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Another SC justice gets closer to impeachment

MANILA, Philippines (Feb 8, 2012) - While the Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona is ongoing, another Supreme Court (SC) justice is getting closer to being impeached.

Voting 27-4 with one abstention, the House committee on justice handily hurdled the third step of its four-step impeachment process by finding “sufficient ground for impeachment” against Justice Mariano del Castillo for alleged plagiarism and misrepresentation.

Minutes before it found enough ground to pursue the impeachment complaint against Del Castillo, the committee, by a 28-5 vote, threw out a motion presented by former minority leader Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman to dismiss the case.

If the two lopsided votes were a portent of things to come, it could be just a matter of time before the House impeaches Del Castillo, who is going on sick leave next week.

According to SC spokesman Midas Marquez, Del Castillo would take a leave next week to undergo a heart bypass operation.

Those who voted against Lagman’s motion belong to the ruling Liberal Party and its coalition partners, including the Nationalist People’s Coalition bloc led by Valenzuela Rep. Rex Gatchalian.

Four allies of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the minority bloc joined Lagman in voting to dismiss the Del Castillo case.

They were Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao, Mitos Magsaysay of Zambales, Rodolfo Albano of Isabela, and Orlando Fua of Siquijor. New Minority Leader Danilo Suarez was absent.

Lagman, now an independent, abstained in the second vote, saying it was he who moved for the dismissal of the complaint on the ground that the justice committee no longer has jurisdiction over it.

Justice committee chairman Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. of Iloilo, who is leading the prosecution of Corona in his Senate impeachment trial, found time to convene his committee on the Del Castillo case.

Tupas said his panel would conduct at least two more hearings next week before voting to determine “whether there is probable cause to impeach Justice Del Castillo,” the last step in the committee-level impeachment process.

“In the first hearing, we will hear the complainants. In the second hearing, we will call the respondent to listen to his side either personally or through his representative,” he said.

Marquez, meanwhile, said “He (Del Castillo) underwent bypass several years ago, but apparently the bypass was not very successful because the arteries – except for one – remained clumped therefore there is also some degree of urgency that he undergo another bypass, another procedure.”

Marquez said the operation was originally set last month. He added Del Castillo is expected to report back to work two to three weeks after surgery.

Marquez also gave assurance that Del Castillo would answer the charges before the House committee on justice.

“I understand there will be hearings before the justice committee decides whether or not to send the impeachment case to the plenary,” he said.

Marquez though lamented the House’s action on the complaint filed by lawyer Harry Roque Jr. when the SC already ruled in October 2010 that the allegations of plagiarism, twisting of cited materials and gross neglect against the magistrate lacked merit.

“It’s unfortunate that they seemed not to have taken consideration of that decision by the court,” Marquez said.

In two separate meetings, the House panel led by Tupas had previously voted to find the complaint against Del Castillo sufficient in form and substance, the first two steps in the committee-level impeachment proceeding.

“We will wrap this up next week so that we can submit a report to the House,” Tupas said.

Three other members of the Corona prosecution team attended the hearing on the Del Castillo case. They are Representatives Erin Tañada of Quezon, Reynaldo Umali of Oriental Mindoro and Raul Daza of Northern Samar.

The presence and participation of four top House leaders in the hearing could be an indication of the importance the majority coalition attaches to the Del Castillo case.

Aside from Tañada and Daza, who are deputy speakers, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II and Deputy Speaker Maria Isabel Climaco voted with their colleagues in the majority against Del Castillo.

Gonzales later told reporters that the ongoing Corona trial and the Del Castillo impeaching proceeding in the House “are not related.”

“There is no connection between the two. We are just doing the job given to us by the Constitution,” he said.

Some opposition lawmakers have raised the possibility that administration allies could be engaged in a “squeeze play” against Del Castillo and other justices, whom the Tupas prosecution team wants to testify in the Corona trial.

In moving for the dismissal of the Del Castillo complaint, Lagman said the justice committee has already exceeded its deadline of 60 “session days” within which to finish its hearings and submit a report to the House.

“A session day corresponds to a calendar day when the House is assembled and transacts business on a daily basis as documented in the congressional journal. By my count, as of today, 84 session days had already lapsed,” he said.

But Gonzales said the House defines a “session day as a day when we convene until we adjourn.”

“This means that we can have several days of session and those can be counted only as one session day, like when we are tackling the national budget,” he said.

Lagman said if such definition were “stretched,” it would mean that congressmen could meet “in perpetuity” by convening and not adjourning.

Asked what he would do about the justice committee’s decision to vote down his motion for the dismissal of the Del Castillo complaint, Lagman said, “There is a remedy, but I cannot tell you now.”

He refused to say if the remedy lies with the SC.

But as far as Malacañang is concerned, it will be up to the leadership of the House of Representatives if they want to impeach another member of the SC, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

“We will leave this to the House. We understand, of course, that there is an ongoing impeachment trial in the Senate for another SC justice and we will leave it to the judgment of the House,” Valte said.

Once Del Castillo is impeached, just like what 188 congressmen did with Corona, then he will also have to undergo trial by the Senate impeachment court that is still conducting trial on the chief magistrate.

“We leave it to them on how to deal with the fact that the committee on justice has already ruled on the petition. The petition was filed before the one against Chief Justice Corona and it was filed by a private group from what I understand,” Valte said.

Having another impeachment trial, side by side with that of Corona’s, will be well “within the wisdom of the House to determine, and not the executive (department),” Valte pointed out.

Another burden

During the Corona trial at the Senate yesterday Sen. Joker Arroyo said handling two impeachment cases “side by side,” one against Corona and the other for Del Castillo, would be too burdensome for the senator-judges.

Arroyo made the statement as he sought clarification from Tupas regarding the impending impeachment against Del Castillo at the House.

Arroyo said he was informed that the House Committee on Justice led by Tupas is drawing up the impeachment case against Del Castillo.

“We (the senators) are apprehensive that if you collect two thirds of the House, it will be immediately transmitted to the Senate. We are worried about that, thrown to our lap,” Arroyo asked Tupas during yesterday’s impeachment hearing.

Arroyo stressed that handling two impeachment cases “side by side” would be too burdensome for the Senate.

“We just want to know because I hope we do not make a cottage industry out of the impeachment. It’s not easy for us,” he said.

Tupas explained that the Del Castillo case will be taken up in the plenary and few more hearings at the committee level are to be held even before that.(From