Answerable only to the people
I am writing in reaction to the editorial titled “Haunting question.” (Inquirer, 2/19/12)
When the Senate convenes and sits as an impeachment court, it performs not a legislative function but a separate, distinct and totally unique duty mandated by the Constitution: to hold accountable a select group of high public officials for specific grave offenses which threaten the very existence of the state and its democratic institutions. (Sec. 2, Article XI, 1987 Constitution) The members of Congress or of the Cabinet were not included in this select group of impeachable officers because they can easily be removed and/or sanctioned by Congress, the Judiciary, the Civil Service Commission or the Ombudsman, as the case may be, for a wide range of violations of existing laws, rules and regulations.
It is well-settled that the impeachment court, by its nature, is a class of its own, with its proceedings considered as political. Rightly so, for the sole and exclusive power of the impeachment court is derived from the sovereign will of the people when they ratified the Constitution. Because of its sole and exclusive power to try and decide all cases of impeachment, the impeachment court is imbued with the following inherent powers and attributes:
1. Rule-making powers. It is mandated by the Constitution to promulgate its own rules of procedure, its own rules of evidence, including the admissibility and inadmissibility thereof. It can also specify the persons or entities that may prosecute and defend impeachment actions, prescribe the requisite proof for conviction, and even promulgate rules of procedure entirely different from the Rules of Court issued by the Supreme Court. For example, it may prescribe that even non-lawyers may appear as prosecutors or defense counsels, or a mere anonymous letter may be given weight or, if it so desires, add to its own exclusions to the hearsay rule other than those provided by the Rules of Court.
Unfortunately, the present impeachment court has not promulgated its own exhaustive rules on procedure and instead applies the present Rules of Court as suppletory. This gives the public the impression that the impeachment court is just the same as an ordinary court of law where lawyers hold sway and where the search for truth is restricted by the technical rules prescribed by the Rules of Court. Thus, as we see it now, its proceedings are similar to an ordinary court even though it has all the powers to issue its own rules to abbreviate and facilitate the proceedings.
2. Supreme, absolute arbiter. The decision, rulings and interlocutory orders of the impeachment court can never be subject to judicial review. By its very nature, it is not a branch or instrumentality of the government covered by the expanded power of judicial review under the Constitution. In the exercise of this function, it is the supreme and absolute arbiter, just like the Supreme Court when it interprets the law. The Supreme Court may err in its interpretation of the law, but its rulings form part of jurisprudence and in effect, the law of the land. No other branch or instrumentality can reverse or modify such ruling except the Supreme Court itself. The only check to an abuse by a member of the Supreme Court is through an impeachment proceeding.
In like manner, the rulings and decision of an impeachment court, including its interpretation of the Constitution and laws, however erroneous they may seem, can never be reviewed by the Supreme Court. If the impeachment court chooses to do so, it may even disregard previous decisions of the Supreme Court. The only check to the impeachment court is the sovereign will of the people through the ballot. Simply stated, if our people think that a member of the impeachment court abused his discretion and prerogatives, then he can be easily booted out of office come election time. Thus, in the interplay of checks and balances in our democracy, the members of the Supreme Court can be checked and held accountable by the impeachment court, and in turn, the members of the impeachment court can be checked and held accountable by our people.
3. Unrestricted. Any law, ruling or directive that tends to limit, infringe and diminish its powers and prerogatives is contrary to the spirit and intent of the Constitution and, therefore, would be null and void. In the hierarchy of interests, the accountability of impeachable officials is of the highest and supreme order because this concerns not just an ordinary offense and an ordinary public official. The impeachable offenses enumerated by our Constitution strike at the very soul, heart and life of our nation. Considering the vital significance of its mandated duty, the impeachment court should be unfettered by any prohibition in the conduct of its proceedings to ferret out the truth.
That being so, it has the absolute power to look into records, papers or documents in the course of the impeachment proceedings, notwithstanding any law to the contrary. Hence, any law, ruling or directive that prohibits disclosure of records should be construed as not binding on the impeachment court. Moreover, it is further submitted that any branch or instrumentality of government, including the Supreme Court, which refuses to disclose information required by the impeachment court may be held in contempt for refusing its orders and obstructing its proceedings.
4. Separate and distinct from Senate. In the exercise of its functions, the impeachment court ceases to be the Senate or to be a lawmaking body. Accordingly, the principle of inter-parliamentary courtesy no longer applies to the Senate. Thus, the impeachment court can subpoena any official of the government, including members of Congress and the Supreme Court to testify and produce documents in the course of its proceedings.
Therefore, the impeachment court is answerable to no one but only to the Constitution and to our people.
Rodel M. Batocabe represents AKO Bicol (AKB) Party List in the House of Representatives.