THE Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) said the House of Representatives justice committee yesterday defied the Supreme Court by misinterpreting a ruling that defined the “initiation” of an impeachment proceeding.

If the Supreme Court is to be followed, CODAL said the first complaint filed by Oliver Lozano is deemed “initiated” when it was referred to the justice committee on July 25, 2005. The one year period would have ended on July 25, 2006 and the valid complaint would be the seventh complaint which was filed by members of Bayan on July 26, 2006.

This issue has been much debated on since the first impeachment complaint was filed on June 26 this year. The President’s allies in the Lower House maintains that the one-year ban for initiating a second impeachment complaint lapsed only on July 26. All complaints filed before July 26 are therefore deemed “barred and premature” pleadings.

Voting 54-24, the House committee on justice yesterday moved to dismiss the first seven of the eight impeachment complaints against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The committee said the eighth and last complaint was the only “seasonably filed,” since it was introduced on July 27, after the one-year ban for initiating a second impeachment complaint had lapsed.

The eighth complaint was filed by the Black and White Movement and was endorsed by Tarlac Rep. Benigno Aquino III, Bukidnon Rep. Nereus Acosta, Batanes Rep. Henedina Abad, and Cagayan Rep. Manuel Mamba. The committee today will determine if the complaint is sufficient in form and substance.

Committee senior vice chairman Edcel Lagman said the “reckoning point” of the one-year rule is the committee’s “actual receipt” of the petition. The committee received the last of the three petitions at exactly 4:40 p.m. on July 26, 2005.

But CODAL said the President’s allies in Congress defied the High Court by “clearly misinterpreting” the Court’s ruling in Francisco vs. House of Representatives when they defined the initiation of an impeachment proceeding to mean the “filing, referral, and receipt” by the justice committee of the complaint.

In the Francisco ruling, the Court declared that an impeachment proceeding is initiated when a complaint is “filed and referred” to the Justice committee for action, according to CODAL.”Nowhere in the said decision did the Supreme Court require that for an impeachment proceeding to be initiated, the Justice committee must ‘receive’ it,” CODAL said, “Lagman’s strange interpretation is distressing.”

CODAL said Davao del Sur Rep. Douglas Cagas interpreted the term “referral” to include “receipt.” CODAL said the word “referral” merely means “an act of referring” and does not require “acceptance.”

“To follow the logic of the majority, no person can be charged with firing a gun unless he hits his target,” CODAL said.

Yesterday, CODAL also called on legislators who received funds from the Ginintuang Masaganang Ani fertilizer project to inhibit themselves from the impeachment proceedings.

“CODAL is concerned by the lack of decency by some congressmen who want to sit in the impeachment proceedings despite the fact that they have a stake in the outcome of the fertilizer fund case,” CODAL said.

CODAL spokesperson Neri Colmenares said that in order to ensure the credibility of the impeachment hearings, the said legislators must inhibit themselves should they move to junk the impeachment complaint again.

The impeachment charges against Arroyo include the alleged misuse of at least P2.8 billion in fertilizer funds and farm inputs during the 2004 election campaign.

In the 2005 report of the Commission on Audit, 29 legislators received fertilizer funds ranging from P3 million to P5 million each, the Philippine Star reported.

Some of those on the list are:

  • Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr.
  • Majority Floor leader Prospero Nograles
  • Deputy Majority leaders Abraham Mitra and Arthur Defensor
  • Deputy Speakers Emilio Espinosa, Gerry Salapuddin, and Eric Singson
  • Capiz Rep. Fredenil Castro
  • Ilocos Sur Rep. Salacnib Baterina
  • Lanao del Sur Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo
  • Eastern Samar Rep. Marcelino Libanan
  • Nueva Ecija Rep. Aurelio Umali
  • Cagayan de Oro Rep. Constantino Jaraula
  • Zamboanga del Sur Rep. Isidoro Real
  • Lanao del Sur Reps. Benasing Macarambon and Faysah Dumarpa
  • Camarines Sur Reps. Luis Villafuerte and Felix Alfelor
  • Sulu Rep. Hussin Amin
  • Bohol Reps. Edgar Chatto and Eladio Jala
  • Misamis Oriental Rep. Augusto Baculio
  • Leyte Rep. Eufrocino Codilla
  • Western Samar Rep. Reynaldo Uy
  • Bacolod City Rep. Monico Puentevella
  • Kalinga Rep. Lawrence Wacnang

“Any hasty dismissal of the impeachment complaint without the inhibition by tainted members may void the entire proceeding,” CODAL said, “Congressmen-beneficiaries of the GMA fertilizer fund cannot vote on the dismissal of the impeachment complaint unless the inhibition issue has been dealt with on the merits.”

