Choose your battles | BusinessMirror

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There are three branches of the government—Legislative, Executive and Judiciary. Each department of the government has exclusive cognizance of the matters within its jurisdiction and is supreme within its own sphere. But it does not follow from the fact that the three powers are to be kept separate and distinct that the Constitution intended them to be absolutely unrestrained and independent of each other. The Constitution has provided for an elaborate system of checks and balances to secure coordination in the workings of the various departments of the government.

Basically, the Legislative branch is generally limited to the enactment of laws. The Executive branch implements the laws and the Judicial branch interprets the laws. The call for “inquiry in aid of legislation” can only be used wherein it is indispensable to the lawmaking process. The power of both houses of Congress to conduct inquiries in aid of legislation is not absolute or unlimited as Section 21 of Article VI of the Constitution circumscribes the exercise. The investigation must be “in aid of legislation” in accordance with the published rules of procedure and that “the rights of persons appearing in or affected by such inquiries shall be respected”. It follows then that the rights of persons under the Bill of Rights must be respected, including the right to due process and the right not to be compelled to testify against one’s self (Bengzon v. Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, et al. GR 89914).

There is nothing complicated about these two basic principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. And yet, no less than the Supreme Court has to remind the House of Representatives that it is infringing on the independence of the Judiciary and the separation of powers when it issued a show cause order against three Court of Appeals (CA) magistrates who ordered the release on bail of six officials of the provincial government of Ilocos Norte. These six officials (now known as the “Ilocos Six”)—Pedro Agcaoili (Provincial Planning and Development Office chairman); Josephine Calajate (provincial treasurer); Eden Battulayan (Provincial Treasurer’s office staff); Encarnacion Gaor (Provincial Treasurer’s office staff ) and Evangeline Tabulog (provincial budget officer)—have been detained since May 29, at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City for their alleged refusal to shed light on the alleged misuse of P66.45 million in tobacco levy funds to buy vehicles without public bidding under the Watch of Ilocos Norte Gov. Imee R. Marcos.

The House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability cited for contempt these Ilocos Six for snubbing twice the committee’s previous hearings despite subpoenas served on them on May 15, and for refusing to answer questions of the committee. This led to the filing by the detained Ilocos Six of a Petition for Habeas Corpus in the CA to question the propriety of their detention on the basis of their assertion that in refusing the answer questions of the House Committee, they invoked their constitutional right against self-incrimination. The CA, acting on the petition that is clearly within its jurisdiction, ordered the immediate release of the Ilocos Six. The CA, through its process server attempted to serve the release order to the House leadership three times.

The House sergeant-at-arms, retired Lt. Gen. Roland M. Detabali, defied the CA order three times upon the instructions of Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez. Instead, in a move that shocked the entire legal profession, the House of Representatives ordered the three Justices of the CA who issued the release order to explain why they themselves should not be cited in contempt for ordering the release of the Ilocos Six. A contempt citation by the House may lead to the detention of CA Justices Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon and Nina Antonio Valenzuela of the CA’s Special Fourth Division. Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P.A. Sereno and CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. urged the House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability to reconsider its show-cause order to the three CA Justices. The House Committee, composed of 30 members, mostly lawyers, issued the contempt citation unanimously. It rejected the plea of Marcos to release the Ilocos Six or her recognizance and ignored the position of former Solicitor General Estelito P. Mendoza that the continued detention of the Ilocos Six “under pitiable conditions” at the House of Representatives “constitutes torture under the anti-torture law.” The 50,000 strong Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), of which all lawyers are mandated by the Constitution to be members, echoed the call of Sereno and Reyes to recall the show-cause order to the three CA Justices and instead avail themselves of the remedies available under the Rule of Law, such as filing a Petition for Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court if the House believes that there was grave abuse of discretion by the three CA Justices.

The IBP said the House should respect the authority of the CA to act and rule on the petition for habeas corpus, the same way the contempt and detention power of the House must, likewise, be respected.

Indeed, the determination of whether the right of the Ilocos Six against self-incrimination was properly involved is a justiciable issue that is well within the authority of the judiciary to determine. The CA did not interfere with nor encroach on the power of the House when it acted favorably on the habeas corpus petition. That is what the “checks and balances” is all about.

If we are still a nation believing in the Rule of Law, Alvarez, (himself a lawyer) should not foment discord but instead exercise sobriety, to avoid the conflict between the Judiciary and the House from escalating.  At a time when our countrymen (civilian and military) are engaged in a war against violent extremism in Mindanao, it is senseless, nonproductive and even unpatriotic to attack the integrity of our institutions. Alvarez is quoted as saying he wants to abolish the CA.

With due respect, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez should choose his battles!!!



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