EN BANC

 

 

G.R. No. 193459 -- Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez, Petitioner, versus The House of Representatives Committee on Justice; Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel; Danilo D. Lim; Felipe Pestao; Evelyn Pestao; 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 Peoples Lawyers (NUPL); Ferdinand R. Gaite, Chairperson of the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE); and James Terry Ridon of the League of Filipino Students (LFS), Respondents.

 

Promulgated:

February 15, 2011

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SEPARATE CONCURRING OPINION

 

 

ABAD, J.:

 

The Facts and the Case

 

On July 22, 2010 respondents Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and others filed with the Secretary General of respondent House of Representatives (the House) a verified impeachment complaint (First Complaint) against petitioner Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution. Two members of the House endorsed this complaint. To sum up, the complaint alleges:

1. Betrayal of Public Trust

 

a. The dismal and unconscionably low conviction rates by the Office of the Ombudsman from 2008 onwards;

b. The failure to take prompt and immediate action on the complaints filed against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel T. Arroyo, with regard to the NBN-ZTE Broadband Project;

c. The inexcusable delay in conducting and concluding an investigation on the death of Ensign Philip Andrew Pestao aboard a Philippine Navy vessel;

d. The decision upholding the legality of the arrest and involuntary detention of Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel by the PNP in March 2006; and

e. The failure to conduct an investigation with regard to the P1,000,000 presidential party dinner at Le Cirque Restaurant in New York in August 2009;

 

2. Culpable Violation of the Constitution

 

a. The repeated failures to take prompt action on cases involving official abuse and corruption in violation of Section 12, Article XI, and Section 16, Article III, of the Constitution; and

b. The refusal to grant ready access to public records such as the Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth in violation of Section 13(6), Article XI and Section 7, Article III of the Constitution.

 

On July 23, 2010 the 15th Congress opened its regular session. Shortly after or on August 3, 2010 respondents Renato M. Reyes, Jr. and others filed with the Secretary General of the House another verified impeachment complaint (Second Complaint) against Ombudsman Gutierrez also for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution. Seven members of the House endorsed the complaint, which alleges:

 

1. Betrayal of Public Trust

 

a. The gross inexcusable delay in investigating and failure in prosecuting those involved in the anomalous transactions arising from the Fertilizer Fund Scam despite the blatant anomalous transactions revealed in the COA Findings, Senate Committee Report 54 and the Complaints filed with the Ombudsman on the said Fertilizer Fund Scam;

b. The failure to prosecute General Eliseo De La Paz for violating BSP Circular 98 (1995), as amended by BSP Circular 507 (2006), in relation to Republic Act 6713, which prohibits the taking out of the country of currency in excess of US$10,000 without declaring the same to the Philippine Customs, despite the public admission under oath by General De La Paz before the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee; and

c. The gross inexcusable delay or inaction by acting in deliberate disregard of the Supreme Courts findings and directive in its Decision and Resolution in Information Technology Foundation of the Philippine, et al. v. Commission on Elections, et al.

 

2. Culpable Violation of the Constitution

 

a. The repeated failures and inexcusable delay in acting upon matters brought before her office, thus violating Sections 12 and 13(1)(2)(3), Article XI and Section 16, Article III of the Constitution, which mandates prompt action and speedy disposition of cases.

 

On even date, the House provisionally adopted the Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings of the 14th Congress.[1] On August 11, 2010 it simultaneously referred the first and second complaints to the House Committee on Justice (the Justice Committee).

 

During its hearing on September 1, 2010 the Justice Committee found the first and second complaints sufficient in form. On September 6, 2010 Ombudsman Gutierrez filed a motion for reconsideration of the committees finding on the grounds that:

 

1. Such finding violates Section 3(5), Article XI of the 1987 Constitution which bars more than one impeachment proceeding against the same impeachable officer within a period of one year;

2. The contemplated consolidation of the two complaints also violates Section 3(5), Article XI of the 1987 Constitution and would permit Congress to do indirectly what it is proscribed from doing directly; and

3. The finding of the Justice Committee violates Section 13, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court which provides that a complaint must charge only one offense.

