EN BANC

 

MA.        MERCEDITAS    N.

GUTIERREZ                                 

                                       Petitioner,

 

- versus -

 

THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE, RISA HONTIVEROS-BARAQUEL, DANILO D. LIM, FELIPE PESTAÑO, EVELYN PESTAÑO, 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.

 

G.R. No. 193459

 

 

Present:

 

CORONA, C.J.,

CARPIO,

CARPIO MORALES,

   VELASCO, JR.,*  

NACHURA,

LEONARDO-DE CASTRO,

BRION,

PERALTA,

BERSAMIN,

DEL CASTILLO,

ABAD, 

VILLARAMA, JR.,

PEREZ, 

MENDOZA, and

SERENO, JJ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

     Promulgated:

 

    March 8, 2011

 

x-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------x

 

 

R E S O L U T I O N

 

CARPIO MORALES, J.:

 

          For resolution is petitioner’s “Motion for Reconsideration (of the Decision dated 15 February 2011)” dated February 25, 2011 (Motion). 

 

          Upon examination of the averments in the Motion, the Court finds neither substantial nor cogent reason to reconsider its Decision.  A plain reading of the Decision could very well dispose of petitioner’s previous contentions, raised anew in the Motion, but the Court finds it proper, in writing finis to the issue, to draw petitioner’s attention to certain markers in the Decision.

 

 

I

 

          Contrary to petitioner’s assertion that the Court sharply deviated from the ruling in Francisco, Jr. v. The House of Representatives,[1] the Decision of February 15, 2011 reaffirmed and illuminated the Francisco doctrine in light of the particular facts of the present case. 

 

          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”[2] is to dismantle her own interpretation of Francisco that the one-year bar is to be reckoned from the filing of the impeachment complaint.  Petitioner’s Motion concedes[3] that the Francisco doctrine on the initiation of an impeachment proceeding includes the House’s initial action on the complaint.  By recognizing the legal import of a referral, petitioner abandons her earlier claim that per Francisco an impeachment proceeding is initiated by the mere filing of an impeachment complaint. 

 

          Having uprooted her reliance on the Francisco case 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 in Francisco. 

 

          In Justice Azcuna’s 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.[4]  Notably, the provisions of the Impeachment Rules of the 12th Congress that were successfully challenged in Francisco provided that an impeachment proceeding was to be “deemed initiated” upon the Committee’s finding of sufficiency of substance or upon the House’s affirmance or overturning of the Committee’s finding,[5] 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.”[6]  Definitely, “constructive initiation by legal fiction” did not refer to the aspects of filing and referral in the regular course of impeachment, for this was precisely the gist of Francisco in pronouncing what initiation means.

 

          The Court adhered to the Francisco-ordained balance in the tug-of-war between those who want to stretch and those who want to shrink the term “initiate,” either of which could disrupt the provision’s congruency to the rationale of the constitutional provision.  Petitioner’s imputation that the Court’s Decision presents a sharp deviation from Francisco as 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 process of the impeachment proceeding shall be commenced against 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 applied Francisco on what comprises or completes the initiation phase.  Nothing can be more unequivocal or well-defined than the elucidation of filing-and-referral in Francisco.  Petitioner must come to terms with her denial of the exact terms of Francisco.

 

          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.[7] 

 

          The facts of the case do not call for the resolution of this issue however.  Suffice it to restate a footnote in the Court’s Decision that in such case of “an abbreviated mode of initiation[, x x x] the filing of the complaint and the taking of initial action [House directive to automatically transmit] are merged into a single act.”[8]  Moreover, it is highly impossible in such situation to coincidentally initiate a second impeachment proceeding in the interregnum, if any, given the period between filing and referral.

 

          Petitioner’s discussion on the singular tense of the word “complaint” is too tenuous to require consideration.  The phraseology of the one-year bar rule does not concern itself with a numerical limitation of impeachment complaints.  If it were the intention of the framers of the Constitution to limit the number of complaints, they would have easily so stated in clear and unequivocal language.

