Impeachment for dummies

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11:00 PM December 17th, 2011

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December 17th, 2011 11:00 PM

(Editor’s Note: Chief Justice Renato Corona will go on trial in the Senate impeachment court starting next month on eight charges, including betrayal of public trust as a result of his alleged partiality in cases involving the Arroyo administration.

The impeachment trial will be the second in 11 years. Members of the Senate served as judges in late 2000 at the trial of then President Joseph Estrada, who was charged with accepting bribes, committing graft, betraying public trust and knowingly violating the Constitution.

To acquaint the public with the impeachment process and trial, we are printing a primer derived mostly from the book “Impeachment Q & A.” The book was edited by Carmelo V. Sison and Florin T. Hilbay, and was published by the University of the Philippines Law Complex in 2000.)

1. What is impeachment?

Impeachment is the process of removing from office high government officials charged with serious wrongdoing. As a process, impeachment is a formal inquiry aimed at making public officers accountable to the people based on the principle that public office is a public trust.

In contrast, other public officers may be removed from office through other means: recall for elective local officials; expulsion for members of Congress; and criminal or administrative disciplinary proceedings for public officers in general.

Impeachment is a mode of removing a special class of public officers the procedure for which is particularly outlined in the Constitution.

The word “impeach” comes from the Middle English “empechen” which means “to impede” or “to accuse” and the Latin “impedicare” which means “to entangle” or “to put in fetters.” The person impeached is not necessarily adjudged guilty as impeachment only means that he has been formally charged with an impeachable offense but his innocence or guilt is determined in a trial.

2. What is the origin of impeachment?

The Philippines adopted its provisions on impeachment from the US Constitution. In the United States, the framers of the Constitution incorporated a procedure for impeachment to prevent the President from becoming too powerful.

They limited his authority and gave Congress the means to keep him within constitutional limits by establishing a mechanism for his peaceful removal from office. However, they saw to it that these means should not be used readily to oust a President from office simply because of power politics. Impeachment under the Constitution requires fairness and adherence to constitutional standards.

3. Who are the impeachable officers?

The following are the impeachable officers: the President, the Vice President, the members of the Supreme Court, the members of constitutional commissions and the Ombudsman.

4. May other public officers be removed from office by impeachment?

No. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.

5. What are the grounds for impeachment?

The Constitution authorizes the impeachment of the above officers on the following grounds:

Culpable violation of the Constitution

Treason

Bribery

Graft and corruption

Other high crimes

Betrayal of public trust

Culpable violation of the Constitution means a willful violation of the Constitution and excludes acts committed unintentionally or through an honest mistake of judgment. Treason and bribery should be understood in accordance with their meaning in the Revised Penal Code.

Treason is committed in times of war by levying war against the Philippines or adhering to the enemy, giving it aid and comfort.

Bribery is committed by a public officer who (1) receives a gift in connection with the performance of his official duties in order to perform an act whether constituting a crime or not, or (2) accepts gifts offered to him by reason of his office, or (3) being a public officer entrusted with law enforcement, refrains from arresting or prosecuting an offender who has committed a crime punishable by life imprisonment or death, in consideration of a gift or present.

Graft and corruption, on the other hand, refers to those acts enumerated in the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, including receiving any gift in connection with any transaction wherein the public officer in his official capacity has to intervene under the law, or giving any private party any unwanted benefits through manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence.

Other high crimes and betrayal of public trust have not been given any definitive meaning in law and jurisprudence.

6. What is the nature of the impeachment process?

The impeachment process is both a political and a legal process. It is a political process because the power to impeach and convict lies solely in a political branch of the government – Congress – whose members are elected representatives who act on the basis of political considerations. Nonetheless, the Constitution does not provide that the impeachment process, both as to the grounds for impeachment as well as the procedure involved, is entirely at the discretion of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

It requires the House to observe a procedure for the adoption of the articles of impeachment and the Senate to conduct a trial before a decision is reached. That the senators are made to take an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws” means that the impeachment process is a political act arrived at through the observance of legal proceedings.

Therefore, the process of impeachment would necessarily involve political considerations as the outcome is determined by duly elected representatives of the people, but, because this is a trial, the Senate must observe due process and respect the rights of the officer impeached.

7. What rules govern impeachment proceedings?

According to the Constitution, Congress shall promulgate its rules on impeachment. The House and the Senate have adopted the rules of procedure governing impeachment proceedings in their respective chambers.

In the House, the Rules of Criminal Procedure, as far as practicable, are made to apply. In the Senate, the Rules of Court are made to apply insofar as they are applicable, and the rules of evidence and procedures are liberally construed in the impeachment proceedings.

8. Who has the power to initiate an impeachment?

The House of Representatives has the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.

9. Who may file a verified impeachment complaint?

The following may file a verified complaint for impeachment: (1) any member of the House; (2) any citizen upon a resolution or endorsement by any member of the House; and (3) at least one-third of all the members of the House, in which case such complaint or resolution shall constitute the articles of impeachment and trial by the Senate shall forthwith proceed.

10. Where must the verified complaint by a citizen or a member of the House be filed?

The verified complaint for impeachment shall be filed with the Office of the Secretary General and immediately referred to the Speaker of the House who shall have it included in the order of business within 10 session days from receipt.

11. Which committee of the House is tasked with determining the sufficiency, in substance and in form, of the complaint?

Under the Rules of the House the committee on justice is the committee designated by the chamber to determine the sufficiency, in substance and in form, of the complaint for impeachment filed by a citizen or a member of the House. In addition, the committee also has the power to conduct hearings and recommend to the House whether probable cause exists for the impeachment of a public officer.

A recommendation finding probable cause must be sustained by a vote of at least one-third of all the members of the House, while a recommendation finding no probable cause may be overruled by one-third of all House members.

