To comprehend the pros and cons of the spate of impeachment complaints that have been filed against key officials of constitutional bodies, we suggest that the public focus first on the specific provisions of the Constitution that bear on Congress’ exclusive power of impeachment and the impeachment process. They clarify why this course of action is necessary for accountability and good governance.
The provisions are contained in one specific article: Article 11: Accountability of Public Officers.
The article specifically provides the following rules governing the impeachment of public officials:
Section 1. Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.
Section 2. The President, the vice president, the members of the Supreme Court, the members of the constitutional commissions, and the ombudsman may be removed from office, on impeachment, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.
Section 3. (1) The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.
(2) A verified complaint for impeachment may be filed by any member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution of endorsement by any member thereof.
(6) The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment.
(7) Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualifications to hold any office under the Republic of the Philippines.
Understanding the impeachment process has become imperative for our citizenry so they can keep abreast of the many things that are happening simultaneously in our public life. Today, there are multiple impeachment complaints against three high-ranking public officials of the republic:
1. Two impeachment complaints have been filed against Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, for various acts against public interest. Two impeachment complaints have been filed before the House of Representatives by the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) and by lawyer Larry Gadon. The complaints have been endorsed by 41 members of the House.
2. An impeachment complaint against Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista filed by former Negros Oriental Representative Jacinto Paras and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, for acquiring assets beyond his income as public official and for a breach involving voters’ data in the 2016 elections. It has multiple endorsers.
3. A third impeachment complaint against top official is also in the works. The VACC is reportedly set to file an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. This complaint has already been assured of endorsement by some House members.
Opinion tends to divide squarely on the wisdom of having so many key officials who need to answer impeachment complaints at the same time. One of our columnists has warned that we are evolving into a “Republic of Impeachments.”
Impeachment proponents contend that the House of Representatives should act on the complaints with probity and dispatch, because the complaints relate to rank misconduct in public office and the betrayal of public interest. The house must not shirk its duty because impeachment is the only remedy against erring officials.
Impeachment opponents, such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, contend that Congress may abuse the impeachment power, and that the process could undermine judicial independence.
We think the arguments against the impeachment process should not override the arguments for action to proceed. Precisely because impeachment is the only constitutional process for removing these officials, Congress, through the House and then the Senate, should grasp the nettle of impeachment.
It is noteworthy that the three officials who are targeted by the impeachment complaints are appointees and members of the previous administration of former president Benigno Aquino 3rd. They figured prominently in the actions taken by Aquino to remove officials from their constitutional offices and deprive them of due process.
New impeachment proceedings will serve as a necessary correction of past abuses and vindication of justice and the public interest.