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The implication of the impeachment massacre

/ 12:06 AM September 08, 2014

No one said it would be a picnic. But the hearing that dismissed all three impeachment complaints against President Aquino for insufficiency of substance was a massacre of epic political and legal proportions.

I’ve been involved in many impeachment activities in the past—as a citizen-complainant against President Joseph Estrada, as a congressman-complainant against President Gloria Macapagal-

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Arroyo and as an endorser of the complaints against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Chief Justice Renato Corona. Except in the Estrada proceedings, where Malacañang was outfoxed probably due to its lack of experience, I have seen up close how the Arroyo and Aquino administrations used the tyranny of numbers to get their preferred outcomes from Congress.

What happened last Sept. 2 was the familiar skirting and glossing over of the impeachment rules to undermine the ultimate mechanism for accountability afforded by the Constitution to us ordinary citizens. The precedent it sets is frightening.

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OPINION

According to the impeachment rules, a complaint is sufficient in substance if it contains a recital of facts constituting the offense charged—in this case, culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of the public trust—and the offense constitutes an impeachable offense over which Congress has jurisdiction. The basic questions this stage seeks to resolve are: 1) Is there a recital of facts constituting the offense charged? 2) Assuming the offense to be true, is it impeachable?

From the outset, no one questioned the recital of facts as contained in the three impeachment complaints covering the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and the PH-US Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca). Apparently, the laws violated by the President, the incidents when these were violated and the evidence at hand were clearly stated in the complaints.

Thus, the only issues to resolve were the following:

• If true, were the alleged illegal pooling,

realignment and disbursement of at least P144 billion in public funds through the DAP, which violated several provisions of the Constitution, usurped the powers of Congress and undermined the separation of powers and system of checks and balances, a culpable violation of the Constitution?

• If true, were the alleged perpetuation and exacerbation of the pork barrel system, the tyrannical abuse of power, violation of his oath of office, perpetuation of 116 counts of technical malversation and commission of the crime of corruption of public officers through the illegal use of P144 billion in public funds through the DAP a betrayal of the public trust?

• If true, was entering into a military basing agreement that is Edca, which allegedly violates a host of constitutional provisions on national sovereignty, territorial integrity, independent foreign policy, civilian supremacy, judicial jurisdiction, and the ban on such facilities except under a Senate-ratified treaty a culpable violation of the Constitution?

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• If true, was entering into an agreement allegedly prejudicial to the national interest and grossly lopsided in favor of the United States, as it grants US military forces and contractors unimpeded access and use of Philippine military and civilian facilities, lands, ports, airfields and radio spectrum free of rent, tax and other government charges, and which violates constitutional provisions on the protection of the environment, the Labor Code, the National Internal Revenue Code and the Local Government Code a betrayal of the public trust?

I have no doubt that these charges are serious AND impeachable. The magnitude of the amounts involved in the DAP alone is staggering and the President’s willful, deliberate and repeated violations of the law and the Constitution blatant. The same can be said of the President’s signing a lopsided basing treaty like the Edca without Senate ratification. Compare these to the charges against Gutierrez (the low conviction rate of her agency) and Corona (filing erroneous statements of assets, liabilities and net worth).

But the 54 congressmen present at the hearing saw it differently this time. In general, they agreed that the charges were not severe enough to be impeachable since the acts were done in good faith and with the President not personally benefiting from any of these acts. The problem here is that these matters of the President’s defense—that the charges are false, that he acted in good faith, that no evil was done or crime committed—are points that are relevant only in the next stage, which is the determination of the grounds for impeachment.

Finding sufficiency in substance in a complaint does not mean that the President is guilty or even probably guilty. It simply means that the document itself contains a recital of facts supporting an allegation of an impeachable offense. Only then should it be given due course for Congress to determine the actual merits of the complaint.

By junking all three complaints at this early stage, the House justice committee has prevented Congress and the people the opportunity of further ascertaining the truth or falsity of the charges. Worse, it tells the people that the alleged illegal and unconstitutional acts of the President, grave and serious as they are, are not even impeachable offenses.

Thus, in one fell swoop, the justice committee raised the bar for future impeachment complaints and made it more difficult to hold the President accountable for wrongdoing.

Teddy Casiño is an activist who served for three terms in Congress as a Bayan Muna party-list representative (2004-2013). He is now back in the parliament of the streets.

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