The 1-year bar in filing an Impeachment complaint

This is a partial case digest of Franciso, Jr. vs. House of Representatives (G.R. No. 160261, 10 November 2003), which case involves the issue of whether the filing of the second impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. with the House of Representatives falls within the one year bar provided in the Constitution. This case is the usual reference every time new impeachments complaints are filed against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.


On 2 June 2003, former President Joseph Estrada filed an impeachment complaint (first impeachment complaint) against Chief Justice Davide and seven Associate Justices of the Supreme Court. The complaint was endorsed by three members of the House, and was referred to the House Committee on Justice on 5 August 2003 in accordance with Section 3(2) of Article XI of the Constitution which reads:

A verified complaint for impeachment may be filed by any Member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution of endorsement by any Member thereof, which shall be included in the Order of Business within ten session days, and referred to the proper Committee within three session days thereafter. The Committee, after hearing, and by a majority vote of all its Members, shall submit its report to the House within sixty session days from such referral, together with the corresponding resolution. The resolution shall be calendared for consideration by the House within ten session days from receipt thereof.

The House Committee on Justice ruled that the first impeachment complaint was “sufficient in form,” but insufficient in substance. The Committee Report was not sent to the House in plenary.

On 23 October 2003, the second impeachment complaint was filed. The second impeachment complaint was accompanied by a “Resolution of Endorsement/Impeachment” signed by at least one-third (1/3) of all the Members of the House of Representatives.

A number of petitions were filed with the Supreme Court, mostly on the ground that the second impeachment complaint is unconstitutional as it violates the provision of Section 5 of Article XI of the Constitution, which pertinently reads: “No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.”

Those opposing the petitions argue, among others, that under Sections 16 and 17 of Rule V of the House Impeachment Rules, impeachment proceedings are deemed initiated:

(1) if there is a finding by the House Committee on Justice that the verified complaint and/or resolution is sufficient in substance; or

(2) once the House itself affirms or overturns the finding of the Committee on Justice that the verified complaint and/or resolution is not sufficient in substance; or

(3) by the filing or endorsement before the Secretary-General of the House of Representatives of a verified complaint or a resolution of impeachment by at least 1/3 of the members of the House.

Ruling: Sections 16 and 17 of Rule V of the House Impeachment Rules contravene the Constitution, as these provisions give the term “initiate” a meaning different from “filing”.

An impeachment proceeding is not a single act. It is a comlexus of acts consisting of a beginning, a middle and an end. The end is the transmittal of the articles of impeachment to the Senate. The middle consists of those deliberative moments leading to the formulation of the articles of impeachment. The beginning or the initiation is the filing of the complaint and its referral to the Committee on Justice. The framers of the Constitution intended “initiation” to start with the filing of the complaint. “Initiate”, as ordinarily understood, is to begin, to commence, or set going.

This is better understood by the statements of Father Bernas, amicus curiae and a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission which crafted the Constitution, during the oral arguments. Fr. Bernas clarified that the word “initiate,” appearing in the constitutional provision on impeachment, viz:

Section 3 (1) The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.
x x x
(5) No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year,

refers to two objects, “impeachment case” and “impeachment proceeding.” Father Bernas explains that in these two provisions, the common verb is “to initiate.” The object in the first sentence is “impeachment case.” The object in the second sentence is “impeachment proceeding.” Following the principle of reddendo singuala sinuilis, the term “cases” must be distinguished from the term “proceedings.” An impeachment case is the legal controversy that must be decided by the Senate. Above-quoted first provision provides that the House, by a vote of one-third of all its members, can bring a case to the Senate. It is in that sense that the House has “exclusive power” to initiate all cases of impeachment. No other body can do it. However, before a decision is made to initiate a case in the Senate, a “proceeding” must be followed to arrive at a conclusion. A proceeding must be “initiated.” To initiate, which comes from the Latin word initium, means to begin. On the other hand, proceeding is a progressive noun. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It takes place not in the Senate but in the House and consists of several steps: (1) there is the filing of a verified complaint either by a Member of the House of Representatives or by a private citizen endorsed by a Member of the House of the Representatives; (2) there is the processing of this complaint by the proper Committee which may either reject the complaint or uphold it; (3) whether the resolution of the Committee rejects or upholds the complaint, the resolution must be forwarded to the House for further processing; and (4) there is the processing of the same complaint by the House of Representatives which either affirms a favorable resolution of the Committee or overrides a contrary resolution by a vote of one-third of all the members. If at least one third of all the Members upholds the complaint, Articles of Impeachment are prepared and transmitted to the Senate. It is at this point that the House “initiates an impeachment case.” It is at this point that an impeachable public official is successfully impeached. That is, he or she is successfully charged with an impeachment “case” before the Senate as impeachment court.

Father Bernas further explains: The “impeachment proceeding” is not initiated when the complaint is transmitted to the Senate for trial because that is the end of the House proceeding and the beginning of another proceeding, namely the trial. Neither is the impeachment proceeding initiated when the House deliberates on the resolution passed on to it by the Committee, because something prior to that has already been done. The action of the House is already a further step in the proceeding, not its initiation or beginning. Rather, the proceeding is initiated or begins, when a verified complaint is filed and referred to the Committee on Justice for action. This is the initiating step which triggers the series of steps that follow.

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