 

The Justice Committee declined to accept Ombudsman Gutierrezs motion for reconsideration for being premature. It advised her instead to just include in her answer the grounds she cited in her motion.

 

During its hearing on September 7, 2010 the Justice Committee found the two complaints sufficient in substance. On even date, it caused the service of summons and copies of the two complaints on Ombudsman Gutierrez with a directive for her to file her answer to the same within ten days. This prompted her to file the present action, assailing the constitutionality of the Justice Committees action in finding the two complaints sufficient in form and substance.

 

The Key Issue Presented

 

The key issue in this case is whether or not the House Justice Committees findings that the two complaints against Ombudsman Gutierrez are sufficient in form and substance violate Section 3(5), Article XI of the 1987 Constitution which provides that no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a year.

 

Discussion

 

The impeachment of public officials has been established for removing otherwise constitutionally tenured and independent public officialsthe President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsmanfor culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.[2] The power to initiate impeachment cases rests with the House while the power to try the same rests with the Senate.[3]

 

The pertinent provisions of Section 3, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution summarizes the steps that lead to the impeachment of the above public officials:

 

Sec. 3. x x x

 

(2) A verified complaint may be filed by any Member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution of endorsement by any Member thereof, which shall be included in the Order of Business within ten session days, and referred to the proper Committee within three session days thereafter. The Committee, after hearing, and by a majority vote of all its Members, shall submit its report to the House within sixty session days from such referral, together with the corresponding resolution. The resolution shall be calendared for consideration by the House within ten session days from receipt thereof.

 

(3) A vote of at least one‑third of all the Members of the House shall be necessary either to affirm a favorable resolution with the Articles of Impeachment of the Committee, or override its contrary resolution. The vote of each Member shall be recorded.

 

(4) In case the verified complaint or resolution of impeachment is filed by at least one‑third of all the Members of the House, the same shall constitute the Articles of Impeachment, and trial by the Senate shall forthwith proceed.

 

(5) No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.

 

(6) The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment. When sitting for that purpose, the Senators shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the Philippines is on trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside, but shall not vote. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.

 

To sum up the various steps leading to the impeachment of a public official are:

 

One. A verified complaint for impeachment is filed by a member of the House or endorsed by him;

 

Two. The complaint is included in the order of business of the House.

 

Three. The House refers the complaint to the proper Committee;

 

Four. The Committee holds a hearing, approves the resolution calling for impeachment, and submits the same to the House.

 

Five. The House considers the resolution and votes to approve it by at least one‑third of all its members, which resolution becomes the article of impeachment to be filed with the Senate when approved; and

 

Six. The Senate tries the public official under the article.

 

The root of the present problem is that the impeachment of a public official may be said to be initiated in two ways under the above steps. The first is the complaint initiated in the House under Step One. Section 3 (1) of Article XI provides that the House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment. The second is the article of impeachment initiated in the Senate under Step Five following a favorable vote in the House.

 

Ombudsman Gutierrezs view is that there is just one impeachment proceeding and this covers the actions of both the House and the Senate in one unified process. She infers from this that it is actually the filing of the complaint in the House that initiates the one impeachment proceeding and this bars a second one filed within the year. In the Francisco case, the Court interpreted the term to initiate under Section 3(5) as the filing of the impeachment complaint coupled with Congress taking initial action of said complaint.[4] Such initial action consists of the referral or endorsement of the impeachment complaint to the Committee.[5]

 

As amicus curiae, Fr. Bernas said in the Francisco case that the Constitution is ratified by the people, both ordinary and sophisticated, as they understand it; and that ordinary people read ordinary meaning into ordinary words and not abstruse meaning, they ratify words as they understand it and not as sophisticated lawyers confuse it.[6]

 

Based on common usage in this jurisdiction, a proceeding described in the terms of an initiated action refers to a proceeding filed before the court, body, or tribunal that ultimately has the jurisdiction to hear and decide such action. For example, an expropriation proceeding is one instituted in the court that can hear and decide it, namely, the Regional Trial Court.[7] It is the same with an escheat or reversion proceeding,[8] an ejectment proceeding, an estate proceeding, or an adoption proceeding. Each of these proceedings or actions is lodged in the body or tribunal in which the law ultimately vests the power to hear and decide it.

