MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court on Tuesday, July 25, directed House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas and two others to respond to the petition filed by Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos and 6 provincial officials who were detained in the House of Representatives, in connection with a House probe on the province's fund mess.
"The Court directed respondents to comment on the Omnibus Petition within a non-extendible period of 10 days from notice of resolution," SC Spokesman Theodore Te said in a news briefing on Tuesday, July 25.
On July 13, Marcos and the Ilocos Norte officials filed an omnibus petition urging the SC to issue a temporary restraining order on the House probe, and to take jurisdiction of the case.
Surigao 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel, chair of the House committee on good government and public accountability which led the congressional inquiry into Marcos' alleged P66.45-million tobacco fund misuse, is the other respondent in the petition, along with House Sergeant-at-Arms Roland Detabali.
Just as Te was announcing the decision, news came from the House that the so-called Ilocos 6 – Ilocos Norte officials who were cited in contempt during a House hearing on May 29 and detained since then – would be released that day, the same day Marcos attended the probe. (READ: House frees 6 detained Ilocos officials)
Marcos and released Ilocos 6 officials tearfully hug each other after their release pic.twitter.com/59qfT6zScj — Mara Cepeda (@maracepeda) July 25, 2017
Asked what would happen to the case since the 6 had been released, Te said it is now "up to the parties."
"We will have to file our comment, of course," Fariñas told Rappler in a text message.
The House is investigating Ilocos Norte's tobacco funds after Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Rodolfo Fariñas, former Ilocos Norte governor, uncovered various documents indicating the money was used to purchase 40 mini-cabs, 5 second-hand buses, and 70 Foton mini-trucks.
Under Republic Act Number 7171, 15% of tobacco excise taxes shall be allotted for a special support fund for tobacco farmers in the identified provinces, mostly in the Ilocos region. The money, however, should only be used for cooperative, livelihood, agro-industrial, and infrastructure projects.
Fariñas said on Tuesday that he respects the SC's judicial power.
"The SC has the expanded power of judicial review and it has jurisdiction to see if the House of Representatives (HOR) committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack of jurisdiction. I'm confident the SC will dismiss the case and/or will uphold the actions of the HOR on the matter," Fariñas said.
Rappler asked Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for comment but he had yet to respond as of posting time.
The judicial and the legislative branches of government had been at "loggerheads" over the case, and had issued orders against each other, with neither complying.
"[The controversy] placed the Judiciary and Congress at apparent loggerheads with each other and the situation has been fueled by scathing opinions and statements supporting either side and thus, creating the public perception of a constitutional crisis," the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said in June.
In an interview with CNN Philippines just before the President's State of the Nation Address on Monday, Alvarez appealed to the judiciary to respect separation of powers on the Ilocos 6 issue, and expressed hope that the SC would not favor Marcos' petition.
The issue between the House and the judiciary began on June 9, when 3 Court of Appeals (CA) justices ordered the provisional release of the Ilocos 6. The House defied this order, and only released the officials after the Ilocos Norte governor showed up at the hearing.
The House committee on good government and public accountability had issued a show cause order to the 3 CA justices, asking them to explain why they should not be cited in contempt.
On the side, Alvarez released strongly-worded statements against the CA, calling the justices "idiots" and threatening to abolish the appellate court.
In an apparent show of force, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and then CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr – now SC Associate Justice – issued a joint statement asking the House committee to reconsider its show-cause order.
Sereno and Reyes said they have they have "deep concerns" over its "implications on separation of power and judicial independence."