DAVIDE CASE: GMA CALLS FOR COVENANT BETWEEN CONGRESS AND JUDICIARY

MALACANANG, October 30, 2003  (BULLETIN) To break deadlock in Davide impeachment case; solons urge use of break as cooling-off period

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday sought a covenant between leaders of Congress and the Judiciary aimed at finding an immediate and mutually agreed solution to break the deadlock on how to dispose of the impeachment complaint lodged against Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Hilario Davide.

In a press statement she read while in Davao City, the President said the covenant that would be forged will save the country and its democratic system from "more harm than good" should the impeachment controversy haunting Davide and his critics in the House of Representatives fail to reach a principled compromise.

"I call for a covenant between the two branches of government to resolve this impasse under the principle that it is High Court alone that has the final authority to interpret the Constitution and the laws of the land, but keeping in mind the need for strong institutional checks and balances," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo offered the idea of a covenant to allay growing fears that the country is facing a constitutional crisis when the SC has issued an order for the Lower House to maintain the status quo, and thereby, desist from disposing or acting on the impeachment complaint against Davide.

The high tribunal's order against the Lower House practically handcuffed Congress leader's hands from formally transmitting the Articles of Impeachment against Davide to the Senate, which upon receipt of the complaint, shall convene itself into an impeachment trial court.

Congress leaders and representatives of Davide have until Nov. 10 to iron out their differences and forge a mutually-agreed solution, otherwise the impeachment complaint now pending at the Lower House might be rushed up for transmitted to the Senate.

The Chief Executive said she remains hopefuls that a "principled compromise" could still be reached soon when the two warring factions would shed off their "personal or partisan concerns for the supreme national interest. Let us reach forth for this solution without blame or recrimination," she said.

Presidential spokesperson Ignacio Bunye, in his regular press briefing at Malacaņang, dismissed claims by some quarters that there already exists a constitutional crisis triggered by the high tribunal's order on the Lower House to stop its action on the impeachment complaint against Davide.

"We realize we are facing a grave situation and we don't wish the situation to escalate. That is why all efforts are being exerted to come up with a solution to this crisis," he said, optimistic that the 10-day adjournment of Congress session will produce the "principled compromise" the government is looking for.

Davide was accused of allegedly mishandling the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), also known as the cost-living allowance for the 25,000 members of the judiciary, when he authorized the purchase of luxury cars, vacation homes and office furnishings for justices in first and second courts nationwide.

Restudy positions

House leaders yesterday called on lawmakers and Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. to use the congressional break to back away from their heated arguments and restudy their positions in order to avert a brewing constitutional crisis and safeguard national interest.

Reps. Prospero Pichay (Surigao del Sur), chairman of the House committee on national defense, Prospero Nograles (Davao City), chairman of the House committee on housing and urban development, and Monico Puentevella (Bacolod City), chairman of the House committee on youth and sports development made the call.

"It's time to cool off from all the heated arguments and rhetorics. The smear campaign against congressmen has forced them to justify their position. If there's an honorable solution to the impeachment complaint, it should not just be a matter of lawmakers withdrawing their signatures but also for the Supreme Court to honor the oversight power of congressmen as well as their power to initiate an impeachment," Pichay said.

For his part, Puentevella said the two-week recess maybe providential for both sides to review their positions even as stressed that the biggest victim of the unresolved issue is the economy.

"Let's all pray for a peaceful solution to this issue. Kawawa naman ang sambayanang Pilipino," Puentevella said.

Nograles was hopeful that the break would provide both the lawmakers and the Davide a respite from all their arguments and help them find a practicable solution.

Nograles pointed out that only the Senate can resolve the impeachment because it is a political question beyond the judicial power to review, and that the House is sole prosecutor. "At this point, only President Arroyo can solve the crisis."

Nograles said impeachment is an exception to general power of courts to review because the Supreme Court is not absolutely without checks.

House stand

Leaders of the House of Representatives agreed yesterday to question Supreme Court's claim of jurisdiction over the ongoing impeachment issue and to transmit to the Senate and the Articles of Impeachment when session resumes.

Speaker Jose de Venecia said that aside from the two vital decisions, a multi-party caucus participated in by 24 congressmen also reached a consensus to request President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to call a special session that would allow congressmen to make up for lost time when the House abruptly adjourned session on Tuesday.

The decision had undercut a proposal for the creation of a five-man Truth Superbody that a group of congressmen said may provide the most "acceptable win-win" formula that could stave off the crisis that would pit the legislature and the judiciary against each other.

