Power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. This tenet has never been more evident than in the recent actions by the House of Representatives led by its Speaker, Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, who threatened to abolish the Court of Appeals because it ordered the House to release six officials of the Ilocos Norte provincial government, who were cited for contempt and detained in the confines of the chamber.
The six Ilocos Norte officials were cited for contempt for failing to answer questions in connection with the House inquiry into the alleged misuse of tobacco funds in the province. Some of the provincial officials said they could not remember the transaction in question while some apparently gave answers that were not to the liking of House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas, a former Marcos ally who is now in a feud with the Marcoses in Ilocos Norte.
Farinas is in his last term as Ilocos congressman and is expected to challenge the Marcos- anointed candidate in the 2019 local elections. Gov. Imee Marcos is also in her last term as governor.
The six Ilocos officials went to the Court of Appeals and sought protection under the writ of habeas of corpus, which empowers the court to order an institution holding the petitioners to present them. The appellate court granted them the writ and ordered their provisional release on P30,000 bail each.
Alvarez, obviously blinded by his newfound power, went ballistic. Alvarez said he would defy the court, and the House has not released the six. Fariñas said the CA could not infringe on the constitutional power of Congress to cite errant resource persons for contempt.
Alvarez told reporters: “That’s gross ignorance of the law. Mga gago yang tatlong justices na yan!” Alvarez said, referring to the justices who issued the order. In different interviews, Alvarez also called the three justices “idiots,” “rotten,” and “crazy.” In debates and discourses, name-calling has been known as signs of inferior argument or an inability to present solid arguments.
Later, Alvarez dropped another bomb on the appeals court, threatening to abolish the court or reducing its budget to one peso, which would effectively shut it down, and insisted that the court had no authority to compel the House to release the so-called “Ilocos 6.”
“The CA is not even our co-equal branch. It is merely a creation of Congress. It exists because it was created by Congress,” Alvarez said in a radio interview. “The CA justices had better start thinking because any time, we can dissolve the CA.”
This is simply a case of bullying by the country’s fourth highest ranking official, who has shown his brute arrogance in many instances in the past.
Earlier, Alvarez threatened members of the administration coalition to vote in favor of the death penalty bill or face expulsion from their committee chairmanship and memberships. Among his victim was former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who was stripped of her functions as a deputy speaker.
And recently, Alvarez threatened to disobey the Supreme Court if it orders a joint session of Congress to review Duterte’s martial law declaration.
“They [the SC justices] do not have the right to dictate on Congress what we should do,” he said, citing separation of powers among the three branches of government. “Punitin ko yan [I will tear it up]!” he said, if the tribunal makes such a decision. Preempting the President, Alvarez also said martial law should be extended until the end of Duterte’s term in 2022.
Still not content with threatening to abolish the second highest court of the land, the House dynamic duo decided they would move to disbar the three CA justices who issued the order. Later, Farinas said 180 members of the House of Representatives have signed a draft resolution asking the Supreme Court to disbar the three justices of the Court of Appeals’ Special Fourth Division for “ignorance of the law and abuse of authority.”
Farinas has at least decided to go before the Supreme Court to settle the issue. The Constitution vests in the courts the power to issue the writ of habeas corpus precisely to ensure that no government official or entity would abuse its authority to detain individuals.
Separation of powers was embedded in the Constitution to ensure that none of the three branches of government – the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary – would abuse their powers and are working within the bounds of the law and the Constitution.
Simply, it is dictated by the rule of law, of which our new leaders in both Malacanang and Congress seem to have shown disregard. Without the rule of law, the country could easily slip into anarchy or tyranny. Being a lawyer, I’m sure Alvarez knows that.