G.R. No. 193459 - Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez v. The House of Representatives Committee on Justice, 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, Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE); and James Terry Ridon of the League of Filipino Students (LFS); Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. Respondent-Intervenor

 

Promulgated:

 

February 15, 2011

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CONCURRING OPINION

SERENO, J.

No point is of more importance than that right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above justice? Above all, shall that man be above it who can commit the most extensive injustice.

George Mason, Delegate from Virginia[1]

 

I concur with the ponencia of Justice Conchita Carpio Morales particularly with respect to the following rulings:

1.                 The expanded certiorari jurisdiction of the Court allows it to review the acts of Congress and measure them against standards expressed in the Constitution. The power to arrive at a determination of whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Legislature in the exercise of its functions and prerogatives under the Constitution is vested in the Court.

2.                 The instant Petition is not premature; it raises issues that are ripe for adjudication. The Court is presented with constitutional vagaries that must be resolved forthwith with respect to the legal meaning of the simultaneous referral of two impeachment complaints by the Speaker of the House of Representatives to its Committee on Justice (public respondent Committee), and the extent of the legal need to publish the House Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings.

3.                 There was no violation of petitioner Merciditas Gutierrezs right to due process of law.

4.                 The one offense, one complaint rule in ordinary rules of criminal procedure cannot work to bar multiple complaints in impeachment proceedings, as the Constitution allows indictment for multiple impeachment offenses.

5.                 The determination of the permissibility of the consolidation of impeachment complaints is at the moment premature, conjectural or anticipatory; public respondent Committee has yet to rule on the consolidation.

I diverge however, from the ponencia of the highly-respected Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, on the reckoning point of the one-year time bar on subsequent impeachment proceedings under the Constitution. I believe this Court, despite its several decisions on impeachment, has not paid sufficient attention to the full implication of the inherently discretionary character of the power of impeachment.

The Court has straitjacketed its interpretation of the one-year bar by failing to go beyond the records of the deliberations of the Commissioners of the 1986 Constitutional Commission. It has a duty to look beyond, when the records demonstrate that the Commissioners were so inordinately pressed to declare a starting point for initiation of impeachment proceedings during the deliberations to the unfortunate extent that they appear to have forgotten the nature of the power of impeachment. I refer to the deliberations during which Commissioner Maambong attempted to define the initiation of impeachment proceedings. The Commissioners were unable to recognize during the deliberations that the entirety of steps involved in the process of impeachment is a mix of clerical/ministerial and discretionary acts, even while the power of impeachment itself is wholly discretionary. The apparent failure of one of the Commissioners to remember the inherently discretionary nature of the power of impeachment while being interpellated, such that he reckons the initiation to start with the filing of an impeachment complaint, however, should not be followed by this Courts own failure to look at the right place for an answer at the essential character of the power of impeachment. Reason is the foundation of all legal interpretation, including that of constitutional interpretation. And the most powerful tool of reason is reflecting on the essence of things. This is most especially needed when the Commissioners of the Constitutional Commission failed at an important time to articulate an interpretation of the constitution that is founded on reason; rather, they chose an interpretation that on the surface seemed reasonable, but on examination, turns out to have been arbitrary and highly problematic.

The Constitution provides: No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.[2]

The impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives[3] are constitutionally defined to consist of the following steps:

A.                Filing of the Verified Complaint. A verified complaint for impeachment is filed by either: (a) a Member of the House of Representatives; or (b) any citizen upon a resolution of endorsement by any Member thereof.[4]

 

B.                 Inclusion in the Order of Business. After filing, the complaint shall be included in the Order of Business within ten session days.[5]

 

C.                 Referral to the Committee. During the House Session when the complaint is calendared to be taken up, the Speaker of the House shall refer the complaint for impeachment to the proper committee within three session days.[6]

 

D.                Committee Report. The Committee, after hearing, and by a majority vote of all its Members shall submit its report to the House within sixty (60) session days from the referral, together with the corresponding resolution.[7] The resolution shall be calendared for consideration by the House within ten session days from receipt thereof.[8]

 

E.                 House Plenary Vote. A vote of a 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.[9]

F.                Transmittal of Articles of Impeachment. 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.[10]

 

Since these are the only constitutionally described steps in the process of impeachment in the House of Representatives, the starting point for the one-year bar must be among these steps; the question is, where? Note that none of these steps is constitutionally described as the initiation of the impeachment proceedings. The parties to the case have advocated their positions on this issue in their respective Memoranda.[11]

Petitioner Gutierrez espouses the view that the very act of filing the complaint is the actual initiation beginning or commencement of impeachment proceedings that would commence the one-year time-bar.[12]

