Congressman: House had instruction to junk impeachment vs. SC justices

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 12) — The House of Representatives' Justice Committee was following instructions when it junked an impeachment complaint against Supreme Court justices on Tuesday, a congressman said.

Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of those filed the complaint, told CNN Philippines' The Source that other congressmen hinted at it.

"Before the hearing, I talked to a member of the committee who said he feels that the impeachment complaints are in order. But I asked him, is there any instruction for the leadership for you to dismiss the complaint? He said in Filipino, 'Mahirap sabihin iyan [That's hard to say],'" Lagman recalled.

"But that is not all," he added. "After the voting, another member approached me. Sabi niya, 'Sorry. Tumayo ako laban sa impeachment complaint sapagkat hindi ko puwede hindi pagbigyan si Ma'am.'"

[Translation: He said, 'Sorry. I stood against the impeachment complaint because I have to give in to Ma'am.]

Lagman did not drop names, but the latter solon may have been referring to House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The former President attended the hearing on Tuesday, but did not speak. She quietly left the proceeding about 40 minutes after it started.

Lagman on Tuesday said that her presence could have been "an implied go signal to junk the complaints."

"You put these things together, and you are going to conclude empirically na meron talagang [there really was a] instruction," he said.

CNN Philippines requested comment from the Office of the House Speaker but Arrroyo's staff deferred to a statement by Justice Committee Chair Doy Leachon

Leachon said her attendance "must not be singled out to that effect." He added that she also attended hearings apart from this one.

"First, Ma'am [Arroyo] was notified to be there as [an] ex officio member, just like other ex officio members who were there," said Leachon. "Second, it's her right to be there as Speaker of the House."

The seven consolidated complaints, which were declared insufficent in substance on Tuesday, were filed against newly-appointed Chief Justice Teresita de Castro, Supreme Court Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Andres Reyes, Jr., Alexander Gesmundo, Francis Jardaleza, and Noel Tijam.

The complaint argued that the respondents committed culpable violation of the constitution and betrayal of public trust when they voted to unseat former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno through a quo warranto petition. The complainants maintained that impeachment is the only way to unseat a Chief Justice, and that the seven justices should have inhibited themselves since they showed bias against Sereno when they testified against her during impeachment hearings.

However, Lagman lamented that the discussion in the hearing "went outside the confines of the complaints" and dwelled on respect for the high court.

Up to the people now

Following the dismissal of the complaint, no impeachment charges can be filed against the accused justices for one year.

However, Lagman said there may be a recourse. He cited Article 204 of the Revised Penal Code, which provides: "Any judge who shall knowingly render an unjust judgment in any case submitted to him for decision, shall be punished by prision mayor and perpetual absolute disqualification."

"Nakasaad doon... yung mga mahistrado [who] knowingly rendered an unfair decision ay puwedeng sampahan ng criminal case. Iyon ay nasa Regional Trial Court," said Lagman.

[Translation: It says... criminal cases can be filed against magistrates [who] knowingly rendered an unfair decision. That's at the Regional Trial Court.]

He said there has not been a precedent where a Supreme Court judge is tried by a lower court, although it has happened to inferior court judges. However, the congressman said he is not likely to take up the case himself.

"Personally I do not think I'm going to do that," said Lagman, "but I'm telling the public, the private citizens, kung meron [sa kanilang] gustong mag-avail ng Revised Penal Code na pinaparusahan ang mga mahistrado na knowingly, wittingly, deliberately [rendered] an unjust decision or judgment."

[Translation: I'm telling the public, the private citizens, if someone wants to avail of the Revised Penal Code, which punishes magistrates who knowingly, wittingly, deliberately [rendered] an unjust decision or judgment.]

CNN Philippines' Correspondent Joyce Ilas and Senior Digital Producer Eimor Santos contributed to this report.