Lawmakers' action against Hilario Davide is unconstitutional, it rules The Philippine government narrowly averted a constitutional crisis yesterday after the Supreme Court barred lawmakers from impeaching the top judge. The Supreme Court ruled 13-1 that the impeachment of Chief Justice Hilario Davide by the House of Representatives was unconstitutional because of a previous impeachment complaint against him. Supreme Court spokesman Ismael Khan said that the ruling cited the constitution as barring the filing of more than one complaint within a year against an impeachable official. A third of the lawmakers in the house voted last month to impeach Mr Justice Davide over the alleged misuse of a 1.2 billion peso (HK$169 million) Judiciary Development Fund, days after the House had just scuttled an earlier complaint against Mr Justice Davide filed by deposed president Joseph Estrada last June. Estrada had accused Chief Justice Davide of 'culpable violation of the constitution' when he swore in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as president even though he had not yet resigned from office. Estrada was unseated by a military-backed popular uprising in January 2001. House Speaker Jose de Venecia, of the ruling Lakas Party, declared at the end of an hour-long speech that the decision of the Supreme Court should be respected. Yet Mr de Venecia told CNN on Sunday that there would be a 'real, real crisis' should the court declare the impeachment unconstitutional. Last week, the jailed soldiers who tried to unseat President Arroyo in July by laying siege for one day to the Oakwood hotel in the Makati district of Manila issued a statement backing the impeachment and warning of serious consequences if this was stopped. Congressman Francis Escudero, spokesman of the Nationalist People's Coalition Party which pushed the impeachment, told the justices it would be their fault 'should there be anarchy in the streets'. Mr Escudero's party is controlled by businessman Eduardo Cojuangco, whom various non-government organisations have accused of masterminding the impeachment to protect his business interests in beer giant San Miguel Corporation. The Supreme Court is set to rule whether 20 per cent of San Miguel is owned by Mr Cojuangco or the government. The only dissenting vote in the court decision was that of Justice Reynato Puno, whom congressional sources earlier had identified as the man handpicked by Mr Cojuangco to replace Mr Justice Davide. President Arroyo denied yesterday that she had negotiated a deal with Mr Cojuangco on the impeachment in return for his supporting her Lakas Party in national elections next year. Sources earlier had said that the plan was to pressure Mr Justice Davide into resigning or taking a leave of absence and to then appoint Mr Puno. The theory came about because the impeachment would not have succeeded if 17 of President Arroyo's Lakas Party mates had not endorsed it. 'Why many congressmen suddenly signed the complaint - they are the ones who should explain their actions,' Mrs Arroyo said. 'On my part, there has been no collusion.'