On the other hand, public respondent Committee, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), argues that the impeachment is a process beginning with the filing of a complaint and terminating in its disposition by the vote of at least one-third of all the members of the House; and that the one-year period should be counted from the plenary action of the House on the Committees report.[13]

Meanwhile, private respondents Renato Reyes, Mother Mary John Mananzan, Danilo Ramos, Atty. Edre Olalia, Ferdinand Gaite and James Terry Ridon (private respondents Reyes) claim that the term initiated therein takes place by the act of the House of Representatives of transmitting the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for the conduct of the impeachment trial proceedings; and, thus, the one-year period should commence from the transmittal by the House of Representatives of the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate.[14]

Finally, respondent-intervenor Feliciano R. Belmonte, Jr., as Speaker of the House, theorizes that the better interpretation of the constitutional time bar should be reckoned from the recommendation of the Committee to the House of Representatives.[15]

All the parties to the case, and the Court, are keenly aware of the latters ruling in Francisco v. Nagmamalasakit na mga Manananggol ng mga Manggagawang Pilipino, Inc.[16] That ruling was categorical in stating that the impeachment proceeding is initiated or begins, when a verified complaint is filed and referred to the Committee on Justice for action.[17] Considering the factual circumstances of the instant case, and the experiences of the country with impeachment proceedings in the House since the Francisco ruling, the Court is faced with a good opportunity to reexamine its earlier disposition.

Petitioner Gutierrezs argument that the one-year time bar on a second impeachment complaint should be counted from the mechanical act of filing the complaint alone[18] is pregnant with a multitude of problems. Congress exclusive power to initiate impeachment cases would be effectively rendered inutile. This countrys experience with impeachment in the past decade has shown that pegging the time bar to the mechanical act of filing has transformed impeachment into a race on who gets to file a complaint the fastest regardless of whether such a first complaint is valid, proper, substantial or supported by evidence. Enterprising yet unscrupulous individuals have filed patently sham, frivolous or defective complaints in the House in order to commence the one-year period and thus bar the subsequent filing of legitimate complaints against the same impeachable officer. In embracing the provisions of the 1987 Constitution, the Filipino people certainly did not countenance a technical loophole that would be misused to negate the only available and effective mechanism against abuse of power by impeachable officers.

The opposite extreme propounded by private respondents Reyes that the period of the time bar starts from the filing of the Articles of Impeachment in the Senate is likewise untenable. Following their proposition, the one-year period will only commence when the report of the Committee favoring impeachment is approved by the required vote of the House, and the Articles of Impeachment are transmitted to the Senate. Consequently, if there is no transmittal of the Articles of Impeachment, then there is no one-year time bar. As a result, multiple parties may continue to file numerous complaints, until Articles of Impeachment are transmitted by the House to the Senate.

This scenario of persistent filing until there is a transmittal of the Articles of Impeachment is equally abhorrent to the constitutional prohibition on multiple, successive and never-ending impeachment proceedings (not complaints). The machine-gun approach to the filing of an impeachment complaint until there is a successful transmittal to the Senate will greatly impede the discharge of functions of impeachable officers, who are not given any refuge from such repetitive proceedings. Justice and the efficient administration of government would be defeated, if the impeachment time bar is made to commence solely from the favorable transmittal of the Articles of Impeachment. The time consumed by impeachable officers fending off impeachment proceedings is the same, regardless of the result the time bar, therefore, must equally apply to unsuccessful impeachment attempts voted down by the House.

Finally, the Court is confronted with the positions of public respondent Committee and respondent-intervenor Belmonte as opposed to the Courts ruling in Francisco. In Francisco, the time bar is counted from the acts of filing the impeachment complaint and its referral to a Committee,[19] where the latter is a purely ministerial act of the Speaker of the House. On the other hand, both public respondent Committee and respondent-intervenor Belmonte propose that the period of one year begin from discretionary acts, namely, from the submission of the Committee report on the complaint according to the Speaker, and from the one-third House plenary action on the report according to the public respondent Committee. With all due respect to the Courts ruling in Francisco, I uphold the position of the public respondent Committee. The doctrine of separation of powers in our theory of government pertains to the apportionment of state powers among coequal branches; namely, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. In establishing the structures of government, the ideal that the Constitution seeks to achieve is one of balance among the three great departments of government with each department undertaking its constitutionally assigned task as a check against the exercise of power by the others, while all three departments move forward in working for the progress of the nation.[20] The system of checks and balances has been carefully calibrated by the Constitution to temper the official acts of each of these three branches.[21]

