House panel moves on impeach bid vs another SC Justice

MANILA, Philippines - The House Committee on Justice on Tuesday, February 7 moved on an impeachment complaint against another justice of the Supreme Court.

By a vote of 27 in favor, 4 against and 1 abstention, the panel declared that the impeachment complaint against Supreme Court Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo is "sufficient in grounds."

The impeachment complaint is now one step away from plenary voting. The justice committee will hold more hearings to vote if complaint has "probable cause."

Tupas said they will give Del Castillo a chance to defend himself before the committee. The Justice can come himself or he can send a representative.

Plagiarism

Del Castillo is accused of betrayal of public trust for allegedly plagiarizing the works of three foreign experts in his legal opinion. This pertains to the Associate Justice's decision that dismissed the petition of 70 Filipino comfort women to compel the Philippine government to get a public apology from Tokyo and to provide reparation to victims of sexual abuse  during World War II.

Committee chair Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. said the complaint is not plagiarism per se. "It's the act of non-attribution and "twisting" of experts' decisions," he said.

If it reaches the plenary, about 95 votes are needed to send the complaint to the Senate for trial.

Longer track

The impeachment complaint against Del Castillo is taking the longer track compared to the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Corona's went straight to the Senate for trial because it got enough signatures before it was filed--that is, one-third of all members of House of Representatives. At least 188 members of the 285-strong House of Representatives signed the Corona impeachment articles.

The impeachment complaint against Del Castillo is taking the longer track in the committee, a process that was skipped in the impeachment complaint agaisnt Corona. Both tracks are allowed by the 1987 Constitution.

There are 4 voting stages in the House committee on justice: form, substance, grounds, and probable cause. This is different from the rules of the previous Congress, where the committee only had two voting stages--form and substance--before it is sent to the plenary.

The committee has already voted to in favor of form and substance in May 2011 and December 2011, respectively.

60-day rule

During Tuesday's committee hearing, former Minority Leader Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman argued that the committee has lost jurisdiction over the impeachment complaint.

Based on his own computation, Lagman said it has been 84 session days since the committee received the complaint.

"A day is considered 24 hours, not more than 24 hours," Lagman said.

But House majority leader Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II and Rep. Raul Daza said Lagman is wrong. Based on House official records, only 55 session days have lapsed.

"A session day is not a calendar day. It initiated by the adjournment of another session day," said Rep. Daza.

In the end, the committee voted 28-5 to declare that the prescription period has not lapsed.

The committee has 5 session days left to vote on probable cause.

Second impeachment trial?

While he said he cannot preempt the decision of the committee and the plenary, Tupas said they will make sure that the Senate will not have to tackle two impeachment trials at the same time.

"If ever [it reaches plenary vote and gets sufficient votes], I'm sure hindi maaabutan ng Corona impeachment. It will be transmitted to the plenary and it's up to the plenary to act on it," Tupas said.

The Constitution requires the House plenary to calendar the justice committee's recommendation within ten session days from receipt thereof.

The Supreme Court has cleared Del Castillo in the plagiarism case. The House leadership said this act by the SC oversteps the power of the House of Representatives. It's been made one of the 8 articles of impeachment against the Chief Justice.

Article 6 of the impeachment complaint reads: Respondent betrayed the public trust by arrogating unto himself, and to a committee he created, the authority and jurisdiction to improperly investigate a Justice of the Supreme Court for the purpose of exculpating him. Such authority and jurisdiction is properly reposed by the Constitution in the House of Representatives via impeachment. - Rappler.com