Ombudsman given 3 days to answer impeachment charges

OMBUDSMAN Merceditas Gutierrez has three days to answer the House Justice Committee’s impeachment charges or a general default would be  Entered on her behalf based on the sufficiency of the grounds.

With the House committee voting on the motion to continue with the impeachment proceedings against her with 21 in favor and five against, Justice Committee Chairman Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. (5th District, Iloilo) declared the motion approved.

Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tañada III (4th District, Quezon) seconded the motion and the committee approved the decision to set the hearing of Gutierrez’s impeachment case on March 1 and 2, and March 8 and 9.

Act Teachers Party-list Rep. Dante Antonio Tinio said “as one of the endorsers of the impeachment complaints being heard by the House Justice Committee in its impeachment proceedings, first of all, I’m happy that the committee has decided to push through with the impeachment complaint.”

“The House chose to wait for the Supreme Court ruling on the petition for TRO filed by the Ombudsman, so from September to the present, nothing happened. Congress owes it to the public to exercise its Constitutional duty to proceed with the impeachment hearing of the Ombudsman,” Tinio said.

Tinio said the decision to continue with the impeachment proceedings was further highlighted by recent revelations regarding the role played by the Ombudsman in the questionable plea bargain agreement made with embattled General Carlos Garcia.

“Although this is not included in the impeachment complaints, it only highlighted the inadequacy of the Ombudsman in protecting the people from corrupt public officials,” Tinio said.

The House Justice Committee gave Gutierrez 10 days within which to respond. However, on the seventh day, the Supreme Court gave her a TRO, so, in effect, the clock stopped.

From the 10 days given her within which period she had to answer, she now has now three days left.

The last time the committee hearing on the impeachment complaint took place was on September 28, 2010, or five months ago.

“I am not a member of the Justice Committee, but I am one of the endorsers of the impeachment complaint being deliberated by this committee. As an endorser, I have keen interest in the impeachment complaint—that it push through as soon as possible,” Tinio said.

“We waited for five months and that shows the respect of this committee for Constitutional rights,” Tinio added.

On Feb. 15, 2011, the SC issued a decision entitled, “Merceditas Gutierrez versus the House Committee on Justice, et al.” The committee received the official copy of the decision only on February 22, 2011.

Citing a Unionbank case, the SC has already pointed out that when the main case is decided, the purpose has already been served. Even pending appeal, the lifting of the provisional remedy is immediately executory, Tupas said.

The SC ruled and reiterated the Francisco ruling that, for as long as the complaints are referred at the same time to the Justice committee, which actually ignites the whole impeachment proceeding, then the two complaints are within the one year period. They don’t bar each other,” Tupas added.

“In effect, the clear decision of the court, is that the two complaints i.e. the Baraquiel et al and the Reyes et al complaints,
fall within one proceeding and the Committee is correct in finding sufficiency in substance and form in both complaints,” Tupas said.

With the development, Tupas said “we will now ask the committee on the next step it wants to take.”

“This issue is of paramount importance. The House has to submit a report within 60 session days. The importance of this meeting is the inclusion in the agenda of the impeachment complaint in the light of the Constitutional mandate for us to complete this within 60 session days,” Tupas said.

Tupas said “some of the members of the justice committee met with its legal team together with the Speaker.”

“In that meeting, we were apprised by our legal team that there is jurisprudence, because the question now is whether or not the committee will wait until the motion for reconsideration is decided, which means after the decision becomes final.

“Or, can we proceed because the main case has already been decided. And since the status quo ante order is ancillary to the main case, the decision on the main case pending motion for reconsideration immediately terminates the status quo ante order as ancillary to the main.

In the Merceditas Gutierrez versus the House Committee on Justice, the recommendation of the legal team, not only of the Committee on Justice, but the House of Representatives, is that there is no more legal obstacle for the Justice committee to proceed and perform its Constitutional duty.

The committee has already sent a notice to the Ombudsman last September 2010 for her to answer within 10 days according to the rules on impeachment.

But instead of answering, she ran to the SC and on the seventh day, the SC issued a status quo ante order. In effect, she only has three days left to answer.

The SC sustained the constitutionality of the committee’s action.

Under the rules, she has 10 days within which to file her answer. But because she already gave her time to answer on the seventh day, the SC issued a status quo ante.

The committee gave her a subsequent letter informing her that she had to answer within three days, after the Sept. 28, 2010 meeting of the Justice Committee where the committee decided to proceed despite this and she was given three days based on that letter.

The Ombudsman received the second letter on Nov. 17, 2010, requiring her to submit her answer and informing her that she had three days remaining for her to file her answer.

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