House cautioned of risks that can damage judicial institutions amid impeachment warnings

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The oldest voluntary national organization of lawyers in the Philippines warned the House of Representatives over its refusal to heed the lawful orders of the Court of Appeals (CA).

“We must defend as sacrosanct the Constitutional principles of separation of powers and judicial independence. Otherwise, we risk damaging our judicial institutions and substituting tyranny for the rule of law,” the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) said in its two-page statement released to public on Monday, July 3.

The PBA was referring to the CA’s decision to release six Ilocos Norte officials detained by the House of Representatives — Pedro Agcaoili, provincial planning and development office chairman; Josephine Calajate, treasurer; Eden Battulayan, Encarnacion Gaor and Genedine Jambaro of the treasurer’s office and Evangeline Tabulog, budget officer — for contempt after they refused to answer questions about an alleged anomaly involving the purchase of P66.45 million worth of vehicles, using funds from tobacco excise taxes.

According to Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, llocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos misused P66 million in tobacco funds.

The PBA argued that in Section 21 of the 1987 Constitution, the appeals court also has the original jurisdiction to issue the writ of habeas corpus, which is the “most efficacious safeguard of the liberty of individuals in a free society.”

“Section 1 of Republic Act No. 7902 grants the Court of Appeals original jurisdiction to issue writs of habeas corpus and auxiliary writs or processes with the power to try cases and conduct hearings, receive evidence and perform any and all acts necessary to resolve factual issues raised in cases falling within its original and appellate jurisdiction, including the power to grant and conduct new trials or further proceedings,” it explained.

The group added, “To now seek to punish the three justices who were merely performing their sworn duty to inquire into the basis of confinement or detention devalues the writ and imperils the zealous protection of individual liberty.”

Earlier, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP),  the mandatory organization of lawyers in the country,  had asked the House leadership to observe “the separation of powers, judicial independence, and the rule of law.”

The IBP statement was issued after Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno and CA Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. asked the House leadership to recall the show cause order issued against CA Associate Justices Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon, and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela.

Sereno and Reyes suggested that instead of challenging the orders of the CA, House leaders should rather avail of legal remedies under the rules of the court.

On Sunday, July 2, Sereno ordered the CA to evade the show-cause order. House Speaker Alvarez announced that if it would be proven that Sereno ordered the CA to defy the show-cause order asking three justices to explain why they should not be cited for contempt for granting the petition for habeas corpus of the six Ilocos Norte officials who have have been detained since May 29.

“If we found it to be true then we will discuss it in Congress for a possible impeachment case,” Alvarez said in a statement while he was in Southern Leyte to administer the oath-taking of new members of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).

Alvarez noted that Sereno’s offense, if proven to be true, falls under culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution and the all-encompassing betrayal of public trust.

Accordingly, Alvarez issued the warning after recently released reports stating Sereno influenced CA presiding Justice Andres Reyes to “reconsider” its show cause against the magistrates through signing a prepared judiciary statement.

According to the report, the chief magistrate also advised Reyes – who, coincidentally, is a classmate of Alvarez – and the concerned justices Stephen Cruz, Erwin Sorongon and Nina Antonino-Valenzuela not to comply with the House order.  Reyes relayed the message to Cruz and the rest.

On top of this, Sereno told the CA justices to immediately file a petition for prohibition before the Supreme Court should the House leadership push through with its show cause order, which it just did, and that the 15-man bench would just “take care of it. (With reports from Jennifer Soriano/AJPress)



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