 

Thus, when the Constitution speaks of impeachment proceedings it should be understood to refer to the action or case instituted in the Senate in which the power to hear and decide such proceedings is ultimately lodged. In this jurisdiction, the terms case and proceeding are often interchangeably used. A case is a legal action or suit.[9] Proceeding means the carrying on of an action or course of action.[10] The Constitution does not appear to draw any distinction between these two terms. At any rate, the power that the Constitution gives the House is only the power to initiate all cases of impeachment, not the ultimate power to hear and decide such cases. Thus:

Sec. 3. (1) The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.

 

For the above reason, it cannot be said that it is the party who files a verified complaint against the public official that initiates an impeachment case or proceeding. It is the House that does. Actually, the House exercises this power of initiation by filing the article of impeachment with the Senate. The power to initiate belongs to the House, not to any of its committees, provided the House is able to muster at least one-third vote of all its members in session assembled as the Constitution requires when the impeachment resolution is taken up.

 

The initiation of an impeachment case by the House of course follows a process: the filing of the complaint, the referral to the Justice Committee, the hearing by such committee, the committee voting over its resolution, the submission of the committee report to the plenary, and the vote to initiate an impeachment case. But this process should be correctly characterized as the House initiation proceeding, not the impeachment proceeding itself.

 

Besides, one needs to be guided only by the purpose of this constitutional provision. The initiation of the impeachment proceeding in the House is intended to be a preliminary step for the determination of the sufficiency of the allegations against the impeachable public official. It is akin to a preliminary investigation in a criminal case where probable cause is determined against the accused. If there is probable cause to indict the impeachable public official, then the Articles of Impeachment is transmitted to the Senate. In a criminal case, a criminal complaint or information is then filed in court against the accused.

 

It is a settled principle that once the policy or purpose of the law has been ascertained, effect should be given to it by the judiciary.[11] While the one year bar was provided to ensure that the public official is not subjected to considerable harassment and to allow the legislature to do its principal task of legislation, the constitutional provision on impeachment must be viewed, foremost, as a means to protect the State and the people from erring and abusive high ranking public officials. To interpret the one year bar to commence from the disposition by the vote of at least one-third of all the members of the House gives the constitutional provision on impeachment more meaning and effectiveness. It affords more protection to the public interests since the initiation of impeachment complaints would no longer be a race against time. A slippery impeachable public official would not be able to pre-empt the filing within the year of a meritorious impeachment complaint against him by the simple expedience of colluding with someone to file first a baseless impeachment complaint against him.

 

In the end, the protection of the vast majority must be of paramount importance over and above any perceived inconvenience on the part of any impeachable public official.

 

At any rate, the issue of whether or not a case of impeachment initiated in the Senate can embody multiple of unrelated charges is not before this Court. I reserve my view on such issue when it arises.

 

I vote to dismiss the petition based on the above reasons.

 

 

 

ROBERTO A. ABAD

Associate Justice

 



[1] On September 2, 2010 the 15th Congress published its Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings.

[2] Section 2, Article XI. Accountability of Public Officers, 1987 Constitution.

[3] Section 3 (1) and (4), id.

[4] 415 SCRA 44, 169.

[5] Id. at 169-170.

[6] Id. at 169.

[7] Section 12, Chapter 4, Title, Book III.

[8] Section 13, id.

[9] Websters New World College Dictionary, 3rd Edition, p. 217.

[10] Websters New World College Dictionary, 3rd Edition, p. 1072.

[11] Cecilleville Realty and Service Corp. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 120363, September 5, 1997, 278 SCRA 819, 826.