 

          Petitioner further avers that the demonstrated concerns against reckoning the period from the filing of the complaint are mere possibilities based on a general mistrust of the Filipino people and their Representatives.  To her, mere possibility of abuse is not a conclusive argument against the existence of power nor a reason to invalidate a law. 

 

          The present case does not involve an invalidation of a legal provision on a grant of power.  Since the issue precisely involves upholding an express limitation of a power, it behooves the Court to look into the rationale behind the constitutional proscription which guards against an explicit instance of abuse of power.  The Court’s duty entails an examination of the same possible scenarios considered by the framers of the Constitution (i.e., incidents that may prove to disrupt the law-making function of Congress and unduly or too frequently harass the impeachable officer), which are basically the same grounds being invoked by petitioner to arrive at her desired conclusion. 

 

          Ironically, petitioner also offers the Court with various possibilities and vivid scenarios to grimly illustrate her perceived oppression.  And her own mistrust leads her to find inadequate the existence of the pertinent constitutional provisions, and to entertain doubt on “the respect for and adherence of the House and the respondent committee to the same.”[9] 

 

While petitioner concedes that there is a framework of safeguards for impeachable officers laid down in Article XI of the Constitution, she downplays these layers of protection as illusory or inutile without implementation and enforcement, as if these can be disregarded at will. 

 

          Contrary to petitioner’s position that the Court left in the hands of the House the question as to when an impeachment proceeding is initiated, the Court merely underscored the House’s conscious role in the initiation of an impeachment proceeding.    The Court added nothing new in pinpointing the obvious reckoning point of initiation in light of the Francisco doctrine.  Moreover, referral of an impeachment complaint to the appropriate committee is already a power or function granted by the Constitution to the House.

 

          Petitioner goes on to argue that the House has no discretion on the matter of referral of an impeachment complaint and that once filed, an impeachment complaint should, as a matter of course, be referred to the Committee.    

 

          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 House’s 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 Romulo’s concerns on the amount of time spent if “multiple impeachment charges”[10] 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 and referral in the present case, with Francisco as the guiding light.  Petitioner refuses to see the other half of that light, however.

 

 

II

 

Petitioner, meanwhile, reiterates her argument that promulgation means publication.  She again cites her thesis that Commonwealth Act No. 638, Article 2 of the Civil Code, and the two Tañada v. Tuvera[11] cases mandate that the Impeachment Rules be published for effectivity.  Petitioner raises nothing new to change the Court’s stance on the matter.

 

          To reiterate, when the Constitution uses the word “promulgate,” it does not necessarily mean to publish in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper of general circulation.  Promulgation, as used in Section 3(8), Article XI of the Constitution, suitably takes the meaning of “to make known” as it should be generally understood. 

 

Petitioner continues to misapply Neri v. Senate Committee on Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations[12] where the Court noted that the Constitution unmistakably requires the publication of rules of procedure pertaining to inquiries in aid of legislation.  If the Constitution warranted the publication of Impeachment Rules, then it could have expediently indicated such requirement as it did in the case of legislative inquiries.

 

          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.

 

Petitioner is mistaken in her assertion.  Note that the Court discussed the above-mentioned scenario only “in cases where impeachment complaints are filed at the start of each Congress.”  Section 3, Article XI of the Constitution contains relevant self-executing provisions which must be observed at the start of the impeachment process, the promulgation of the Impeachment Rules notwithstanding.  

 

Petitioner rehashes her allegations of bias and vindictiveness on the part of the Committee Chairperson, Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr.  Yet again, the supposed actuations of Rep. Tupas partake of a keen performance of his avowed duties and responsibilities as the designated manager of that phase in the impeachment proceeding.  Besides, the actions taken by the Committee were never its Chairperson’s sole act but rather the collective undertaking of its whole 55-person membership.  The Committee members even took to voting among themselves to validate what actions to take on the motions presented to the Committee.            

