Is the Duterte gov’t attacking PH constitutional bodies?

Jodesz Gavilan, Michael Bueza

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Is the Duterte gov’t attacking PH constitutional bodies?
Heads of constitutional bodies and commissions are hounded by impeachment complaints and threats under the Duterte administration

MANILA, Philippines – Besides working on legislation for their constituents, the House of Representatives has been busy handling impeachment complaints against key officials.

A handful of individuals – mostly former and frustrated politicians – have called for the impeachment of various heads of constitutional commissions and bodies for several reasons.

Critics, however, said that the string of impeachment complaints is an effort to “purge” the opposition and extend the influence of President Rodrigo Duterte to other branches of government. How have these moves, perceived to be offensives against them, been carried out?

Commission on Elections

COMELEC CHAIR. Andres Bautista, former chair of the Commission on Elections, faces allegations of unexplained wealth from his own wife. Photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler

The issues against former Commission on Elections chairperson Andres Bautista peaked when his estranged wife, Patricia, accused him of having unexplained wealth. (READ: The making of a scandal: Comelec Chair Andy vs Patricia Bautista)

In the impeachment complaint filed on August 23, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio and former Negros Occidental representative Jacinto Paras charged Bautista with betraying the public trust for failing to prevent the 2016 hacking of the Comelec database, which exposed voters’ private information.

They also alleged he was untruthful in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).

The House justice committee initially junked the impeachment complaint against Bautista. The decision was overturned at the House plenary but on the same day, October 11, before Congress could even impeach him, Bautista filed his resignation. 

He still had 4 years left on his term which is set to expire on February 2, 2022. (READ: From resignation to impeachment: Chairman Bautista’s longest day)

His resignation was supposed to take effect by year-end as indicated in his letter, but on Monday, October 23, Bautista said that Malacañang wanted his resignation to take effect immediately. The next day, Commissioner Christian Lim was unanimously appointed acting chairman by the Comelec en banc.

Two Comelec commissioners, whose terms will end in 2020 and 2022, are set to retire in February 2018. All will be replaced by President Duterte within his term.

Office of the Ombudsman

SELECTIVE JUSTICE? Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has been called out by President Rodrigo Duterte for allegedly being selective. File photo by Rappler

As early as May 2017, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) expressed its intent to file an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. The VACC hit Morales for the delay in resolving cases, notably those involving former president Benigno Aquino III, who appointed her.

In late August, President Duterte in a speech criticized the Ombudsman for supposed “selective justice”. She appeared to be “slow to act on complaints against the friendly but quick to decide against perceived hostiles,” said Duterte.

Tensions flared after the Ombudsman said it would be investigating the wealth of the Duterte family, following accusations that they amassed hidden wealth. This only furthered Duterte’s desire to have Morales impeache, if not investigated for “partiality”.

The Ombudsman’s reply: “We won’t be intimidated.” Her term as Ombudsman expires in July 2018, but Duterte argued she is “not entitled to a full term” and should have served only the remaining term of her predecessor who resigned in 2011.

As of posting, no impeachment complaint against Morales has been formally filed in Congress.

Incidentally, Duterte is related to Morales by marriage. His daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio is married to Manases Carpio, whose father Lucas Jr is the brother of Conchita Carpio-Morales.

Commission on Human Rights

NOT DOING HIS JOB? Duterte allies accuse CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon of being partial against the President. File photo by Rappler

As head of the office that is often the target of Duterte’s tirades, it was only a matter of time that impeachment threats were floated against Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Chito Gascon.

Appointed in 2015 by former president Aquino, he is supposed to hold the position as CHR Chairperson until May 2022.

Several allies of Duterte have called on Gascon to resign for allegedly being partial as the CHR continues to criticize the administration’s bloody war on drugs. For the CHR chair, however, heeding the calls to resign would put the CHR “at the mercy of politics.”

“Under the set of circumstances where the Congress would respond to an independent constitutional office this way and to threaten it with a reduction in its budget on the pretext of asking me to resign would lead to essentially making the institution forever at the mercy of politics,” Gascon earlier said.

The calls were just a few of the many times the Philippines’ national human rights institution has borne the brunt of the administration’s insults and curses – peaking when it was given a P1,000 budget in the lower chamber only for the CHR’s budget to be restored after public criticism. (READ: Want bigger CHR budget? Alvarez says Gascon should resign)

Supreme Court

CHIEF MAGISTRATE. Chief Justice Sereno is being accused of having undeclared assets, excessive use of SC funds, and committing acts unauthorized by the SC en banc. File photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

The Supreme Court is not a constitutional commission. It is under the judicial branch, a separate but co-equal branch of the executive and legislative that should be independent as it carries out its duty.

In August, two impeachment complaints were filed against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno over supposed culpable violations of the Constitution and allegations of betrayal of public trust.

The complainants claimed, among others, that Sereno did not truthfully disclose in her SALNs her earnings from a government arbitration case, and that she allegedly did irregular acts as Chief Justice. (LOOK: Why petitioners want Sereno impeached)

The following month, the House justice committee junked the complaint by the VACC and the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution because it was insufficient in form. However, the complaint by lawyer Larry Gadon was found to be sufficient in form and substance. Gadon’s complaint would soon be put to a vote at the House floor.

Reacting to the complaint, the Sereno camp said none of Gadon’s documents proves his allegations. “This is just fake news,” said one of her spokespersons. (READ: How Sereno answered her impeachment complaint)

Appointed by Aquino as SC Associate Justice in 2010 and Chief Justice in 2012, the term of the 57-year-old Sereno will end when she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2030.

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.
Tie, Accessories, Accessory


Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.