The power of impeachment is the Legislatures check against the abuses of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman.[22] Having been elected or appointed for fixed terms, these impeachable officers enjoy security of tenure, which is intended to enhance their capability to perform their governmental functions efficiently and independently. However, their tenure, arising from either direct election by the people or indirect appointment by the peoples representatives, is not carte blanche authority for them to abuse their powers. In the face of gross governmental abuse, the people have not been made so powerless by the Constitution as to suffer until the impeachable officers term or appointment expires. The Legislatures impeachment power is the very solution provided by the fundamental law to remove, in the interim, public officers who have failed to uphold the publics trust. The Ombudsman is the public official constitutionally tasked to investigate and prosecute complaints against other public officials[23] except for impeachable officers and members of the national legislature. She is continually required by the Constitution to be of recognized probity and independence, [24] and must maintain this public trust during her term of office. Avoidance of the prospect of impeachment is the negative incentive for the Ombudsman, and all other impeachable officers, to keep that public trust.

Within the limitations set forth in the Constitution, impeachment is inarguably a political act exercised by the Legislature, a political body elected by and directly accountable to the people. This power is lodged in those who represent the great body of the people, because the occasion for its exercise will arise from acts of great injury to the community, and the objects of it may be such as cannot easily be reached by an ordinary tribunal.[25]

Full discretion is vested in Congress, both the House and the Senate, to determine whether or not an officer should be impeached, subject only to constitutionally provided limits. Even if the expanded certiorari jurisdiction allows the Court to review legislative acts that contravene the express provisions of the Constitution, the Court cannot supplant with its own determination, that of Congress in finding whether a public officer has performed acts that are grounds for impeachment. The political character of the process is underscored by a degree of imprecision in the offenses subject of impeachment,[26] thus allowing Congress sufficient leeway to describe the acts as impeachable or not.[27]

Since the power of impeachment is inherently discretionary, owing to its political character, then the time bar limitation imposed by the Constitution on this legislative discretion must likewise be counted from a discretionary, and not a ministerial, act. The one-year period was meant to be a restraint on the discretionary power of impeachment; otherwise, the Legislature would have been allowed to exercise that discretion at will repeatedly and continuously, to the detriment of the discharge of functions of impeachable officers. It is counterintuitive and illogical to place a limitation on discretionary powers, which is triggered not by the exercise of the discretion sought to be limited, but by a mere ministerial, ceremonial act perfunctorily performed preparatory to such exercise.

We observe that the Constitution has placed time conditions on the performance of acts (both discretionary and ministerial in nature) in pursuit of the Houses exclusive power to initiate impeachment proceedings.[28] These specific time conditions in the form of session days, however, have primarily been imposed for the purpose of avoiding delays or filibusters, which members of the House may resort to in order to prolong or even defeat the impeachment process. Whether the step is discretionary or ministerial, the constitutional deadlines for the execution of impeachment steps regulate only the speed at which the proceeding is to take place.

In contrast, the rule against the initiation of more than one impeachment proceeding against the same impeachable officer in a span of one year is a time constraint on the frequency with which the discretionary act of impeachment is to be exercised. The time bar regulates how often this power can be exercised by the House of Representatives. The rationale is that the extreme measure of removal of an impeachable officer cannot be used as Congress perennial bargaining chip to intimidate and undermine the impeachable officers independence.

While each chamber of Congress is constitutionally empowered to determine its rules of proceedings, it may not by its rules ignore constitutional restraints or violate fundamental rights.[29] Further, there should be a reasonable relation between the mode or method of proceeding established by the rule and the result that is sought to be attained.[30]

I respectfully differ from my colleagues when in effect they rule that the one-year limitation on a discretionary power is to begin from the ministerial act of the Speaker in referring the impeachment complaint to the appropriate committee of the House of Representatives. I cannot reconcile the incongruity between the constitutional largeness of the power of impeachment an inherently discretionary power lodged in the entire Congress and the controlling effect that a small act of the Speaker in referring a complaint to the Committee has, over this large power of impeachment. Retired Justice Serafin Cuevas, counsel for petitioner Gutierrez, goes so far as to characterize the Speakers ministerial referral of the complaint as merely ceremonial in character:


JUSTICE SERENO:

And you are basically your contention if [I] understand it is that this is the initiation? This is the act of initiating an impeachment complaint?

RET. JUSTICE CUEVAS:

Yes, we subscribed to the view or we uphold the view that upon the filing thereof, it was already initiated because the referral to the Committee on Justice is only ceremonial in character. The Secretary of Justice cannot do anything with it except to refer or not. Why did it take him twenty two (22) days?[31] (Emphasis supplied)

 

Even on the part of the Speaker of the House, there is no exercise of discretion over the referral of the complaint to the Committee on Justice.[32] The Speaker simply performs a ministerial function under the Constitution.[33] The Speaker cannot evaluate the complaint as to its sufficiency in form and substance. And even if there is a technical defect in the impeachment complaint, the Speaker is duty-bound to refer the matter to the committee within three session days from its inclusion in the Order of Business. Moreover, as pointed out by Justice Carpio Morales, members of the House cannot even raise issues against the propriety or substance of the impeachment complaint during the referral, as in fact the only objection that can be entertained is the propriety of the committee to which the complaint is referred. There is a dissonance on how the House Speakers clerical/ministerial act of referring the complaint can commence the time bar on the discretionary power of the entire House to initiate an impeachment proceeding.