Led by Rep. Faysah RPM Dumarpa (Lakas, Lanao del Sur), congressmen said the body will be composed of top officials representing three branches of government and two constitutional agencies that would to probe the Judiciary Development Fund expenses.

De Venecia said the House will commission private lawyers to represent congressmen before the High Court. The legal counsel will question the power of the judiciary to issue a status quo order that, in effect, stopped the chamber from further acting on the impeachment case endorsed by at least 90 congressmen.

The House leader presided over the caucus held at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel after pro-impeachment solons protested the surprise adjournment of sessions.

De Venecia said the articles of impeachment will be transmitted to the Senate after they are debated on the floor when Congress starts its special session.

Senior Deputy Minority Leader Constantino Jaraula, together with Reps. Antonino Roman (Bataan) and Nanette Castelo Daza (Quezon City), lamented the SC decision to issue the status quo directive.

Jaraula said the crisis has turned for the worse because of the directive.

Roman predicted that the Lower House would vote to defy the High Court order if the issue were to be placed on a vote.

"By issuing the status quo order, the Supreme Court invited the ire of legislators who are not supportive of the impeachment move. We believe it is an overreaction because sessions were adjourned precisely to give way to negotiations," said Castelo Daza, who is not a signatory of the impeachment case.

Dumarpa revealed that the proposed Truth Superbody would be given a 30 day deadline within which to conduct a thorough probe of the allegations against Davide and submit its findings to both the judiciary and the House.

The proposal has started to draw support from many solons, including Reps. Kim Lokin (Partylist, Cibac), James Gordon (Lakas, Olongapo City), Reylina Nicolas (Lakas, Bulacan), Raul Villareal (Lakas, Nueva Ecija), and J. Mayo Almario (Lakas, Davao Oriental).

Under the proposal the commission will be headed by the chairman of either the House committee on justice or the committee on good government.

Dumarpa said members would include the chairmen of the Commission on Audit and Civil Service Commission, a Supreme Court justice, and a representative from the executive department, preferably the chairman of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission.

"A few days from now, our country will be plunged into a serious constitutional crisis that would threaten our stability and give those seeking to destroy democracy the long-awaited chance to pounce on it. I appeal to all concerned to be more circumspect about the impeachment issue, she off their political and self-interests and take a long, hard look at the proposal," Dumarpa said.

Lokin urged the leadership of the Lower House and the Supreme Court to give "the idea a deeper thought" even as she called on Malacaņang support.

"I believe this proposal would save the day for all of us," she said.

Gordon (Lakas, Olongapo City); Nicolas (Lakas, Bulacan), and Villareal (Lakas, Nueva Ecija) vowed to lobby for the adoption of the so-called "winning formula" to the impeachment standoff.

"This is the solution that escaped the minds of the leaders of the impeachment and representatives of Davide when they attempted to negotiate for a compromise to the crisis," said Gordon.

'Premature'

The Philippine Senate is set to file today (Oct. 30) a manifestation with the Supreme Court declaring as "premature" the high court's order of "status quo" on the Davide impeachment case insofar as the Senate is concerned.

In a media interview, Senate President Franklin M. Drilon disclosed that the manifestation will "be basically saying that as a matter of comity and respect to a co-equal branch of government, without the Senate submitting to the jurisdiction of the Court, the case against the Senate is premature and that there is no justiciable issue insofar as the Senate is concerned."

Drilon pointed out that the Articles of Impeachment drawn up by more than one-third of the members of the House of Representatives against Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. had not yet been transmitted to the Senate. "It is the official receipt by the Senate of the Articles of Impeachment that gives rise to the legal obligation to constitute ourselves into an impeachment court and proceed with the trial," Drilon explained.

He warned, however, that while the issue has not yet reached a constitutional crisis, "if not handled carefully, it will lead to that."

He added that since Articles of Impeachment had not been transmitted to the Senate, the latter has no constitutional duty to conduct an impeachment trial and to consider the complaint and the evidence in support of it. He stressed that the issue remains in the House of Representatives, which has the burden of defending the constitutionality of the second impeachment complaint against Davide.

Drilon, however, admitted that the injunction issued by the Court "has very serious implications and must be studied carefully because it involves a co-equal branch of government."

A legal luminary and former justice secretary, Drilon said, "this is the first time in our legal history that the Supreme Court has issued an injunction against the Congress of the Philippines. I am not aware that this has happened in the past. I am not aware of any jurisdiction on this point and it has very serious implications. There are no precedents on this point."

