Case Digest: Gutierrez v. House Committee on Justice, et al.

G.R. No. 193459 : February 15, 2011

MA. MERCEDITAS N. GUTIERREZ Petitioner, v. THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE, RISA HONTIVEROS-BARAQUEL, DANILO D. LIM, FELIPE PESTA, EVELYN PESTA, RENATO M. REYES, JR., SECRETARY GENERAL OF BAGONG ALYANSANG MAKABAYAN (BAYAN); MOTHER MARY JOHN MANANZAN, CO-CHAIRPERSON OF PAGBABAGO; DANILO RAMOS, SECRETARY-GENERAL OF KILUSANG MAGBUBUKID NG PILIPINAS (KMP); ATTY. EDRE OLALIA, ACTING SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE NATIONAL UNION OF PEOPLE'S LAWYERS (NUPL); FERDINAND R. GAITE, CHAIRPERSON, CONFEDERATION FOR UNITY, RECOGNITION AND ADVANCEMENT OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES (COURAGE); and JAMES TERRY RIDON OF THE LEAGUE OF FILIPINO STUDENTS (LFS), Respondents.

FELICIANO BELMONTE, JR.,Respondent-Intervenor.

CARPIO MORALES,J.:


FACTS:

For resolution is petitioners "Motion for Reconsideration.

To argue, as petitioner does, that there never was a simultaneous referral of two impeachment complaints as they were actually referred to the committee "separately, one after the other"is to dismantle her own interpretation ofFranciscothat the one-year bar is to be reckoned from the filing of the impeachment complaint. Petitioners Motion concedesthat theFranciscodoctrine on the initiation of an impeachment proceeding includes the Houses initial action on the complaint. By recognizing the legal import of a referral, petitioner abandons her earlier claim thatper Franciscoan impeachment proceeding is initiated by the mere filing of an impeachment complaint.

Having uprooted her reliance on theFranciscocase in propping her position that the initiation of an impeachment proceeding must be reckoned from the filing of the complaint, petitioner insists on actual initiation and not "constructive initiation by legal fiction" as averred by Justice Adolfo Azcuna in his separate opinion inFrancisco.

In Justice Azcunas opinion which concurred with the majority, what he similarly found untenable was the stretching of the reckoning point of initiation to the time that the Committee on Justice (the Committee) report reaches the floor of the House.Notably, the provisions of the Impeachment Rules of the 12th Congress that were successfully challenged inFranciscoprovided that an impeachment proceeding was to be "deemed initiated" upon the Committees finding of sufficiency of substance or upon the Houses affirmance or overturning of the Committees finding,which was clearly referred to as the instances "presumably for internal purposes of the House, as to the timing of some of its internal action on certain relevant matters."Definitely, "constructive initiation by legal fiction" didnotrefer to the aspects of filing and referral in the regular course of impeachment, for this was precisely the gist ofFranciscoin pronouncing what initiation means.

The Court adhered to theFrancisco-ordained balance in the tug-of-war between those who want tostretchand those who want toshrinkthe term "initiate," either of which could disrupt the provisions congruency to the rationale of the constitutional provision. Petitioners imputation that the Courts Decision presents a sharp deviation fromFranciscoas it defers the operability of the one-year bar rule rings hollow.

Petitioner urges that the word "initiate" must be read in its plain, ordinary and technical meaning, for it is contrary to reason, logic and common sense to reckon the beginning or start of the initiation process from its end or conclusion.

Petitioner would have been correct had the subject constitutional provision been worded as "no initiation processof the impeachment proceedingshall be commencedagainst the same official more than once within a period of one year," in which case the reckoning would literally point to the "start of the beginning." To immediately reckon the initiation to what petitioner herself concedes as the start of the initiation process is to countenance a raw or half-baked initiation.

In re-affirming what the phrase "no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated" means, the Court closely appliedFranciscoon what comprises or completes the initiation phase. Nothing can be more unequivocal or well-defined than the elucidation offiling-and-referralinFrancisco. Petitioner must come to terms with her denial of the exact terms ofFrancisco.

Petitioner posits that referral is not an integral or indispensable part of the initiation of impeachment proceedings, in case of a direct filing of a verified complaint or resolution of impeachment by at least one-third of all the Members of the House.

ISSUE: Whether the period of one year to file impeachment complaint is mandatory.

HELD: The decision is sustained

POLITICAL LAW impeachment


The House cannot indeed refuse to refer an impeachment complaint that is filed without a subsisting bar. To refer an impeachment complaint within an existing one-year bar, however, is to commit the apparently unconstitutional act of initiating a second impeachment proceeding, which may be struck down under Rule 65 for grave abuse of discretion. It bears recalling that the one-year bar rule itself is a constitutional limitation on the Houses power or function to refer a complaint.

Tackling on the House floor in its order of business a clearly constitutionally-prohibited second impeachment complaint on the matter of whether to make the appropriate referral goes precisely into the propriety of the referral and not on the merits of the complaint. The House needs only to ascertain the existence or expiry of the constitutional ban of one year, without any regard to the claims set forth in the complaint.

To petitioner, the intervening days from the filing of the complaint to whatever completes the initiation of an impeachment proceeding is immaterial in mitigating the influx of successive complaints since allowing multiple impeachment charges would result to the same harassment and oppression. She particularly cites Constitutional Commissioner Ricardo Romulos concerns on the amount of time spent if "multiple impeachment charges"are allowed. She fails, however, to establish whether Commissioner Romulo limited or quantified his reference to not more than one complaint or charge.

In sum, the Court did not deviate from, as it did apply the twin rule of filing andreferral in the present case, with Franciscoas the guiding light. Petitioner refuses to see the other half of that light, however.

The Constitution clearly gives the House a wide discretion on how to effectively promulgate its Impeachment Rules. It is not for this Court to tell a co-equal branch of government on how to do so when such prerogative is lodged exclusively with it.

Still, petitioner argues that the Court erred when it ruled that "to require publication of the House Impeachment Rules would only delay the impeachment proceedings and cause the House of Representatives to violate constitutionally mandated periods" She insists that the Committee, after publishing the Impeachment Rules, would still have a remainder of 45 days out of the 60-day period within which to finish its business.

Indubitably, an impeachment is not a judicial proceeding, but rather a political exercise. Petitioner thus cannot demand that the Court apply the stringent standards it asks of justices and judges when it comes to inhibition from hearing cases. Incidentally, the Impeachment Rules do not provide for any provision regarding the inhibition of the Committee chairperson or any member from participating in an impeachment proceeding. The Committee may thus direct any question of partiality towards the concerned member only. And any decision on the matter of inhibition must be respected, and it is not for this Court to interfere with that decision.

Except for the constitutionally mandated periods, the pacing or alleged precipitate haste with which the impeachment proceeding against petitioner is conducted is beyond the Courts control. Again, impeachment is a highly politicized intramural that gives the House ample leg room to operate, subject only to the constitutionally imposed limits.And beyond these, the Court is duty-bound to respect the discretion of a co-equal branch of government on matters which would effectively carry out its constitutional mandate.

DENIED FOR BEING BEREFT OF MERIT.

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