The stark incompatibility between a small ministerial act controlling the substantive right of the House to initiate impeachment proceedings is viewed with concern by no less than retired Justice Cuevas, counsel for petitioner Gutierrez, who agrees with me in this wise:

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE SERENO:

I am sure, sir. But let us now go to the real question of the constitutional right of the House on impeachment and the clerical act of receiving impeachment complaints. Which is superior and which should be given more weight, the substantive right of the House to exercise its right to initiate impeachment complaints or is it the mere clerical act of finding out which complaint on its face bears the stamp, the first the earliest of stamp?

RET. JUSTICE CUEVAS:

I am not aware of any law, Your Honor, that authorizes a mere clerk to do what you are trying to tell us, Your Honor. It is the House, that is the responsibility of the House.

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE SERENO:

Yes, thank you.

RET. JUSTICE CUEVAS:

If they were designated by the Secretary General, the physical acceptance of the complaint lies there.

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE SERENO:

Correct.

RET. JUSTICE CUEVAS:

But that acceptance does not automatically

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE SERENO:

Correct.

RET. JUSTICE CUEVAS:

... initiate the impeachment proceedings.

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE SERENO:

Thank you very much, that is exactly what I wanted to hear viz-a-viz the substantive right of the House to initiate impeachment proceedings, this cannot be defeated by the clerical act of accepting an impeachment complaint.

RET. JUSTICE CUEVAS:

I agree, Your Honor. (Emphasis supplied)[34]

Proceedings, as understood in law, include any and all of the steps or measures adopted or taken, or required to be taken in the prosecution or defense of an action, from the commencement of the action to its termination, such as to the execution of the judgment.[35] Proceedings, both in common parlance and in legal acception, imply action, procedure, prosecution. If it is a progressive course, it must be advancing; and cannot be satisfied by remaining at rest.[36]

In Macondray & Co., Inc., v. Bernabe,[37] the Court ordered the payment of fees by the custodian of the attached properties, since the plaintiffs recovery of the costs includes any lawful fees paid by him or her for the service of the summons and other process in the action. The Court defined the word process in this wise:

 

As a legal term, process is a generic word of very comprehensive signification and many meanings. In its broadest sense process, it is equivalent to, or synonymous with, proceedings or procedure and embraces all steps and proceedings in a cause from its commencement to its conclusion. Sometimes the term is also broadly defined as the means whereby a court compels a compliance with its demands.[38] (Emphasis supplied.)

 

 

Therefore, the term impeachment proceedings should include the entire gamut of the impeachment process in the House from the filing of the verified complaint, to its referral to the appropriate committee, to the committees deliberations and report, up to the very vote of the House in plenary on the same report. It is only at the time that the House of Representatives as a whole either affirms or overrides the Report, by a vote of one third of all the members, that the initiation of the impeachment proceedings in the House is completed and the one-year bar rule commences. This is because the plenary House vote is the first discretionary act exercised by the House in whom the power of initiating impeachment proceedings repose.

When the Court pegged, in Francisco, the time bar on the initiation of impeachment proceedings to the filing of the complaint and its referral to the appropriate committee, it may have failed to anticipate the actions of parties who would subvert the impeachment process by racing to be the first to file sham and frivolous impeachment complaints. These unintended consequences, which make a mockery of the power of impeachment, justify a second look at the premises considered in Francisco.

Reckoning the beginning of the time bar from a ministerial and preparatory act, instead of the exercise of the discretionary power of impeachment, tends to focus attention on the procedural loopholes. Thus, impeachable officers subject of the proceedings, as well as their counsel, abuse these technical gaps in the legal framework of impeachment. Their purpose is to escape removal or perpetual disqualification despite the serious and grave charges leveled against them. Questions on the number of complaints filed, the date or even the time of filing, and whether the complaints have been consolidated or even simultaneously referred become monkey wrenches that impede the entire process and frustrate the mechanism of impeachment to the point of infeasibility.

