MANILA, Philippines – If you ask members of the House of Representatives, it’s not farfetched for the Supreme Court (SC) to grant the defense panel’s request to stop the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The justices had, after all, twice halted impeachment moves in the past. They did, however, before such proceedings could reach the Senate and turn into a full-blown trial.
This was in 2003, when lawmakers led by members of the Nationalist People’s Coalition tried to impeach then Chief Justice Hilario Davide, and in 2010, after the House Justice Committee initiated the impeachment proceedings against then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
In both instances, motions were filed before the High Court, which decided to issue status quo ante orders stopping the House’s impeachment proceedings.
In the Davide case, the Court eventually declared a couple of provisions of the House Rules on Impeachment as unconstitutional, and disallowed the complaint against Davide, on grounds that it would have been the second complaint entertained against him for that year.
It took the Court less than a month to decide on the petitions relating to the Davide impeachment.
In the case of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in 2010, the Court decision took much longer.
Hearings of the House committee on justice were stalled for about 5 months until the Supreme Court eventually ruled to uphold the power of the House of Representatives to conduct the impeachment hearings.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II noted that the SC issued the order without even giving the House of Representatives a chance to reply.
The House eventually impeached Gutierrez, but she resigned in April 2011 before the trial in the Senate could begin.
On Wednesday, Feb 8, 2012, Corona asked the Supreme Court to stop the ongoing impeachment trial against him, saying the Senate as an impeachment court has violated his right to due process.
Prosecutor Giorgidi Aggabao noted that the SC is the home court of the Chief Justice.
Up to Senate
“I’m sure he will inhibit. But they have to understand that it is his home court. He has tremendous influence over the members of the Supreme Court. I don’t want to second guess what the SC will do. I hope they won’t issue a TRO,” he said.
“The question is, what will the Senate do?” Aggabao said.
“Yesterday, Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile said: Although the parties could go to other agencies to seek relief, nothing could impede on its job to complete the trial,” Aggabao said. “Once an impeachment complaint is sent to the Senate, trial shall start forthwith,” Aggabao added.
“The resolve of the Senate will be tested today. Under the Constitution, the Senate has the exclusive power to conduct impeachment trials,” added House Majority Floor Leader Mandaluyong Rep Neptali Gonzales II.
Articles of impeachment
This issue is in fact among the 8 articles of impeachment filed against Corona.
Article 4 reads: Respondent betrayed the public trust and/or committed culpable violation of the Constitution when he blatantly disregarded the principle of separation of powers by issuing a “status quo ante” order against the House of Representatives in the case concerning the impeachment of then Ombudsman Merceditas Navarro-Gutierrez.
Says the impeachment complaint: “The issuance of a Status Quo Ante Order against a co-equal branch of government…is a tyrannical abuse of power to favor a litigant and to obstruct the impeachment process. The issuance of the order also directly violates the principle of separation of powers since the Supreme Court prevented the House from doing its constitutional mandate of initiating impeachment proceedings.”
The impeachment complaint details what the SC did to the House proceedings:
“4.1. On September 13, 2010, Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez filed a Petition for Certiorari and Prohibition before the Supreme Court seeking to enjoin the Committee on Justice of the House of Representatives from proceeding with the impeachment proceedings against her. Gutierrez’s sixty-paged Petition prayed for a Temporary Restraining Order against the impeachment proceedings.
“4.2. With undue haste, the following day after filing, Respondent immediately tabled Gutierrez’s Petition despite the fact that not all the Justices had received or read the Petition. Respondent railroaded the proceedings in order to have a Status Quo Ante Order issued in favor of Gutierrez. This was confirmed by Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno in her Concurring Opinion to the February 15, 2011 Decision: ‘On a final note, the issuance of the Status Quo Ante Order in this case was most unfortunate. It was issued over the objections of Justices Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio Morales, and myself. I believed then, as I believe now, that the Court, in issuing the said order, was overly intrusive with respect to a power that does not belong to it by restraining without hearing a co-equal branch of Government. This belief was made more acute by the fact that the order was voted upon in the morning of 14 September 2010, without the benefit of a genuinely informed debate, since several members of the Court, myself included, had not yet then received a copy of the Petition.”
“4.3. A Supreme Court delivery receipt published by the news magazine Newsbreak also showed that most of the justices received the Petition after the deliberations, while three (3) justices who voted to issue the Status Quo Ante Order received the petition only on September 15, 2011, a day after the status quo ante order was granted. These justices were Justices Velasco, Bersamin and Perez.”
“4.4. The issuance of the Status Quo Ante Order is a betrayal of the public trust since it clearly showed Respondent’s high-handedness, bias, subservience and partisanship. The issuance of a Status Quo Ante Order against a co-equal branch of government, without even the benefit of the Justices’ reading the decision, is a tyrannical abuse of power to favor a litigant and to obstruct the impeachment process. The issuance of the order also directly violates the principle of separation of powers since the Supreme Court prevented the House from doing its constitutional mandate of initiating impeachment proceedings.” – Rappler.com