No dismissal of Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia – Alvarez

MANILA, Philippines – Saying "there is nothing in the Constitution" that allows it, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said on Monday, February 12, that he would "definitely not" implement the Ombudsman's dismissal order against Cebu 3rd District Representative and Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia.

"My appropriate action is not to implement the order. Why? Because there is nothing in the Constitution that allows me to do that. In fact, it is not within the power of the Ombudsman to discipline, much more to remove any member of the House of Representatives. If I dismiss [Garcia], I would be violating the Constitution," said Alvarez in an interview with media.

Article XI of the Constitution, however, specifies under Accountability of Public Officers, that the Ombudsman may: "Direct the officer concerned to take appropriate action against a public official or employee at fault, and recommend his removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution, and ensure compliance therewith."

The Ombudsman on Monday announced its decision to dismiss Garcia over the purchase of the nearly P100-million Balili property back in 2008. Half of the property, it turned out, was underwater and part of a mangrove area.

Members of Congress say only they can suspend, sanction, or dismiss congressional members.

Alvarez said he considered the Ombudsman's order a dismissal order for Garcia as governor, and not as representative of Cebu's 3rd District. Garcia was governor of the province when the purchase was made.

"The order was late. It should have come out when she was still governor," added Alvarez.

Pressed on the legality of the Ombudsman's order, Alvarez insisted: "Wala akong makita sa Constitution, kanina ko pa binabasa, walang provision na nagsasabi na puwedeng gawin 'yun (I've been reading the Constitution and I cannot find a provision that says [the Ombudsman] can [sanction a sitting member of Congress])."

Garcia had earlier criticized the "timing" of the Ombudsman's order, linking it to her participation in an ongoing House justice committee hearing to determine probable cause in an impeachment case against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Alvarez's opinion differs from that of House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, who had earlier told reporters that they would "refer to plenary" the case of Garcia. Fariñas, who is also a lawyer, said they would determine too if the Ombudsman's order was valid in the first place.

Similarly in 2016, the Ombudsman tried – but failed – to dismiss a sitting member of Congress. It ordered the dismissal of Senator Joel Villanueva in 2016 but the Senate voted not to enforce the order, adopting the opinion that only Congress can sanction its members.

Senate lawyer Maria Valentina Cruz argued then that under Republic Act 6770 or the Ombudsman Act of 1989 and the Ombudsman's Rules of Procedure, the Ombudsman has no disciplinary and administrative authority, respectively, over members of Congress. –