12. What is the role of the House in the trial?

The House shall act as the sole prosecutor at the trial in the Senate through a committee of 11 members to be elected by a majority vote.

13. What is the role of the Senate?

It is the Senate which has the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment.

14. What is the duty of the Senate upon the presentation of the articles of impeachment?

The Senate shall, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon of the day (except Saturdays, Sundays and nonworking holidays) following such presentation, or sooner if ordered by the Senate, proceed to the consideration of such articles. It shall continue in session from day to day (except Saturdays, Sundays and nonworking holidays) after which the trial shall commence (unless otherwise ordered by the Senate) until final judgment shall be rendered, and so much longer as may, in its judgment, be necessary.

15. May impeachment proceedings be initiated against the same official more than once within a year?

No, impeachment proceedings cannot be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.

16. Who is the presiding officer in the impeachment trial?

When the Philippine President is on trial, the Chief Justice shall preside. In all other cases of impeachment, the Senate President shall preside.

17. Does the Chief Justice, as presiding officer in the trial, have the power to vote?

No.

18. What are the powers of the presiding officer?

The presiding officer shall have the power to make and issue, by himself or by the Secretary of the Senate, all orders, mandates and writs authorized by the Senate, and to make and enforce such other regulations and orders on the premises as the Senate may authorize or provide.

19. Does the presiding officer have the power to rule on questions relating to evidence presented during the trial?

Yes. The presiding officer may rule on all questions of evidence including, but not limited to, questions of materiality, relevancy, competency or admissibility of evidence and incidental questions. The ruling shall stand as the judgment of the Senate unless a senator shall ask that a formal vote be taken thereon, in which case it shall be submitted to the Senate for decision after one contrary view is expressed; or the presiding officer may, at his option, in the first instance, submit any such question to a vote.

20. What is the effect of the trial on the legislative business of the Senate?

The legislative business of the Senate shall be suspended at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, or at such other hour as the Senate may order, of the day appointed for the trial of an impeachment.

21. May the senators put a question to the witnesses or any of the counsel?

Yes. If a senator wishes to put a question to a witness, he or she shall do so within two minutes. A senator may likewise put a question to a prosecutor or to counsel of the prosecutor or the person impeached. The parties or their counsel may interpose objections to witnesses answering questions propounded by any senator and the merits of any such objection may be argued by the parties or their counsel.

22. Is the trial required to be conducted in public?

Yes.

23. Is an article of impeachment divisible for the purpose of voting thereon at any time during the trial?

No. Once voting has commenced on an article of impeachment, it shall continue until completed on all articles of impeachment, unless the Senate adjourns for a period not to exceed one day or adjourns sine die.

24. How shall the Senate render its decision?

On the final question whether the impeachment is sustained, the yeas and nays shall be taken on each article of impeachment separately. If the impeachment shall not be sustained, a judgment of acquittal shall be entered; but if the person impeached shall be convicted upon any such article, the Senate may proceed to consider other matters as may be determined to be appropriate before pronouncing a judgment.

25. Is a motion for reconsideration of the vote on any article

of impeachment allowed?

No.

26. What is the vote required to convict an impeachable officer?

The concurrence of two-thirds of all senators is required.

27. What is the quantum of evidence required in the trial?

The Rules of Court recognize three standards required in making a decision: proof beyond reasonable doubt, preponderance of evidence and substantial evidence, depending on whether the proceeding is criminal, civil or administrative, respectively.

Under the Rules of Court proof beyond reasonable doubt means moral certainty or that degree of proof which produces conviction in an unprejudiced mind.

Preponderance of evidence simply means superior weight of evidence as determined by the court considering all the facts and circumstances of the case, including the witnesses’ manner of testifying, the nature of facts to which they testify and personal credibility.

Substantial evidence refers to such amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion.

Whether an impeachment proceeding is criminal, civil or administrative in nature is still a subject of debate. At best, it can be said that an impeachment proceeding is one that is sui generis, or class on its own, in which the standards to be applied are circumscribed only by the Constitution and the oath under which the senators have sworn to do impartial justice.

28. What are the consequences of a decision of conviction?

A conviction results in the removal from office and disqualification to hold any office under the Republic of the Philippines. Likewise, the party convicted shall be liable and subject to prosecution, trial and punishment according to law.

29. Does resignation end the impeachment process?

No. The purpose of impeachment is not merely to remove an officer from office but also to disqualify him or her from holding any office. The use of the conjunction “and” in the Constitution signifies that disqualification is not merely an accessory penalty, as in criminal cases, but a principal penalty apart from that of removal. It can be said that in an impeachment proceeding, removing the officer impeached is just as important as preventing him or her from holding any office under the republic.

30. Can the Senate impose a penalty of censure?

Yes. Since judgment in cases of impeachment “shall not extend further than” removal from office and disqualification, the Senate can decide to impose a lesser penalty, like censure or reprimand.

31. Can the Senate compel the officer impeached to appear in person and/or answer the charges?

No. If the person impeached shall fail to appear, or, appearing, shall fail to file his answer, the trial shall proceed nevertheless as upon a plea of not guilty.

32. Can the officer impeached assert his right against self-incrimination?

Yes. The officer impeached, like any other citizen, enjoys the constitutional right against self-incrimination.

33. In case the President is convicted, who succeeds to the Office of the President?

The Vice President, who automatically becomes the President, succeeds.

34. Should the Chief Justice be convicted, who will replace him?

Upon conviction, the Chief Justice is removed from office. The President shall assign a new Chief Justice and a new Associate Justice to fill the vacancies.

35. Is the remedy of appeal available against the judgment of the Senate?

Generally, no. The judgment of the Senate is a political decision which may not be reviewed by the courts.

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