Francisco Jr. vs. House of Representatives

Three impeachment complaints have been filed against Gloria Arroyo. The first was filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano. The second was filed by lawyer Jose Rizalino Lopez and the third is the one signed by over forty congressmen.

Why is it important to know how many complaints there are? Well, see, the Constitution prohibits the initiation of more than one impeachment proceeding within a year.
In Tuesday’s hearings, Bukidnon Rep. Teofisto Guingona III moved that all three complaints be discussed, in form and in substance, by the Justice Committee. That motion cannot be acted upon unless the issue of the one-year prohibition is resolved. Since Lozano was the first to file a complaint, should Lopez’s and the opposition’s complaints be discussed at all or should they be thrown out at this early stage as being in violation of the one-year prohibition?

According to an ABS-CBN News report, Rep. Francis Escudero “said the Constitution only prohibits the initiation of impeachment proceedings and not the filing of additional complaints.” Perhaps, the representative from Sorsogon has not read the Supreme Court decision in the case of Francisco Jr. vs. House of Representatives (G.R. No. 160261, November 10, 2003), otherwise known as the Davide impeachment case, where it was held that the one-year period should be counted from the date of the filing of the first complaint irrespective of whether the Lower House acted favorably or unfavorably on it. In hearing the case, the Supreme Court invited known Constitutionalists including members of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution, one of whom was Father Joaquin Bernas. Below are the most salient portions of the decision:

Father Bernas concludes that when Section 3 (5) says, “No impeachment proceeding shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year,” it means that no second verified complaint may be accepted and referred to the Committee on Justice for action. By his explanation, this interpretation is founded on the common understanding of the meaning of “to initiate” which means to begin. He reminds that the Constitution is ratified by the people, both ordinary and sophisticated, as they understand it; and that ordinary people read ordinary meaning into ordinary words and not abstruse meaning, they ratify words as they understand it and not as sophisticated lawyers confuse it.

To the argument that only the House of Representatives as a body can initiate impeachment proceedings because Section 3 (1) says “The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment,” This is a misreading of said provision and is contrary to the principle of reddendo singula singulis by equating “impeachment cases” with “impeachment proceeding.”

From the records of the Constitutional Commission, to the amicus curiae briefs of two former Constitutional Commissioners, it is without a doubt that the term “to initiate” refers to the filing of the impeachment complaint coupled with Congress’ taking initial action of said complaint.

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.

Underscore mine. Let us now apply the decision to the current impeachment proceedings in the Lower House. It is not denied that Lozano was the first to file a complaint. Neither is it denied that his complaint was endorsed by two members of the House. Now relate those facts with the underscored phrase in the quoted portion of the Supreme Court decision. Clearly, the prohibition has set in. I really don’t see how Guingona, Escudero and even San Juan Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, a lawyer, can keep insisting that all three complaints be discussed in form and in substance.

Now, let us go into why the opposition keeps insisting that all three complaints be discussed at the same time. Well, see, Lozano’s complaint is critically flawed. Its substance consists of “betrayal of public trust arising from the ‘Gloriagate’ tapes”. But the tapes are illegal wire-taps and are, therefore, inadmissible as evidence. What happens to flawed complaints? They get torn into thousands of tiny pieces and unceremoniously tossed into the garbage can. Figuratively speaking, of course. But you get the idea.

On the other hand, the third complaint—the one prepared and signed by opposition congressmen—enumerates many allegations and ‘Gloriagate’ is only one of them. In short, unless the opposition can get the Justice Committee to agree to accept the third complaint, the impeachment case will never go to trial. These people don’t care about the law; they just want to have their way. Opposition impeachment spokesperson Allan Peter Cayetano proved that when he said that if the charges don’t get a fair hearing, they would take their evidence to the public instead of the justice committee. Ironic, isn’t it, when it is their job to make laws.

The opposition even goes so far as to call for Justice Committee chairperson Simeon Datumanong to inhibit himself from the proceedings mainly because he made public statements that the ‘Gloriagate’ tapes are inadmissible as evidence and because he is aware of the one-year prohibition rule. Darn, he shouldn’t take part in the proceedings because he knows the law? Really… The opposition will never cease to amaze me.

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