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Adverse effects of impeachment cases

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Commentary

Adverse effects of impeachment cases

/ 05:12 AM September 08, 2017

The spate of impeachment complaints filed in the House of Representatives does not bode well for the country.

Commission on Elections Chair Andres Bautista and Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno have been accused of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust.

And if the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption make good its threat, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales may also face impeachment charges on the same grounds.

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For Bautista, the basis of the complaint is his wife’s sworn statement that he acquired unexplained wealth and failed to declare it in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. In Sereno’s case, it is, among others, violation of the collegial character of the high court, extravagant travels, and favoritism in the grant of privileges to her staff.

With regard to Morales, the beef against her is her alleged selective prosecution of cases and inordinate delay in acting on complaints filed in her office.

If the complaints push through, Bautista’s impeachment would be the first for a Comelec official. For Sereno, it would be the third time for the high court, after those of Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. which was aborted due to a technicality and of Chief Justice Renato Corona which resulted in his conviction.

In Morales’ case, it would be the second against an Ombudsman, the first being that of Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez who decided to resign ahead of the
impeachment proceedings.

Unless the House leadership adopts a strict approach in the evaluation of the complaints, there is a strong probability that they will all be endorsed to the Senate for trial.

Judging from the way things happened in Corona’s trial in 2012, the Senate proceedings are expected to invite strong public interest and take much of the senators’ time. His trial, which was conducted daily and took more than four months, was covered live by radio and TV stations from start (at around 2 p.m.) to finish (in the early evening) and, in the process, disrupted the daily routine of the public.

The senators participated in the trial for four or more hours, with occasional breaks. They squeezed their legislative work in two or three hours in the morning before the trial.

Unless the subject officials throw in the towel ahead of the impeachment proceedings at the House, the prospects of getting a repeat of the Corona experience are strong.

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On the part of the Senate, that could mean delay in its deliberations on the legislative measures that the Duterte administration wants enacted to meet its promise to effect meaningful changes in the country’s political, social and economic structures.

Three consecutive impeachment trials of at least four months each would translate to about a year of sidetracking from the Senate’s legislative agenda. And in case incidents arise that compel the Senate to conduct investigations in aid of legislation, the legislative mill may be further paralyzed.

The possible major casualty of that paralysis would be the administration’s pet project to convert to a federal system of government which depends on strict timelines that require legislative approval.

But the bigger concern should be the polarization of the public, which is expected to take sides and make its own opinions on the impeachment charges as the trials progress.

Since the subject officials are all appointees of President Benigno Aquino III and the prosecutors are identified with President Duterte, the trials may be viewed as schemes for political vendetta rather than means to promote public accountability. At this stage when the country is beset by serious internal security problems, it can ill afford additional political disunity.

The House members have to decide whether endorsing the impeachment complaints to the Senate would be worth the troubles or consequences that may arise during and after the trials.

Raul J. Palabrica (rpalabrica@inquirer.com.ph) writes a weekly column in the Business section of the Inquirer.

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TAGS: Andres Bautista, Commentary, impeachment complaints, Inquirer Opinion, Maria Lourdes Sereno
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