Drilon further said that it is the Rules of the House and not those of the Senate that are at issue with regard to the constitutionality of the second impeachment complaint. "There is really nothing in the Senate that could give rise to a case nor has the Senate done anything which could be the subject of a case before the Supreme Court," he said.

Drilon added that the Senate will not even participate in oral arguments before the Supreme Court. "What will I argue? The case is premature against us. I cannot defend anything. There is nothing to defend, no action or rule of the senate to defend, nothing to comment on," he asserted.

Encroachment

Opposition Senators Edgardo J. Angara and Aquilino Q. Pimentel, both former Senate presidents, said yesterday the Supreme Court decision ordering a status quo in the impeachment controversy involving Chief Justice Hilario Davide constitutes an "undue encroachment into the domain of the Legislative branch."

Senate President Franklin M. Drilon filed a manifestation before the Supreme Court that the petitions on which it based its order to maintain the status quo "are plainly premature and have no basis in law or in fact."

"The constitutional duty of the Senate to constitute itself as an impeachment court commences only upon its receipt of the Articles of Impeachment. To date, the Senate has not received the Articles of Impeachment. Thus, the Senate is not called upon to perform any act," Drilon said.

Former Senate Majority Leader Francisco S. Tatad, now an opposition leader, said, "There is now a total breakdown of the constitutional order, and only a constitutional rescue may be able to prevent anarchy from spreading."

"We have reached the point of no returns. The nation is so badly battered it may not survive for long. We must now convince President Arroyo to give way to a government that derives its authority from the people's will," he said..

Angara supported the view that the status quo order was premature "because the political institutions - Congress and the Presidency - are trying to work out a principled solution to it and when the Supreme Court intervenes at that point, I think they are creating an unnecessary constitutional issue."

He said the Supreme Court should not have stepped into the picture at this point and should allow political institutions to resolve a political problem.

While he believes in the personal integrity of Davide, Pimentel said, it is his view that the High Court's action on the case is wrong and is an illegal act.

No matter how carefully worded was the Supreme Court's status quo order, it takes the nature of an order and is, therefore, an act of impropriety, Pimentel added.

"In the final analysis, if we will allow an erroneous practice, this will render nugatory the right and power of Congress as the impeaching body to check abuses of the Executive and the Judiciary. This will adversely affect us all and we will regret it," Pimentel said.

As Senate president in 2000-2001, Pimentel, along with Chief Justice Davide, presided over the Senate impeachment trial of deposed President Estrada based on an impeachment petition initiated by the House of Representatives.

If the Lower House commits an error or infraction in the impeachment process, only one government body is authorized by the Constitution to correct it - the Senate acting as an impeachment court, he said.

In the hierarchy of jurisdictional authority, Pimentel continued, "the impeachment court is the highest in the land, yes, higher than the Supreme Court, on matters of impeachment."

He said the abrupt decision of the House to adjourn "keeps the issue hanging in the air because the last thing the people want is for such an an end (to the controversy)."

"A constitutional crisis has been done by the precipitate action by the Supreme Court," he said.

Angara saw the Supreme Court order as provoking the "hardening of position which is the unwilling consequence of a premature interference and intervention, especially because this is a highly political case."

"There is a doctrine in law that if it is a political controversy, then courts should dare not intervene and step in. Let the political institutions of government resolve that political controversy," Angara said.

"But what the court has done, and I hope that it will not go farther than saying that the status quo should be maintained, because if it goes farther than that, then I see a classic constitutional confrontation which is quite unnecessary."

Angara said "the matter of impeachment is purely a political solution provided by the Constitution and the process should have been allowed by the Supreme Court without it to step in at this point."

He pointed out there is an implied self interest in the controversy because no less than the Chief Justice is being the party directly affected.

Angara also said the decision of Congress leaders to adjourn abruptly last Tuesday gives the parties time to reflect on how to resolve an impending constitutional crisis spawned by the impeachment petition.

The nub of the controversy is the refusal of Chief Justice Davide to open the books on the multi-billion-peso Judicial Development Fund (JDF) that the congressmen, mostly from the political opposition, claimed was tainted with corruption.

The Supreme Court, without Davide participating, the other day ordered the signatories of six petition questioning the constitutionality of the impeachment petition and the rules of the House and the respondents "to refrain from committing acts that would render the petitions moot."

Angara, a former University of the Philippines (UP) president, suggested that the Supreme Court now sit back and look at the whole situation "not only at their own case but in the case of the country and the political distribution and allocation of power within our system (as) it may cause unnecessary unbalancing of the system of checks and balance provided in the Constitution in our system."