As argued by public respondent Committee through retired Justice Vicente Mendoza during oral argument,[39] these technical loopholes can be cured by rendering the plenary vote of the entire House on the report of the committee as the starting point of the one-year ban. The intensity of legal wrangling over the definition of the words proceedings and initiate diminishes in significance if the Court is to focus its attention on the sole, discretionary and exclusive power granted to the House as a whole body to initiate all impeachment cases. Aside from the fact that the plenary vote pertains to the very discretionary act of impeachment, which requires the vote of one-third of its members, the difficulties inherent in pegging the period to ministerial acts are lessened, if not eliminated. Let us look at some problems that this approach eliminates.

First, whether there is a single complaint or multiple complaints filed before the House or taken up by the committee, the House in plenary will only vote once, in one impeachment proceeding, on whether to approve or disapprove the committees resolution.

Second, the proposal also removes the undesired proclivity of parties to be the first to file or the first to be referred, since the ban regulates not the speed of filing, but the frequency of the exercise by the House plenary of voting on the impeachment complaint/s.

Third, it makes no difference whether the complaint is filed and/or referred successively or simultaneously, as was being deliberated upon in the public respondent Committee.[40] The excessive emphasis on the physical time and date of filing or referral becomes inconsequential, if not absurd.

Finally, the time limitation is reckoned from a discretionary act, which embraces a deliberate, informed and debated process, and not from the ministerial act of a single public officer. The one-year period from the plenary vote of the House on the committee report eliminates even the possibility, however remote, that the Speaker of the House and/or the Majority Floor Leader would include a sham impeachment complaint in the Order of Business and refer the complaint to the Committee on Justice in just a single session day, in order to bar any other subsequent impeachment complaint/s.

The plenary vote by the House on the committee report is definite, determinable, and not ministerial; it is precisely the discretionary exercise of the power to initiate impeachments. As elucidated by retired Justice Mendoza during the oral argument:

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE NACHURA:

Justice Mendoza, just two things, I agree with you that the impeachment proceeding is really a process, is really a process. And I am open, my mind is at least open, to your suggestion that the initiation should be the entire proceedings in the House of Representatives. This would mean of course that the Committee would have prepared its report and submitted the report to the House of representatives in plenary. That would end the initiation, is that your position?

RET. JUSTICE MENDOZA:

Yes, Sir.

ASSOCIATE JUSTICE NACHURA:

Irrespective of the action taken by plenary do we have to await the action of the plenary on the report of the Committee on Justice before we say that these (sic) have been initiation on the impeachment?

RET. JUSTICE MENDOZA:

It is actually the action on the House because the power to initiate is vested in the House not to the Committee of the House. Up to the submission of the report there is only action by the Committee. Action by the House to initiate the proceedings is the action on the Committee report. The point Mr. Justice is this, the House delegates the task of screening good from bad complaints so that its time will not be wasted to a Committee also and to protect the public officials from unnecessarily being made to face impeachment proceedings. So what is given to the Committee is the task of investigating and recommending action on the complaints. So unless action is taken therefore finally by the House, the exclusive power to initiate impeachment proceedings has not been discharged. (Emphasis supplied)[41]

 

Of course, there still exists the possibility that the complaining parties would file multiple complaints at the 11th hour before the entire House votes on the committee report. This last minute maneuver is presumably intended to delay the voting, until the belated complaint is referred and deliberated upon by the committee within the number of session days enumerated under the Constitution. However, the deadlines for the committee report and the subsequent voting by the plenary should be counted from the date of the complaint/s first referred, regardless of any subsequent complaints. Any pending impeachment complaint will be immediately barred once the House votes on the committee report. This rule will prevent the filing of subsequent complaints (albeit sham or frivolous), which would continually reset the sixty-session day period and, thus, result in the circumvention of the constitutional deadlines.

A party who has a legitimate grievance supported by evidence against an impeachable officer will ordinarily not wait until the last minute to lodge the complaint. Ordinary diligence and good faith dictate that a person who has sufficient proof of wrongdoing and abuse against an impeachable officer will join and lend support to an impeachment complaint that is already being deliberated upon by the House committee, at the soonest possible time. Hence, it is natural that all complaints with valid grounds and sufficient evidence will be collectively or separately raised at the first opportunity, in order that the committee and eventually the House will be able to perform its deliberative function and exercise discretion within the specified number of session days.

Contrary to the position of respondent-intervenor Belmonte,[42] the mere submission of the committee report to the plenary is not a good reckoning point for the one-year period. Undoubtedly, while the committee exercises a degree of discretion in deciding upon and coming up with the report, as when it determines whether the impeachment complaint/s is/are sufficient in form and substance,[43] this discretion is exercised by a mere subset of the entire House, however, and is but preliminary. Although of persuasive value, the recommendations of the committee, which is composed of approximately fifty-five (55) members,[44] are not binding on the entire House in plenary, which counts two hundred eighty-three (283) members.[45]

The power to initiate all cases of impeachment is an extraordinary exercise of the sovereign people through its elected representatives to immediately remove those found to have committed impeachable offenses.[46] Therefore, the power to initiate impeachment proceedings is a power that is reposed upon the House of Representatives as a whole body, in representation of the sovereign, and this power cannot be taken over by a mere Committee.

