Sunday, February 05, 2012

In Re: Raul M. Gonzales

Facts: Gonzales was the Tanodbayan or Special Prosecutor. He forwarded a letter-complaint to Justice Fernan. The letter was said to be from concerned employees of the SC (an anonymous letter).

The letter was originally addressed to Gonzales referring to the charges for disbarment sought by Mr. Miguel Cuenco against Justice Fernan, and asking him (Gonzales) to do something about it.

The Supreme Court furnished a copy to Gonzales, the per curiam Resolution of the SC, dismissing the charges made by Cuenco against Justice Fernan for lack of merit. In that resolution, Cuenco was asked to show cause why he should not be held administratively liable for making serious accusations against Fernan.

Issue: Whether or not a Supreme Court justice can be disbarred during his term of office

Held: A public officer (such as Justice Fernan) who under the Constitution is required to be a Member of the Philippine Bar as a qualification for the office held by him and who may be removed from office only by impeachment, cannot be charged with disbarment during the incumbency of such public officer. Further, such public officer, during his incumbency, cannot be charged criminally before the Sandiganbayan, or any other court, with any offense which carries with it the penalty of removal from office.

Another reason why the complaint for disbarment should be dismissed is because under the Constitution, members of the SC may be removed only by impeachment. The above provision proscribes removal from office by any other method. Otherwise, to allow such public officer who may be removed solely by impeachment to be charged criminally while holding his office with an office that carries the penalty of removal from office, would be violative of the clear mandate of the Constitution.

The effect of impeachment is limited to the loss of position and disqualification to hold any office of honor, trust or profit under the Republic. Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualification to hold any office. But the party convicted shall nevertheless be held liable and subject to prosecution, trial and punishment according to law.

The court is not saying that the members and other constitutional officer are entitled to immunity from liability. What the court is merely saying is that there is a fundamental procedural requirement that must be observed before such liability ma be determined. A member of the SC must first be removed from office, via the constitutional route of impeachment, and then only may he be held liable either criminally or administratively (that is, disbarment), for any wrong or misbehavior in appropriate proceedings.

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