FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - June 19, 2017 - 4:00pm

Eventually, the House of Representatives will release the employees of the Ilocos Norte provincial government detained for “contempt” – not only because the Court of Appeals (CA) ordered their release but, more important, because their detention reeks of such arbitrariness inconsistent with the rule of law.

The humble employees were ordered detained when, during a hearing, they gave answers that did not conform to what Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas wanted them to say. Farinas has been orchestrating the hearing to implicate Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos in some alleged irregularity over the use of tobacco tax money.

The Majority Leader has been on the warpath against the Marcoses, erstwhile his patrons. This is really a local political feud spilling into national attention because of the high-handedness of legislators — as in Alvarez versus Tadeco.

The House leadership emphatically declared the chamber will defy the CA release order. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez poured invectives on the justices who granted the habeas corpus petition of the detained employees. Not only did he call the justices “idiots,” Alvarez went on to say he would have them disbarred.

Then his rant went on and on. He declared that he would have the CA abolished. Either that, or he would reduce the judicial body’s budget to only P1.

The latter option is patently unconstitutional. Congress, by constitutional dictate, cannot cut the budget of the judicial department.

The former option is technically possible. The CA was indeed created by law during the Commonwealth period. But Alvarez, alone, cannot cause its abolition. The majority of legislators will likely oppose this crazy idea. He cannot presume to speak for the Senate.

The outburst against the justices of the appellate court is only an instance in the lengthening list of strange things emanating from the Speaker’s impolitic mouth.

Earlier on, we will recall, he threatened his colleagues who would refuse to vote in favor of his pet death penalty bill with expulsion from their committee chairs. He did not have to bully his equals, being assured of an overwhelming majority to see the bill through. But he did it anyway and exacted the penalties promised — simply as an act of arrogance.

The Alvarez death penalty bill, for its part, is threatened with extinction in the Senate. All the bluster was for naught.

Earlier, when the Supreme Court entertained petitions asking the judiciary to intervene in getting the two chambers of Congress to convene jointly to assess the President’s martial law declaration, Alvarez declared he would tear up any order from the high tribunal. Constitutionalists and ordinary citizens were scandalized by the Speaker’s arrogance.

If Alvarez wanted respect from the other branches of government, he must also respect them.  The outburst was as premature, as it was unwarranted. The legislative branch may indeed be a co-equal branch of government. But the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of all constitutional issues.

What was brought before the Court was a valid constitutional question. The Court has every right to rule as its collective wisdom dictates. There was no reason for Alvarez to go into that deplorable verbal binge. There was no need to threaten the Court with the specter of a constitutional crisis in order to shape its opinion. That is not the way of republicanism.

In contrast, President Duterte soberly declared he would abide by the judgment of the Supreme Court on the martial law petitions. That is what a statesman should say. It is completely insane to provoke an unnecessary war between the branches of government. Everybody loses when that happens.

Alvarez was being more popish than the Pope. When the President spoke about respecting the rule of law, Alvarez should have learned from that. Apparently he did not. Shortly after, he declared martial law in Mindanao should remain until the end of Duterte’s term. That was not for him to call.

During one of the early hearings on the proposed tax reform package, Alvarez, at that moment annoyed by the bishops, bluntly told the Secretary of Finance to tax the educational institutions run by religious orders. The Secretary of Finance calmly replied that the tax exemption of educational institutions is a constitutional dictate.

The Speaker obviously spoke before he thought things through. That is a habit he has difficulty shaking off, especially when carried away by a sense of omnipotence. It can only bring him ruin.

When the Resorts World incident happened, Alvarez, although having no hand in the investigation, declared the matter a terrorist attack. He preempted the work of the police.

When all the evidence was gathered and the incident was established as the outcome of a deranged gambling addict, Alvarez used the hearing on the incident to insist on his earlier unwarranted conclusion by asking the police to agree that any act that causes terror is an act of terrorism. The logic here is patently unsound. It undermines the precision language is supposed to achieve.

Alvarez should understand that bullying and intimidating those who see things in other ways is not a demonstration of power. It is an indicator of intellectual incapacity.

Lately, a most bizarre idea emanated from the House of Alvarez. That idea calls for the cancellation of all franchises granted and their renewal by Congress. The business community could only react by dropping their collective jaw.

The unwritten cost of getting franchises renewed is an open secret in this town. It is Alvarez’s duty to call in his troops and sternly remind them their job is legislation — not extortion.

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