Irrespective of the Committees findings, the impeachment proceeding will rise or fall or continue up to the impeachment case in the Senate on the basis of the one-third vote of the House. Hence, the one-year period is a limitation on the discretionary power of the entire House to initiate impeachment proceedings, and not on the committees deliberations or recommendations with respect to the impeachment complaint/s.

In summary, the following principles support the position that the time bar should be counted from the House of Representatives plenary action on the report of the Committee on Justice:

1.                 The time bar on impeachment proceedings cannot be counted from the filing of the complaint; otherwise the absurdity of individuals racing to file the first complaint would ensue, regardless of the complaints propriety or substance.

2.                 The time bar must equally apply, whether the impeachment complaint is successful or not.

3.                 The time bar, which is a limitation on the Houses exclusive power to initiate impeachment, must be counted from a discretionary act, not from a mechanical or ministerial act, especially not from acts that trivialize the impeachment process.

4.                 The time bar can only be reckoned from the plenary action of the House on the report of the committee (regardless of the outcome), since such action is done by the constitutional body in which the power is vested, and not by a mere subset that makes a preliminary finding that has only persuasive value.

Judicial review serves an affirmative function vital to a government of limited powers the function of maintaining a satisfactorily high public feeling that the government has obeyed the law of its own Constitution and stands ready to obey it as it may be declared by a tribunal of independence.[47]

In this instance, in exercising the power of judicial review over the exclusive and sole power of the House to initiate impeachment cases, the Court must remember that it is also performing a legitimating function validating how the House exercises its power in the light of constitutional limitations. The Court in the present constitutional dilemma is tasked with doing what has been described as a balancing act,[48] in determining the appropriate operation of the one-year time bar on the initiation of subsequent impeachment proceedings vis--vis the need to allow Congress to exercise its constitutional prerogatives in the matter of impeachment proceedings.

On the one hand, the undisputed raison dtre of the time bar is to prevent the continuous and undue harassment of impeachable officers, such as petitioner Gutierrez, in a way that prevents them from performing their offices functions effectively. On the other hand, the protection afforded to petitioner and other impeachable officers against harassment is not a blanket mechanical safety device that would defeat altogether any complaint of wrongdoing, of which she and other impeachable officers may be accused. Therefore, the power to initiate impeachment proceedings should not be so effortlessly and expeditiously achieved by disgruntled politicians to pressure impeachable officers to submission and undermine the latters institutional independence. But neither should the power of impeachment be too unreasonably restrictive or filled with technical loopholes as to defeat legitimate and substantiated claims of gross wrongdoing.

I submit that a balance of these two interests is better achieved if the time bar for the initiation of impeachment proceedings commences from the voting of the House on the committee report. Briefly, a subsequent impeachment proceeding against the same officer cannot be initiated until and unless one year lapses from the time the House in plenary votes either to approve or to disapprove the recommendations of the committee on impeachment complaint/s.

What the Court is deciding herein is merely the scope of the constitutional limits on the power to initiate impeachment proceedings, and how the delineation of that scope would affect the second Impeachment Complaint filed by private respondent Reyes. This Court does not arrogate unto itself the power to determine the innocence or guilt of petitioner Gutierrez with respect to the allegations contained in the impeachment complaints of private respondents. Congress, the political branch of government, was entrusted with the power of impeachment, specifically, because the objectives and the questions to be resolved are political.[49] In the Constitution, the impeachment power is an extraordinary political tool to oust a public officer. It must, therefore, be exercised by those whose functions are most directly and immediately responsive to the broad spectrum of the Filipino people, rather than by the Courts.

In expounding on the rationale for excluding the power of impeachment from the courts, Alexander Hamilton succinctly wrote:

The awful discretion, which a court of impeachments must necessarily have, to doom to honor or to infamy the most confidential and the most distinguished characters of the community, forbids the commitment of the trust to a small number of persons.

These considerations seem alone sufficient to authorise a conclusion, that the Supreme Court would have been an improper substitute for the Senate, as a court of impeachments. [50]

 

On a final note, the issuance of the Status Quo Ante Order in this case was most unfortunate. It was issued over the objections of Justices Antonio Carpio, Conchita Carpio Morales, and myself. I believed then, as I believe now, that the Court, in issuing the said order, was overly intrusive with respect to a power that does not belong to it by restraining without hearing a co-equal branch of Government. This belief was made more acute by the fact that the order was voted upon in the morning of 14 September 2010, without the benefit of a genuinely informed debate, since several members of the Court, myself included, had not yet then received a copy of the Petition. No one should henceforth presume to tell the House of Representatives that any form of restraining order is still in effect and thereby seek to extend the effectivity of the Status Quo Ante Order. This is the legal import of the majority Decision.

