Monday, April 2, 2012

Osmena v Pendatun G.R. No. L-17144 October 28, 1960

J. Bengzon

On July 14, 1960, Congressman Sergio Osmeña, Jr., submitted to the Supreme Court a verified petition for "declaratory relief, certiorari and prohibition with preliminary injunction" against Congressman Salapida K. Pendatun and fourteen other congressmen in their capacity as members of the Special Committee created by House Resolution No. 59.
He asked for annulment of such Resolution on the ground of infringenment of his parliamentary immunity; he also asked, principally, that said members of the special committee be enjoined from proceeding in accordance with it, particularly the portion authorizing them to require him to substantiate his charges against the President with the admonition that if he failed to do so, he must show cause why the House should not punish him.
The petition attached a copy of House Resolution No. 59, where it was stated that Sergio Osmeña, Jr., made a privilege speech entitled a Message to Garcia. There, he claimed to have been hearing of ugly reports that the government has been selling “free things” at premium prices. He also claimed that even pardons are for sale regardless of the gravity of the case.
The resolution stated that these charges, if made maliciously or recklessly and without basis in truth, would constitute a serious assault upon the dignity of the presidential office and would expose it to contempt and disrepute.
The resolution formed a special committee of fifteen Members to investigate the truth of the charges against the President of the Philippines made by Osmeña, Jr. It was authorized to summon him to appear before it to substantiate his charges, as well as to require the attendance of witnesses and/or the production of pertinent papers before it, and if he fails to do so he would be required to show cause why he should not be punished by the House. The special committee shall submit to the House a report of its findings before the adjournment of the present special session of the Congress of the Philippines.
In support of his request, Osmeña alleged that  the Resolution violated his constitutional absolute parliamentary immunity for speeches delivered in the House; second, his words constituted no actionable conduct; and third, after his allegedly objectionable speech and words, the House took up other business, and Rule XVII, sec. 7 of the Rules of House provides that if other business has intervened after the member had uttered obnoxious words in debate, he shall not be held to answer therefor nor be subject to censure by the House.
The Supreme Court decided to hear the matter further, and required respondents to answer, without issuing any preliminary injunction.
The special committee continued to perform its task, and after giving Congressman Osmeña a chance to defend himself, found him guilty of serious disorderly behavior and acting on such report, the House approved on the same day House Resolution No. 175, declaring him guilty as recommended, and suspending him from office for fifteen months.
The respondents filed their answer where they challenged the jurisdiction of this Court to entertain the petition, defended the power of Congress to discipline its members with suspension and then invited attention to the fact that Congress having ended its session, the Committee had thereby ceased to exist.
After the new resolution, Osmena added that the House has no power under the Constitution, to suspend one of its members.

Can Osmena be held liable for his speech?

Held: Yes. Petition dismissed.