 

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 Court’s control.  Again, impeachment is a highly politicized intramural that gives the House ample leg room to operate, subject only to the constitutionally imposed limits.[13]  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.

 

 

 

FINALLY, the Court has, in its February 15, 2011 Decision, already lifted its September 14, 2010 Status Quo Ante Order[14] which, as said Order clearly stated, was “effective immediately and continuing until further orders from this Court.”[15]  Such “further order” points to that part of the disposition in the February 15, 2011 Decision that directs the lifting of the Status Quo Ante Order. 

 

The lifting of the Status Quo Ante Order is effective immediately, the filing of petitioner’s motion for reconsideration notwithstanding, in the same way that the Status Quo Ante Order was made effective immediately, respondents’ moves to reconsider or recall it notwithstanding.  There is thus no faulting the Committee if it decides to, as it did proceed with the impeachment proceeding after the Court released its February 15, 2011 Decision.

 

WHEREFORE, the Motion for Reconsideration is DENIED for lack of merit.

 

  SO ORDERED.

 

 

 

                                                CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES

                                                      Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE CONCUR:

 

 

 

 

I maintain my dissenting vote with J. Brion

 RENATO C. CORONA

Chief Justice

 

 

 

 

 

ANTONIO T. CARPIO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

(NO PART)

PRESBITERO J. VELASCO, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

On sabbatical leave (no vote)

ANTONIO EDUARDO B. NACHURA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

I certify that J. Brion maintains his dissent

ARTURO D. BRION

Associate Justice

 

 

 

I maintain my vote to join the dissent of Justice Brion

TERESITA J. LEONARDO-DE CASTRO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

I maintain my vote with the dissent of J.A. Brion

DIOSDADO M. PERALTA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

I maintain my vote with the dissent of J.A. Brion

LUCAS P. BERSAMIN

Associate Justice

 

                                        

 

 

ROBERTO A. ABAD

                 Associate Justice

                                               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I maintain my position in my separate opinion in the main case

I maintain my vote in my concurring and dissenting opinion

MARIANO C. DEL CASTILLO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

MARTIN S. VILLARAMA, JR.

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

JOSE PORTUGAL PEREZ

Associate Justice

 

JOSE CATRAL MENDOZA

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 MARIA LOURDES P. A. SERENO

Associate Justice

 

 

 

 

 

CERTIFICATION

 

 

          Pursuant to Section 13, Article VIII of the Constitution, I hereby certify that the conclusions in the above Resolution had been reached in consultation before the case was assigned to the writer of the opinion of the Court.

 

 

 

 

                                                   RENATO C. CORONA

                                                            Chief Justice

 



* No part.

[1]               460 Phil. 830 (2003).

[2]               Motion for Reconsideration, p. 8.

[3]               Motion for Reconsideration, p. 9: “From these entries, it is clear that each impeachment complaint was the subject of separate and distinct referrals.  Following Francisco, upon the referral of the First Impeachment Complaint to the respondent Committee, an impeachment proceeding against petitioner Ombudsman has already been initiated.” (underscoring supplied)   

[4]               Vide Francisco, Jr. v. The House of Representatives, 460 Phil. 830, 1054-1055.

[5]               Id. at 865.

[6]               Id. at 1055.

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

[8]               Decision of February 15, 2011, footnote 61.  

[9]               Motion for Reconsideration, p. 36.

[10]             Vide II Record of the Constitutional Commission, p. 282 (July 26, 1986).

[11]             220 Phil. 422 (1985); 230 Phil. 528 (1986).

[12]             G.R. No. 180643, March 25, 2008, 549 SCRA 77; and September 4, 2008, 564 SCRA 152.

[13]             Francisco, Jr. v. The House of Representatives, supra. 

[14]             Rollo, pp. 264-267.

[15]             Id. at 266, emphasis and underscoring supplied.