HOUSE Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has been going on a rampage in recent weeks. He is mad, and his madness is not directed at just anybody working under him but at the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. He is mad because he could not have his own way.
Alvarez seems to have ceased to become a man of reason. First, he threatened to tear into pieces any order from the Supreme Court that would compel Congress to convene in joint session and examine the martial law declaration of President Duterte, Proclamation 216. A few days ago, he called three justices of the Court of Appeals “gago” and threatened to have the court abolished.
The leader of the 295-member House of Representatives has been flexing his legislative muscles inappropriately. He has gone berserk because he could not get his way on some legal issues that are well under the jurisdiction of the courts.
The Speaker of the House is fourth in the line of succession to the presidency. If a man of his stature can openly defy and berate the justices of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals because of differences in legal interpretations and opinions, how can ordinary citizens respect the branch of Congress he leads?
Let us wait for the Supreme Court decision on the petition to declare Proclamation 216 as unconstitutional following the oral arguments last week on whether there was indeed basis to place the entire Mindanao under martial law even if the siege by the Maute and Abu Sayyaf militants was concentrated in Marawi City.
Alvarez earlier said the Supreme Court cannot dictate on Congress and tell it what to do. The Senate and House leaders have refused to convene to discuss the martial law declaration, saying that convening was only called for to revoke the proclamation.
The controversy with the appellate court started when its Special Fourth Division granted the habeas corpus petition of the six Ilocos Norte officials and employees who were cited for contempt and ordered detained at the House of Representatives.
The officials and employees earned the ire of Alvarez and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, the House majority leader, for refusing to answer questions during a House inquiry into the allegedly irregular procurement of P66.45 million worth of vehicles by the provincial government.
“That’s gross ignorance of the law. Mga gago ‘yang tatlong justices na ‘yan! (Those three justices are idiots!)” Alvarez, a lawyer, said on Wednesday when he was asked about the CA division’s show-cause order against him and House Sergeant at Arms Roland Detabali to explain why they should not be cited for contempt for ignoring a June 9 ruling to provisionally release the Ilocos Norte officials.
The justices that he called idiots were Presiding Justice Stephen Cruz, and Justices Erwin Sorongon and Nina Antonino-Valenzuela.
The Ilocos Norte officials were ordered detained last May 29 by the House committee on good government and public accountability during its hearing on the alleged misuse of P66.45 million in tobacco funds to buy motor vehicles. They are Pedro Agcaoili, chairman of the Provincial Planning and Development Office; Josephine Calajate, provincial treasurer; Eden Battulayan, provincial accountant; Encarnacion Gaor and Genedine Jambaro, both members of the staff of the Provincial Treasurer’s Office; and Evangeline Tabulog, provincial budget officer.
During the hearing, Fariñas, who is the Ilocos Norte first district representative, presented documents bearing the signatures of the officials that were used to buy mini-cabs, secondhand buses, and Foton trucks using the tobacco funds.
All six Ilocos Norte officials said they couldn’t remember the purchases anymore given the many transactions they had processed. They refused to comment on the documents and asked the committee to show them the original copies. This prompted Fariñas to cite the officials in contempt and have them detained by Detabali at the House premises.
The issue reached the CA when the Ilocos Norte officials, through their legal counsels and Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, filed a habeas corpus petition.
The CA granted the request for provisional release on June 9, with a bail of P30, 000 each. But the House leaders have refused to recognize the CA ruling, saying they questioned the appellate court’s authority over congressional contempt powers.
After bragging about his extra-marital affairs, Alvarez’s tussle with the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals raises questions about his fitness for the high position he occupies.
The Speaker’s braggadocio is not helping the House earn the respect of the public. It is not wrong to challenge decisions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, but as a high-ranking leader of the legislature, Alvarez is expected to follow the democratic process in contesting legal decisions, and not air his arguments in the media.
Alvarez and his cohorts in the legislature should justify that it is worth keeping Congress at P13.7 billion budget a year.
In its first year, the present Congress managed to pass only four laws, two of which were franchise extensions for big companies Smart Communications and GMA Network, and the other, postponing the October elections for barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan officials.
The 2017 General Appropriations Act providing for P3.35 trillion budget for 2017 for the national government, is considered the single most important piece of legislation every year so its passage in Congress is expected.
With such a poor performance and arrogant members, is it worth spending P13.7 billion a year to keep Congress?