Impeachment yesterday, today and tomorrow
Under the old Constitution, no one had ever been impeached. It was only 64 years later — on Nov. 13, 2000, under the 1987 Charter — that an impeachment succeeded when President Joseph Estrada was charged by the House of Representatives with bribery, graft, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
Impeachment yesterday. Estrada’s Senate trial was aborted when the House prosecutors walked out after the Senate, voting 12-11, rejected the opening of the so-called second envelope. Estrada was ousted by People Power 2, not by the Senate.
On June 3, 2003, an impeachment complaint was filed against Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. for betrayal of public trust and graft in the disposition of the Judiciary Development Fund.
Though the complaint was endorsed by more than a third of the House, the Supreme Court in Francisco vs House (Nov. 10, 2003) stopped the transmittal of the articles of impeachment to the Senate because the House violated this constitutional provision: “No impeachment proceeding shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.”
Voting 212-46 with four abstentions, the House impeached Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez on March 21, 2011, for betrayal of public trust. However, she resigned before the Senate could begin the trial, thereby mooting the case.
The only impeachment that completed the process was that of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. In its “Judgment” dated May 29, 2012, the Senate imposed “the penalty of removal from office and disqualification to hold any office…”
Impeachment today. Emboldened by this completion, many are now attempting to impeach President Duterte, Vice President Leni Robredo, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, and Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Andres D. Bautista.
Briefly, the 1987 Charter provides two ways of starting an impeachment. First, a verified complaint may be filed in the House by a congressperson or by a citizen accompanied by a “resolution of endorsement” of at least one congressperson. The House then refers this to its committee on justice that in turn determines the complaint’s sufficiency in form and substance.
After due hearing and by majority vote of all its members, the committee may recommend to the entire House the impeachment (or the exoneration) of the respondent. To approve the recommendation, a vote of at least one-third of all the House members is needed.
Under the second way, the verified complaint is filed by at least one-third of all the House members. Here, per the Constitution, the complaint “shall constitute the Articles of Impeachment, and trial by the Senate shall forthwith proceed.”
Using the first way, the House dismissed the complaint against the President for failure of the complainant to allege facts within his personal knowledge.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the complaints against Sereno and Bautista will also undergo the first way, unlike those against Estrada and Corona which were immediately sent to the Senate for trial.
Impeachment tomorrow. Impeachment has become quite common now (and probably in the future) because the 1987 Constitution lowered the vote thresholds. To impeach requires the vote of only one-third of all House members, and to convict only two-thirds vote of all the senators (16 of 24). In contrast, the 1936 Charter required two-thirds vote to impeach, and three-fourths vote (18 of 24) to convict.
Moreover, “graft and corruption … and betrayal of public trust” were added as new impeachment grounds. Also, our people have become more proactive.
While these changes enabled citizens to reach the heretofore unreachable officials, they can also be misused and abused. With this caveat and without prejudging the current impeachment complaints, Congress would do well to conduct the proceedings prudently in the same way that the military is carefully implementing martial law within the constitutional limits.
In this manner, impeachment will be a real means of discovering the truth and of exacting accountability under the rule of law, and not a mere tool for political oppression.
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