Section 15, Article VI of our Constitution provides that "for any speech or debate" in Congress, the Senators or Members of the House of Representative "shall not be questioned in any other place." The provision has always been understood to mean that although exempt from prosecution or civil actions for their words uttered in Congress, the members of Congress may, nevertheless, be questioned in Congress itself.
Furthermore, the Rules of the House which petitioner himself has invoked (Rule XVII, sec. 7), recognize the House's power to hold a member responsible "for words spoken in debate."
Our Constitution enshrines parliamentary immunity whose purpose "is to enable and encourage a representative of the public to discharge his public trust with firmness and success" for "it is indispensably necessary that he should enjoy the fullest liberty of speech, and that he should be protected from the resentment of every one it may offend."
It guarantees the legislator complete freedom of expression without fear of being made responsible in criminal or civil actions before the courts or any other forum outside of the Congressional Hall. But it does not protect him from responsibility before the legislative body itself whenever his words and conduct are considered by the latter disorderly or unbecoming a member.
For unparliamentary conduct, members of Parliament or of Congress have been censured, committed to prison, and even expelled by the votes of their colleagues. This was the traditional power of legislative assemblies to take disciplinary action against its members, including imprisonment, suspension or expulsion. For instance, the Philippine Senate, in April 1949, suspended a senator for one year.
Needless to add, the Rules of Philippine House of Representatives provide that the parliamentary practices of the Congress of the United States shall apply in a supplementary manner to its proceedings.
This brings up the third point of petitioner: the House may no longer take action against him, because after his speech it had taken up other business. Respondents answer that Resolution No. 59 was unanimously approved by the House, that such approval amounted to a suspension of the House Rules, which according to standard parliamentary practice may done by unanimous consent.
Granted that the House may suspended the operation of its Rules, it may not, however, affect past acts or renew its rights to take action which had already lapsed.
The situation might thus be compared to laws extending the period of limitation of actions and making them applicable to actions that had lapsed. At any rate, courts are subject to revocation modification or waiver at the pleasure of the body adopting them. Mere failure to conform to parliamentary usage will not invalidate the action taken by a deliberative body when the required number of members have agreed to a particular measure.
The following is quoted from a reported decision of the Supreme court of Tennessee:
The rule here invoked is one of parliamentary procedure, and it is uniformly held that it is within the power of all deliberative bodies to abolish, modify, or waive their own rules of procedure, adopted for the orderly con duct of business, and as security against hasty action. (Certain American cases)
In the case of Congressman Stanbery of Ohio, who insulted the Speaker, was censured by the House, despite the argument that other business had intervened after the objectionable remarks.
On the question whether delivery of speeches attacking the Chief Executive constitutes disorderly conduct for which Osmeña may be disciplined, the court believed that the House is the judge of what constitutes disorderly behaviour, not only because the Constitution has conferred jurisdiction upon it, but also because the matter depends mainly on factual circumstances of which the House knows best but which can not be depicted in black and white for presentation to, and adjudication by the Courts. For one thing, if this Court assumed the power to determine whether Osmeña conduct constituted disorderly behaviour, it would thereby have assumed appellate jurisdiction, which the Constitution never intended to confer upon a coordinate branch of the Government. This was due to the theory of separation of powers fastidiously observed by this. Each department, it has been said, had exclusive cognizance of matters within its jurisdiction and is supreme within its own sphere. (Angara vs. Electoral Commission.)
The general rule has been applied in other cases to cause the courts to refuse to intervene in what are exclusively legislative functions. Thus, where the stated Senate is given the power to example a member, the court will not review its action or revise even a most arbitrary or unfair decision.
Clifford vs. French- several senators who had been expelled by the State Senate of California for having taken a bribe, filed mandamus proceeding to compel reinstatement, alleging the Senate had given them no hearing, nor a chance to make defense, besides falsity of the charges of bribery. The Supreme Court of California declined to interfere:
Under our form of government, the judicial department has no power to revise even the most arbitrary and unfair action of the legislative department, due to the Constitution. Every legislative body in which is vested the general legislative power of the state has the implied power to expel a member for any cause which it may deem sufficient.
 In Hiss. vs. Barlett, it was said that this power is inherent in every legislative body; that it is necessary to the to enable the body 'to perform its high functions, and is necessary to the safety of the state; That it is a power of self-protection, and that the legislative body must necessarily be the sole judge of the exigency which may justify and require its exercise. Given the exercise of the power committed to it, the senate is supreme. An attempt by this court to direct or control the legislature, or either house, in the exercise of the power, would be an attempt to exercise legislative functions, which it is expressly forbidden to do.
The Court merely refuses to disregard the allocation of constitutional functions which it is our special duty to maintain. Indeed, in the interest of comity, we found the House of Representatives of the United States taking the position upon at least two occasions.
Petitioner's principal argument against the House's power to suspend is the Alejandrino precedent. In 1924, Senator Alejandrino was, by resolution of Senate, suspended from office for 12 months because he had assaulted another member of that Body. The Senator challenged the validity of the resolution. Although this Court held that in view of the separation of powers, it had no jurisdiction to compel the Senate to reinstate petitioner, it nevertheless went on to say the Senate had no power to adopt the resolution because suspension for 12 months amounted to removal, and the Jones Law gave the Senate no power to remove an appointive member, like Senator Alejandrino. The Jones Law specifically provided that "each house may punish its members for disorderly behaviour, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds votes, expel an elective member. The Jones Law empowered the Governor General to appoint Senators. Alejandrino was one.
The opinion in that case stated that "suspension deprives the electoral district of representation without that district being afforded any means by which to fill that vacancy." But that remark should be understood to refer particularly to the appointive senator who was then the affected party.
Now the Congress has the full legislative powers and prerogatives of a sovereign nation, except as restricted by the Constitution. In the Alejandrino case, the Court reached the conclusion that the Jones Law did not give the Senate the power it then exercised—the power of suspension for one year. Now.  the Congress has the inherent legislative prerogative of suspension which the Constitution did not impair.
The Legislative power of the Philippine Congress is plenary, limited by the Republic's Constitution. So that any power deemed to be legislative by usage or tradition, is necessarily possessed by the Philippine Congress, unless the Constitution provides otherwise.
In any event, petitioner's argument as to the deprivation of the district's representation can not be weighty, becuase deliberative bodies have the power in proper cases, to commit one of their members to jail.
Now come questions of procedure and jurisdiction. The petition intended to prevent the Special Committee from acting tin pursuance of House Resolution No. 59. Because no preliminary injunction had been issued, the Committee performed its task, reported to the House, and the latter approved the suspension order. The House had closed it session, and the Committee has ceased to exist as such. It would seem, therefore, the case should be dismissed for having become moot or academic.
Of course, there is nothing to prevent petitioner from filing new pleadings. But the most probable outcome of such reformed suit, however, will be a pronouncement of lack of jurisdiction.

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