Premises considered, I vote to DISMISS the Petition in its entirety, and, consequently, the Status Quo Ante Order is immediately lifted.

 

 

MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO

Associate Justice



[1] The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 which Framed the Constitution of the United States of America, Reported by James Madison (International Edition), Gaillard Hunt and James Brown N. Scott (ed.) 1970 reprint, at 290.

[2] Constitution, Art. XI, Sec. 3 (4).

[3] Id, Sec. 3 (1).

[4] Id, Sec. 3 (2). The verified complaint is filed with the Office of the Secretary General of the House of Representatives. (15th Congress Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings, Rule II, Section 3)

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Constitution, Art. XI, Sec. 3 (3).

[10] Id. Sec. 3 (4).

[11] Private respondents Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Danilo D. Lim, Felipe Pestao and Evelyn Pestao (private respondents Baraquel) argue that the one-year time-bar rule under the Constitution is inapplicable to the first Impeachment Complaint that they filed against petitioner Gutierrez. (Private respondent Baraquels Memorandum dated 27 October 2010, at 5-6)

[12] Petitioner Gutierrezs Memorandum dated 21 October 2010, at 27-40.

[13] Public respondents Memorandum dated 26 October 2010, at 61-85. See also public respondent Reply Memorandum dated 15 November 2010, at 21-34.

[14] Private respondents Reyess Memorandum dated 26 October 2010, at 26-44.

[15] Respondent-intervenor Belmontes Memorandum for the Intervenor Ex Abundanti Cautela dated 27 October 2010, at 19-25.

[16] G.R. Nos. 160261, 160262-63, 160277, 160292, 160295, 160310, 160318, 160342-43, 160360, 160365, 160370, 160376, 160392, 160397, 160403, 160405, 10 November 2003, 415 SCRA 44.

[17] Id. at 169.

[18] The filing of an impeachment complaint constitutes the only true and actual initiation of impeachment proceedings. This operative and immutable fact cannot be downplayed or trivialized as being the mere solitary act which begins the initiation process. That the filing of the complaint admittedly begins the process of initiation only underscores the plain and inescapable fact that it is the very start, the very inception, the very origin of an impeachment proceeding. (Petitioner Gutierrezs Consolidated Reply dated 15 October 2010, at 15)

[19] Having concluded that the initiation takes place by the act of filing and referral or endorsement of the impeachment complaint to the House Committee on Justice or, by the filing by at least one-third of the members of the House of Representatives with the Secretary General of the House, the meaning of Section 3 (5) of Article XI becomes clear. Once an impeachment complaint has been initiated, another impeachment complaint may not be filed against the same official within a one year period. (Francisco, supra note 15, at 169)

[20] Carpio Morales, Dissenting Opinion, De Castro v. Judicial and Bar Council, G.R. No. 191002, 191032, 191057, 191149, 191342, 191420 & A.M. No. 10-2-5-SC, 20 April 2010.

[21] Neri v. Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations, G.R. No. 180643, 04 September 2008, 549 SCRA 77.

[22]Constitution, Art. XI, Sec. 2.

[23] Constitution, Art. XI, Sec. 12.

[24] Id, Sec. 8.

[25] Labovitz, John R., Presidential Impeachment, 20 (1978).

[26] The grounds for impeachment are culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. (Constitution, Art. XI, Sec. 2)

[27] Although some of the grounds for impeachment are specifically defined under penal laws (treason, bribery, graft and corruption), those laws and their concomitant jurisprudence are mere guides for the members of Congress and are not exactly bound to these definitions, given the discretionary power vested in them.

[28] The Constitution provides a specific time conditions for several acts in the impeachment process, namely: (a) inclusion of the impeachment complaint in the Order of Business (ten session days); (b) referral to the Committee (three session days); (c) report of the Committee (sixty session days); and (d) calendar of the Committee report to the plenary (ten session days).

[29] Arroyo v. De Venecia, G.R No. 127255, 14 August 1997, 277 SCRA 268 citing U.S. v. Ballin, Joseph & Co., 144 U.S. at 5.36 L.Ed. at 324-25.

[30] Id.

[31] TSN, 05 October 2010, at 119-120.

