The good news is that after five or so years, we may finally impeach Merceditas Gutierrez. This is because of the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday dismissing her petition to restraint the House of Representatives from hearing two impeachment complaints against her. The Ombudsman complained that since two petitions were filed against her; to wit, one from Akbayan and another by Bayan, then there is a violation of the constitutional prohibition on the filing of multiple impeachment complaints within one year.
With a slim majority, the Supreme Court upheld our earlier position in Martinez vs. House of Representatives where we argued that the prohibition is against multiple impeachment proceedings and not multiple complaints. In Martinez , the House of Representatives, taking the cue from Congressman Edsel Lagman’s “prejudicial questions”, ruled that a subsequent amended impeachment complaint, which superseded the original Lozano complaint against GMA, was barred as a prohibited second complaint. On certiorari, we argued that since the decision of the Supreme Court in Roque vs. De Venecia was that commencement of an impeachment complaint was the filing of an impeachment complaint and its referral to the Justice Committee, there is no violation of the constitution where both the original and the amended complaints were referred to the Justice Committee at the same time. The only weakness in our position then was articulated by Fr. Joaquin Bernas who agreed with our position, but doubted if the court can compel the Committee on Justice to consolidate all complaints into one committee report which is the usual recourse in legislation. With this latest ruling in the Gutierrez case, it is now clear that impeachment, as the constitutional mode to promote accountability of very high impeachable officers, is not a race amongst rats. It can no longer be that an impeachable officer can have a year free of impeachment through the filing of an earlier sham complaint that could be dismissed by congress for insufficiency in form and substance. At least, it is now clear that the one impeachment bar should apply only after the Committee on Justice had already deliberated on all complaints referred to it on the same date and not just on the basis of which complaint was filed first.
The practical consequence of the ruling is that finally, we can hold the Ombudsman liable for her non-action in complaints involving GMA and her cohorts. It also involves her snail pace investigation in the 15 year unsolved murder case of Navy Ensign Philip Pestano whose killers continue to be at large until today. It must be a source of solace to the parents of Philip that while the killers have not yet been punished, a woman who was instrumental in their impunity could at least be held liable.
I hasten to warn though the House Committee on Justice from entertaining further charges not included in the twin complaints of Akbayan and Bayan Muna. I have read Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada’s opinion that they are studying including the additional charge of the Gen. Garcia plea bargaining agreement as a further charge against the Ombudsman. With all due respect to Rep. Tanada who should be Senator soon, this may give the Ombudsman further armament to go up anew to the Supreme Court to question the validity of the extra charge. The fact is, regardless of the specific charges against her, what we need now is the political will to muster the numbers to remove the Ombudsman. While the Garcia plea bargain deal is equally deplorable, let’s not risk yet another stay order from the high court . Let’s concentrate on getting the numbers and getting it as soon as possible.
Still on the issue of accountability of public officers, while our local customs and traditions value honoring the dead, I am nonetheless of the belief that the recent burial of former AFP Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes should mark the commencement anew of our continuing search for the truth and accountability. Without meaning to be disrespectful, the decision to end his life was one made by Gen. Reyes alone. This should not be a reason for us to detract from the genuine issue at hand, which is systemic corruption in the military. While I condole fully with the Reyes family, I agree still with the opinion of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago that the estate of Gen. Reyes should still be held responsible if it is proven that the departed General really partook of the pabaon system. That system is illegal, full stop. Moreover, regardless of how one may have viewed the actuation of Senator Sonny Trillanes in questioning Gen. Reyes, the fact remains that the good Senator was only articulating what should be the correct position of every decent human being: absolute intolerance to corruption. I submit that part of why corruption has become systemic in this country is that we put too much emphasis on “civility” over principles. The correct conduct should be to shame those who have plundered the public coffers so that they may not enjoy the fruits of their criminal acts as if they are civilized people. In other words, we should consider thievery as the worse form of conduct and deal with them accordingly: with absolute contempt. This is what is meant by zero tolerance to corruption. And this is what we must do to end corruption in this country.
To the thieves in this country: beware. We shall shame you and in a manner that would make the conduct of Trillianes look genteel.