Sereno, CA chief back justices in clash vs solons
The House of Representatives and the judiciary may be headed for a showdown over the detention of six Ilocos Norte officials and employees who had been called to a legislative inquiry on corruption allegations.
In a rare joint statement, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Court of Appeals Presiding Justice Andres Reyes Jr. on Wednesday came to the defense of three CA magistrates who had been threatened with contempt by the House committee that conducted the inquiry.
The committee voted unanimously on Monday to issue a show cause order to the three CA justices to explain why they should not be held in contempt for encroaching on the legislature’s prerogatives by ordering the release of the “Ilocos Six” from House detention.
Other legal options
“Cognizant of its implications on (the) separation of powers and judicial independence, (we) express deep concern over the show cause order issued by the House committee on good government and public accountability,” Sereno and Reyes said.
The heads of the country’s two highest judicial bodies said the House may seek other legal options in questioning the June 9 resolution of the appellate court’s Special Fourth Division granting the habeas corpus petition of the six Ilocos Norte officials and employees.
“In this light, it is our hope that the House of Representatives reconsider its order and that it instead avail of all legal remedies that are provided to it under the Constitution, the law and the Rules of Court,” they said.
They said the House “is not without any speedy legal remedy that is consistent with the separation of powers should it disagree with the action of the Court of Appeals, such as an appeal.”
The House has been at loggerheads with the three appeals court justices — Associate Justices Stephen Cruz, Edwin Sorongon and Nina Antonio-Valenzuela — after they issued their release order, which were rebuffed three times by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
The six—provincial planning and development officer and bids and awards committee chair Pedro Agcaoili, provincial budget officer Evangeline Tabulog, provincial treasurer Josephine Calajate, accountant Eden Battulayan, and treasury office staff Genedine Jambaro and Encarnacion Gaor—have been detained since May 29.
They were cited for contempt for allegedly refusing to answer questions during the House inquiry into the allegedly irregular procurement of P66.45 million worth of vehicles by the provincial government under Gov. Imee Marcos.
Alvarez had called the justices “idiots” for their “gross ignorance of the law” and later threatened to dissolve the appeals court.
Tantamount to torture
During an interview by the Judicial and Bar Council on Monday, Cruz said they were just doing their duty as magistrates.
He said the House may bring any case against them to the Supreme Court.
“If we falter because of some threats, then we would show our weakness as magistrates. As I have said, let justice be done though the heavens fall,” Cruz said.
“If we are wrong, they could always go up to the Supreme Court. What we did, your honor, was our duty. We found that the writ should be issued,” he added.
According to former Solicitor General Estelito Mendoza, lawyer for the Ilocos Six, the writ of habeas corpus should be implemented immediately even if the House challenges the CA’s release order.
He said that the “undue emotional and psychological anguish” which the six have been experiencing since they were ordered detained were tantamount to torture.
“The detainees are undergoing torture, which is barred by international conventions and explicitly under our laws as well,” Mendoza said in a statement.
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