The Black and White Movement also issued a similar call. “This will remove suspicions about their bias regarding the impeachment. We would also like to know that, if upon receiving these funds, any of them went on to campaign for Mrs. Arroyo in the last election.”

Below is the statement of the CODAL on yesterday’s impeachment proceedings:

HOUSE MAJORITY DEFIES SUPREME COURT DECISION IN FRANCISCO VS. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Pres. Gloria Arroyo and her allies in Congress have once again defied the Supreme Court by clearly misinterpreting the Court’s ruling in Francisco vs. House of Representatives when they defined initiation of an impeachment proceedings to mean the “filing, referral and receipt by the Justice Committee” of an impeachment complaint.

The Supreme Court declared in Francisco that an impeachtoment “proceeding is initiated or begins when a verified complaint is filed and referred to the Justice Committee for action”. Nowhere in the said decision did the Supreme Court require that for an impeachment proceeding to be initiated, the Justice Committee must receive it. CODAL finds Rep. Edcel Lagman’s strange interpretation distressing considering that he is a member of the legal profession and is supposed to be equipped with the knowledge to interpret clear decisions of the Court.

CODAL also finds absurd the theatrical interpretation by a Rep. Douglas Cagas of the term ‘referral’ to include ‘receipt’ using the Readers Digest as reference. Webster and other dictionaries defines refer as ‘to direct to a person or place’, and referral as ‘an act or instance of referring’. The act of referring does not require acceptance by the object of referral. To follow the logic of the majority, no person can be charged with firing a gun unless he hits his target. CODAL finds it regrettable that the impeachment proceedings is held hostage by the senatorial ambitions or other political plans by members of the House.

If the majority followed the Supreme Court definition, the Lozano Complaint is deemed initiated when it was referred by the Speaker to the Justice Committee on July 25, 2005 during the SONA last year. In that case, the one year period would have ended on July 25, 2006 and the valid complaint would be the 7th Complaint filed by members of Bayan on July 26, something possibly unacceptable to some members of the Majority. A Supreme Court decision, however, cannot be twisted on the basis of bias or ideological differences.

Problems with the Majority Interpretation: Danger to Impeachment Complaints

Firstly, the interpretation is a clear departure, again, from the Supreme Court ruling in Francisco. It must noted that the Majority patently violated this ruling last year, when it insisted that the impeachment complaint was initiated by the mere ‘filing’ of the Lozano complaint on June 27 rather than the ‘referral’ on July 25.

Secondly, this new House definition will allow the staff and other members of the Justice Committee to hold an impeachment complaint hostage by the mere act of delaying or withholding ‘receipt’ of the same. It practically invalidates intent of the Constitution and the rules of the House which requires the Speaker to ‘refer’ an impeachment complaint within 10 session days. The justice committee may not ‘receive’ an impeachment complaint within that 10 day period thereby making the Speaker vulnerable to violation of the rules as a result of the act of Committee personnel.

Thirdly, this definition will sow confusion in the House in regard to bills or resolutions filed. Normally, bills are deemed ‘referred’ on the date when these are referred to a particular committee in the First Reading. With the definition, a bill is only deemed referred once the sponsor manages to have it received by the relevant Committee, a complete departure from the tradition of Congress since it was created in during the Commonwealth period.

Pres. Arroyo’s has set a pattern of persistent defiance of judicial decisions not favorable to government such as prohibiting executive officials from appearing in Senate inquiries despite the Court’s decision invalidating EO 464. Her allies in the House have once again followed suit by distorting another Court decision. CODAL condemns the blatant disrespect and defiance shown by members of the Executive and Legislative branch to Supreme Court decisions and the erosion of the check and balance mechanisms under the Constitution in order to preempt serious investigation on crimes and other impeachable offenses. These acts only prove that the Impeachment Complaint is not only sufficient in form but also sufficient in substance particularly on the charge that Pres. Arroyo used ‘dictatorial powers’ to stay in power.

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