[32] aa. Justice, 55 Members. All matters directly and principally relating to the administration of justice, the Judiciary, the practice of law and integration of the Bar, legal aid, penitentiaries and reform schools, adult probation, impeachment proceedings, registration of land titles, immigration, deporation, naturalization, and the definition of crimes and other offenses punishable by law and their penalties. (House Rules of Procedure, Rule IX The Committees, Sec. 27 [aa])

[33] A purely ministerial act or duty is one which an officer or tribunal performs in a given state of facts, in a prescribed manner, in obedience to the mandate of a legal authority, without regard to or the exercise of his own judgment upon the propriety or impropriety of the act done. (Callejo, Concurring Opinion, Lambino v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 174153 & 174299, 25 October 2006, 505 SCRA 160, citing Codilla, Sr. v. De Venecia, G.R. No. 150605, 10 December 2002, 393 SCRA 639)

[34] TSN, 05 October 2010, at 142-143.

[35] 1 C.J.S. Actions 1(h)(1)(a), at 955.

[36] 34 Words and Phrases 142 (1957), citing Beers v. Haughton, 34 U.S. 329, 368, 9 Pet. 329, 368, 9 L.Ed. 145.

[37] G. R. No. L-45410, 67 Phil. 661(1939).

[38] Macondray & Co., Inc., v. Bernabe, 67 Phil. 661 (1939), citing 50 C.J., 441; cf. Philippine Law Dictionary, 748 (Federico B. Moreno ed., 3rd ed. 1988).

[39] TSN, 12 October 2010, at 88-90.

[40] Rep. Datumanong raised again the issue of having two impeachment complaint referred to the Committee. According to him, the journal of the House on August 11 reflects the successive, and not simultaneous, referral to the two complaints to the Committee. This position was later reiterated by Re. Rufus Rodriguez, who stated that it is a physical impossibility to refer two complaints to the Committee at exactly the same time. Rep. Neptali Gonzales II answered Rep. Datumanongs query, and maintained that in the same journal, both complaints were referred to the Committee on Justice at exactly the same time, which shows the intention of the House to refer the complaints simultaneously and not successively. Rep. Gonzales also stated that there is nothing in the Constitution or the Rules on Impeachment that prevents the Committee from consolidating the two complaints against an impeachable officer. (Minutes of the Meeting of the Committee on Justice, 07 September 2010 at 5; cf. petitioner Gutierrezs Compliance and Manifestation dated 30 September 2010)

[41] TSN, 12 October 2010, at 133-135.

[42] 102. The moment when an impeachment is initiated therefore is a process that starts from the filing up until the recommendation of the House Committee on Justice to the House of Representatives. It is still a process and a continuum, but it is a process that allows democratically elected forums to weigh in. (Respondent-intervenor Belmontes Memorandum dated 27 October 2010, at 22)

[43] Section 4. Determination of Sufficiency in Form and Substance. - Upon due referral, the Committee on Justice shall determine whether the complaint is sufficient in from and substance. If the committee finds that the complaint is insufficient in form, it shall return the same to the Secretary General within three (3) session days with a written explanation of the insufficiency. The Secretary General shall return the same to the complaint(s) together with the committee's written explanation within three (3) session days from receipt of the committee resolution finding the complaint insufficient in form.

Should the committee find the complaint sufficient in form, it shall then determine if the complaint is sufficient in substance. The requirement of substance is met if there is a recital of facts constituting the offense charged and determinative of the jurisdiction of the committee. If the committee finds that the complaint is not sufficient in substance, it shall dismiss the complaint and shall submit its report as provided hereunder. (House Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings, Sec. 4)

[44] House Rules of Procedure, Rule IX (The Committees), Sec. 27 (aa).

[45] <http://www.congress.gov.ph/members/> (Last accessed on 24 January 2011)

[46] On a more fundamental level, the impeachment power is, in fact, an exercise of sovereignty. It is a choice by the representatives of the people to immediately remove those unfit for public service. Impeachment involves conviction and removal of government officers of the highest level and, hence, is an extreme measure. So, it is but appropriate that it is the Congress the direct representatives of the people which should wield the power of impeachment. Therefore, the power to initiate impeachment proceedings may not be exercised by a lone congressman or by a citizen by the sheer act of filing an impeachment complaint. (Tamano, Adel A., Handbook on Impeachment under the 1987 Constitution [1st Ed., 2004], at 21)

[47] Charles L. Black, Jr., The People and the Court: Judicial Review in a Democracy, 86 (1960).

[48] So, that is why I am saying now that we should not only consider the rights of the accused we should also consider the rights of the State. We should try to do a balancing act such that we will come out with a favorable decision which is fair to both parties. (Justice Carpio Morales, TSN, 05 October 2010, at 335)

[49] John R. Labovitz, Presidential Impeachment 251 (1978).

[50] Federalist No. 65, at 439-45 (07 March 1788).