Impeachment

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Impeachment is a quasi-judicial process of removing from office certain government officials for culpable violation of the Constitution, breach of public trust, bribery and/or other high crimes. It's a political enterprise engaged in by members of the lower house acting as prosecutors, and by senators  acting as judges.

It is "political" only in the symbolic sense that the people are represented when their congressmen and senators do their impeachment chores, the technical appreciation of evidence being the concern of the legislators, not their constituents. It would thus be wrong for the solons to succumb to the pressures of public opinion, lest they be later held accountable for "trial by publicity".

 

The Lower House

An investigation of the Complaint in order to determine if it is "sufficient in form and in substance" is done by the justice committee of the Lower House and, if so affirmatively determined, the same is forwarded to the house's plenary assembly for deliberation to determine probable cause of the charge or charges therein contained.

Then, if such probable cause is ascertained by 2/3 vote of all the House members, the respondent is declared impeached, and the Complaint and its annexes are then forwarded to the Senate, that may now convene itself as a court in order to try the impeached respondent. The Senate President will preside.

We, the "body politic", now stand in the throes of three impeachment proceedings, one against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, another against Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista, and, maybe, a third against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. We worry about some of the pending legislative agenda being sacrificed, given what the trials would likely result in a great loss of time and money.

 

The Corona Impeachment

The 2012 impeachment of the late Chief Justice Renato C. Corona dragged for over four months in an atmosphere of perceived vendetta in the hands of then President Noynoy Aquino, and under a cloud of doubt that an exoneration would result despite what many saw as a trial by publicity.

However, this writer does not intend to dispute this point. Corona was removed from office on a vote with only three dissenting. Period. Respect is given to any vote resulting from a constitutional process, and this writer's disposition here is one of hope that the citadel of impeachment will staunchly safeguard our wobbly democracy, with specific reference to our electoral and justice systems.

Based on the protocol adopted in three previous impeachment cases held in this country -- i.e., versus Pres. Joseph Ejercito Estrada, CJ Hilario Davide, Jr., and CJ Corona -- please permit this writer to tick off a few random matters appurtenant to the conduct of and decision-making in impeachment trials, as follows.

 

The Rules

Impeachment trial courts (ITC) generally observe the Rules of Court, the Rules of Evidence, and the established jurisprudence thereon, without being restricted from adopting their own rules that they deem fit and proper.

A majority vote of all the ITC magistrates is required to convict a respondent in a decision that is final and executory. The Supreme Court may or may not entertain questions of law brought to it for resolution. An acquittal or conviction shall not bar a criminal or civil case that may  thereafter be instituted by a proper party or parties against the impeachment respondent.

Impeachments, whether we like it or not, are devices  that can be used for cryptic and foul reasons, like vendetta, or replacing the respondent with another person who would be subservient to those who wish him removed from office --- and we would really never know what it was. But whatever the unsavory reason, if any, we must accept the ITC's decision and move on with the great hope that the impeachment exercise was not in vain for democracy.

 

Impeachments, Our Big Hope

In relatively recent years, our country has seen three impeachments, with another two or three coming up. That can be very embarrassing, of course, but we can still draw consolation from the thought that ... bunglers that we are at governance ... we are very determined to do things right to heal a seriously ailing democracy.

At this point, we can only shudder at the seriousness of the coming trials. Beyond the "entertainment" they will provide via radio, TV and print coverages, public concern must focus not only on the integrity of the Comelec chair but also that of the electoral system where the Constitutional guarantee of suffrage might have been thwarted in last year's elections.

We must likewise recoil at the thought that the chief magistrate might not have measured up to the lofty standards of probity, impartiality and delicadeza required of her office.

On this note, let the trials begin!

 

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