Saturday, July 29, 2006


Prelude to Dismissing the Impeachment Complaint on Technicalities that have no Constitutional or Legal Basis

Sen. Mirriam Santiago’s legal analysis that the impeachment complaints filed recently will be dismissed on the principles of ‘res judicata’ and “double jeopardy” is without legal and constitutional basis.

According to the Supreme Court in Mirpuri vs. CA (GR 114508, 1999) “Res judicata has the following requisites: (1) the former judgment must be final (2) the judgment must be one on the merits, (3) it must have been rendered by a court having jurisdiction and (4) the parties, subject matter and causes of actions must be identical in the two cases.”

It is a well known principle among lawyers that ‘res judicata’ only applies if the original case has been dismissed by a court on the merits and the same issues are raised by the same parties in a second complaint. None of these elements are present. Sen. Santiago’s analysis may have been clouded by her pro-GMA sentiments when she missed the fact that the Amended Impeachment complaint was dismissed on a baseless technical and procedural ground last year, and was never tackled on the merits by the Justice Committee. Furthermore, the impeachment complaints contain new issues not raised in the amended complaint last year such as the imposition of Proclamation 1017, EO 464 and CPR. The parties in both complaint are also different since the current complaints were filed by citizens-complainants while the amended complaint last year was filed by members of Congress. Clearly res judicata does not apply.

CODAL also finds absurd the claim by Sen. Santiago, who was a former RTC judge, that the impeachment complaints constitute ‘double jeopardy’ against Pres. Arroyo. The Supreme Court declared in Guerrero vs. CA (GR 107211, 1996) that:

any legal jeopardy attaches only (a) upon a valid indictment (b) before a competent court (c) after arraignment (d) a valid plea having been entered and (e) the case was dismissed or otherwise terminated without the express consent of the accused”.

CODAL expresses concern over the twisting of legal arguments by Sen. Santiago since, it is presumed that she, like any lawyer knows that the doctrine of double jeopardy only applies to criminal cases and not to an impeachment complaint. Her pronouncements may be a prelude to the dismissal of the current impeachment complaints, again, on a technicality that has, as in last year, no constitutional or legal basis.

The position of Rep. Monico Puentebella that the complaints will be dismissed because they ‘contain no new issues’ is both factually and legally baseless. The charges last year were never tackled as the amended complaint was dismissed, so it is unethical for members of congress to delude the people on this respect. Furthermore, the complaints contain new issues.

Members of the Justice Committee must realize that “the demands of due process present a weightier consideration than the need to bring an end to the parties' litigation. For more important than the need to write finis to litigation is to finish it justly, and there can be no justice that satisfies unless the litigants are given the opportunity to be heard” as the Supreme Court demanded in Salud vs. CA (GR 100156, June 27, 1994). Killing the impeachment complaint not only on mere technicalities, but on legally baseless technicalities will virtually close another legal venue for justice for victims of political killings, no different from that during Marcos’ martial law.

Correct Filing Date

CODAL also finds legally untenable the contention of Rep. Edcel Lagman that last year’s impeachment complaint was initiated not upon the filing of the impeachment complaint but by the receipt of the Justice Committee of the complaints on July 26. The conflicting opinion of Rep. Prospero Nograles that the one-year ban starts on the date of the referral on July 25 is correct as it follows jurisprudence.

The contention of both, however, is a 360-degree turnaround for the Majority which insisted that the mere ‘filing’ of the Lozano complaint on June 26 last year initiated the impeachment proceedings thereby making the Amended impeachment complaint a “second complaint’ and therefore barred. It must be noted that the complainants last year were insisting that the complaint was initiated on the date of referral rather than filing and that, therefore, the Amended Complaint is not a ‘second complaint’ since it was referred to the Justice Committee together with the Lozano Complaint on July 25, 2005 during the SONA of Pres. Arroyo.

The Supreme Court , in Francisco vs. House of Representatives, (GR 160261, Nov. 10, 2003), has declared that an impeachment “proceeding is initiated or begins, when a verified complaint is filed and referred to the Justice Committee for action.” The decision is clear—an impeachment complaint is initiated upon the referral of the impeachment complaint on July 25 last year and not on the date that the Justice Committee received the complaint. The one year ban therefore ends on July 25 of 2006 and the correct date for the filing of a valid impeachment complaint is July 26.

However, it does not matter whether the July 26, July 27 or any other complaint is valid since all the complaints contain the same issues, and the all the complainants are united on the need to impeach Pres. Arroyo so that the evidence on the charges of electoral fraud, political killings and corruption be heard.

CODAL supports Rep. Lagman’s disagreement with Atty. Romulo Macalintal’s position that the impeachment complaint be dismissed because it is pending on appeal before the Supreme Court. After killing the impeachment complaint, it is abhorrent for presidential allies to now belatedly claim that it is still, in fact “alive”. Furthermore, any public official with a pending impeachment case, may still be charged with another impeachment complaint the following year, if she commits another impeachable offense subsequently. Atty. Macalintal’s legal thesis will mean that public officials with pending impeachment complaints, are free to commit subsequent impeachable offenses and crimes provided they have a pending impeachment complaint.

The confusion and contradictions of legal opinions among presidential allies show that they have no clear and strong legal basis with which to quash the impeachment complaints on mere technicalities. The disarray among them may be favorable to the impeachment complaint and may convince many members of Congress that the impeachment complaints are valid as to form and substance.

Presidential allies must resort to fair play and not use amorphous and patently erroneous legal arguments to derail the impeachment this year and confuse the people. The ‘technical, prejudicial questions’ worked last year. It may not work this year.

Reference : Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares—Spokesperson

Date : 29 July 2006