Garcia rallies House: Stand together vs 'illegal encroachment' of Ombudsman

MANILA, Philippines – Two days after the Ombudsman announced a dismissal order against her, Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia called on her colleagues to “stand together” against an action she has dismissed as illegal.

“And so I ask, and I repeat, that instead of allowing an illegal encroachment of what is constitutionally and statutorily the exclusive domain of this House, we all stand together,” she said in a speech delivered during privilege hour on February 14, Wednesday.

Garcia, who represents the 3rd district of Cebu province, was ordered dismissed by the Ombudsman over the backfilling deal for a controversial property in Naga City, Cebu.

The Ombudsman said she committed grave misconduct in entering into a deal with a construction company to backfill the Balili Property, which was also the subject of junked administrative complaints against her.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier said he would not implement the order because doing so would violate the Constitution.

While the Ombudsman’s powers include punishing and even dismissing public officials, Alvarez said that only the House, through a plenary vote, can dismiss its members.

Garcia was also reacting to opposition bloc leader Albay 1st District Edcel Lagman, who had mocked Alvarez for apparently misinterpreting the Constitution.

Garcia said hers was a call “not necessarily to stand with me but to stand guard and stand true to this institution, the Constitution, and the laws.”

Where in the law?

Garcia read sections of the Ombudsman law, and said that Section 13, which spells out the powers, functions, and duties of the office, does not contain any provision that says the Ombudsman may discipline members of Congress.

The lawmaker added that Article VI of the 1987 Constitution gives the House the “exclusive power” to determine sanctions, suspensions, and possible dismissal of its members.

But the section does not explicitly say the House has the “exclusive” power. Rather, it says: “Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds of all its Members, suspend or expel a Member. A penalty of suspension, when imposed, shall not exceed sixty days.”

Still, citing Section 21 of the Ombudsman law, Garcia said the office is explicitly prohibited from having authority over Congress.

The section reads: “The Office of the Ombudsman shall have disciplinary authority over all elective and appointive officials of the Government and its subdivisions, instrumentalities and agencies, including Members of the Cabinet, local government, government-owned or controlled corporations and their subsidiaries, except over officials who may be removed only by impeachment or over Members of Congress, and the Judiciary.”

The suspension stems from a case filed back in 2013, or her last year as Cebu governor. She was elected representative of the 3rd district during the 2013 elections and is currently serving her second consecutive term.

Malacañang, through former House member spokesman Harry Roque, earlier insisted that only Congress has the power to sanction its members.

Garcia declined to be interpelated after her speech. Lagman, noting that he was mentioned extensively by Garcia, said he would rebutt her assertions at a different time. "Not today... because today is Valentine's day," said Lagman. – Rappler.com