Gutierrez v. Justice Committee (G.R. No. 193459; February 15, 2011)


FACTS: Before the 15th Congress opened its first session, private respondents known as the Baraquel group filed an impeachment complaint against petitioner, upon the endorsement of Party-List Representatives Arlene Bag-ao and Walden Bello.A day after the opening of the 15th Congress, the Secretary General of the House of Representatives transmitted the impeachment complaint to House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. who directed the Committee on Rules to include it in the Order of Business.
Private respondents collectively known as the Reyes group filed another impeachment complaint against petitioner with a resolution of endorsement by Party-List Representatives Neri Javier Colmenares, et al.

The Secretary General transmitted the Reyes group’s complaint to Speaker Belmonte who also directed the Committee on Rules to include it in the Order of Business.

After hearing, public respondent, by Resolution, found the two complaints, which both allege culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, sufficient in substance.

Petitioner filed with this Court the present petition with application for injunctive reliefs. The Court En Banc RESOLVED to direct the issuance of a status quo ante order and to require respondents to comment on the petition in 10 days.

Respondents raise the impropriety of the remedies of certiorari and prohibition. They argue that public respondent was not exercising any judicial, quasi-judicial or ministerial function in taking cognizance of the two impeachment complaints as it was exercising a political act that is discretionary in nature, and that its function is inquisitorial that is akin to a preliminary investigation.

Petitioner invokes the Court’s expanded certiorari jurisdiction, using the special civil actions of certiorari and prohibition as procedural vehicles.

ISSUES: [1] Is petition premature and not yet ripe for adjudication? [2] Do the simultaneous complaints violate the one-year bar rule?

HELD: The unusual act of simultaneously referring to public respondent two impeachment complaints presents a novel situation to invoke judicial power. Petitioner cannot thus be considered to have acted prematurely when she took the cue from the constitutional limitation that only one impeachment proceeding should be initiated against an impeachable officer within a period of one year. Article XI, Section 3, paragraph (5) of the Constitution reads: “No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.” However, the term “initiate” means to file the complaint and take initial action on it. The initiation starts with the filing of the complaint which must be accompanied with an action to set the complaint moving. It refers to the filing of the impeachment complaint coupled with Congress’ taking initial action of said complaint. The initial action taken by the House on the complaint is the referral of the complaint to the Committee on Justice. DISMISSED.