Trouble is brewing at Olympus. Reported on March 7,2017 in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Congressman Farinas threatened magistrates of the Supreme Court with impeachment should any of its esteemed members question the the legality of the pending Death Penalty Bill. According the the news report:
Nagbabala ang isang lider ng Kamara na mahaharap sa impeachment ang mga mahistrado ng Korte Suprema na kukwestyon sa Death Penalty Bill.
Ayon kay House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, hindi pwedeng manghimasok ang Mataas na Hukuman sa ‘wisdom’ ng panukala, lalo na sa oras na maging ganap na batas na ito.
Ani Fariñas, mai-impeach ang mga SC justices kung ganoon ang kanilang gagawin dahil mistulang pangingi-alam ito sa trabaho ng mga kinatawan ng mga tao… ang mga mambabatas.
Paalala ng majority leader, ang trabaho ng Korte Suprema ay i-interpret ang batas at kapag kumpleto na ang anumang batas ay wala umanong mapagpipilian kundi pairalin ito.
Opposition from the Supreme Court is certain. The nation stands party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Agreement prescribes treaty States to respect and observe fundamental freedoms. These include freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom from cruel, inhumane, or degrading punishment. Readily and self-evidently, the death penalty is categorized as cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.
The Philippines further ratified the ICCPR’s Second Optional Protocol which mandates abolition of the death penalty and prevents exceuction for any crime.
The Issue: Can Congress impeach members of the Supreme Court for questioning the legality of the death penalty bill?
The answer is no for several reasons.
First, the Philippines is a republic with three branches accorded equal power. The Legislative, the Executive and the Judiciary serve discrete functions and each branch accords the other respect. Disagreement had never been a ground for impeachment. In the case of Kilusang Mayo Uno, et al., Petitioners, versus The Director General, National Economic Development Authority, et al GR 167798 jurisprudence tells us that the branches of government may not usurp the proper exercise of power of co-equal branches and this leads us to the second point;
Second,The Constitution itself vests the Supreme Court full power to question the constitutionality or legality of any law. Art VIII Section 5 states:
Section 5. The Supreme Court shall have the following powers:
Exercise original jurisdiction over cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, and over petitions for certiorari, prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, and habeas corpus.
Review, revise, reverse, modify, or affirm on appeal or certiorari, as the law or the Rules of Court may provide, final judgments and orders of lower courts in:
All cases in which the constitutionality or validity of any treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation is in question.
Section 1 of the same article states
Section 1. The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.
Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.
Henceforth any action by Congress to suppress a co-equal body which is merely exercising its power will be a grave abuse of discretion and patently unconstitutional.