people from which, theoretically, all government authority emanates, are with bated breath. While not many can fathom the looming constitutional conflict, they fully understand that eventually, justice and the basic maxim of what is right from what is wrong, have to prevail.

With the SC members subject to the risk of impeachment should they incur impeachable wrongs, and the SIC as political creatures also subject to the uncertainties of the reelection odds, both have certain lifetime stakes on how they ultimately fare or perform under the present impasse.

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