He said the best defense of any insinuation of graft in the handling of the JDF funds is for the Chief Justice to open the books on the JDF.

"By doing so, I don't think that the Supreme Court, especially the Chief Justice, is abdicating its judicial independence. In fact, it will strengthen the sense of independence of the court by being transparent and showing to the people that it is accountable rather than above the law," he said.

After asking everybody to pause, lay back, and see how the situation can be contained, Angara said the House adjournment is a more effective freeze than the Supreme Court status quo "because then it is by the action of the body itself, and no one will be accused of having interfered in their processes."

Tatad, however, maintained that the government has all but ceased to function.

"All three co-equal and coordinate branches are down. The presidency lies in ruins, with Mrs. Arroyo unable to govern. The Supreme Court is a wreck, with the justices unlawfully ordering the House of Representatives to stop Chief Justice Davide's impeachment. The House is in a mess, with its leaders doing everything to prevent the impeachment complaint from getting to the Senate. Nothing is working anymore. We need to overhaul the system," he said.

Tatad then called on the various political forces to come together and plan the constitutional rescue "before a force stronger than any of them decides unilaterally to fill the vacuum."

Lawyers for Davide

One-hundred eighty-eight litigation lawyers from Metro Manila, the provinces, and California, New York have volunteered to defend Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. in the impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives and in the trial in the Senate, it was revealed today by Dean Antonio R. Tupaz, of the Defense Panel of Davide.

At the same time, Tupaz said that two more lawyers were added to the defense panel, namely Florencio B. Orendain, whose strength is in advocacy and former ConCon delegate Ricardo Sagmit of Pampanga, practitioner in Central Luzon and Manila.

The defense panel, aside from Tupaz, is composed of Leonard de Vera, president of the "Equal Justice for All," of Makati, former UP law dean Froilan Bacungan, former commissioner Ruben E. Agpalo, a multi-awarded book author, Florencio B. Orendain, and ConCon Delegate Ricardo Sagmit.

Ople

Senior administration and opposition leaders yesterday urged the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives to consider the national interest and reach a compromise on the deadlocked negotiations prior to formal impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas F. Ople of administration party Lakas-CMD and independent nationalist Vice President Teofisto Guingona Jr. have expressed concerns on the adverse effects another impeachment trial would have on the country's political and economic stability.

Ople, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Convention, said the deadlock in the negotiations to avoid formal impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Davide may result in a Constitutional crisis that may be exploited by "frustrated military men to gain power for themselves."

House Speaker Jose De Venecia earlier this week had suggested a solution to avert a clash between the legislative and judiciary branches of government and avoid an impending Constitutional crisis harmful to the country's political and economic stability.

But Davide rejected De Venecia's offer and insisted that formal impeachment trial proceeds, saying that "any compromise would compromise my stand that I am innocent o the charges."

Ople, however, urged both branches of government to reach a compromise, warning that a constitutional crisis "can harm the country's political and economic stability."

Vice President Guingona also urged Congress and the Supreme Court to break the impasse created by the status quo order of the Supreme Court on the impeachment complaint against Davide.

"I am still looking for a formula to resolve this," Guingona told reporters on Tuesday, adding that he had been calling on his friends from Lakas-CMD and in the judiciary to help resolve the deadlock.

Guingona said he supports the solution offered by Speaker De Venecia that Congress and the Commission on Audit (COA) look into the financial books of the Supreme Court to know the truth on the alleged misuse of the Judiciary Development Fund.

"What I'm saying is that Congress, under the Constitution, has the power of the purse. Lahat ng pondo sa budget at mayroon silang karapatan to go over because they have the power over the budget-including COA, including the Supreme Court," Guingona said. (David Cagahastian)

Nograles, Umali

Two administration solons yesterday said, the Supreme Court may have breached the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature by ordering a status quo on the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Hilario Davide.

Reps. Prospero Nograles of Davao City and Aurelio Umali of Nueva Ecija said the impeachment complaint against Davide is a political question and it is already beyond the High Court's judicial power to review.

"The stay order violates the separation of power to impeach and is beyond judicial power to review. The impeachment process can't be a subject of stay order from co-equal body. The order may have pushed the button for a full-blown Constitutional crisis," Umali said.

"This action of the Supreme Court can be viewed as a serious breach to the powers bestowed by the Constitution to Congress. Only the Senate as an impeachment court can control the House as prosecutors," Nograles, who was among those who did not sign the impeachment complaint, on the other hand pointed out.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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