PONDER this: it is not President Duterte or Vice President Robredo who are on the defensive with the rush of impeachment complaints at the House of Representatives in the Congress.
It is rather the Constitution that is on the rack. Before the fever passes, the Charter could have a breakdown. Or maybe that is the reason why some people are taking things to extremes –to impel constitutional revision.
What have I learned from watching this spectacle possess and divide our people?
1. Constitution needs a rewrite
For a document that demands absolute fidelity and obedience from citizens and public officials, the 1987 Constitution needs truth to speak to its provisions and its language.
Impeachment is just one of its blind spots. In Article XI of the Constitution, which discusses “the accountability of public officers,” the Charter provides that 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 for, and conviction of, the following crimes:
1. Culpable violation of the Constitution;
3. Graft and corruption;
4. Other high crimes; and
5. Betrayal of the public trust.
Oddly, for an action that concerns the removal from office of some of the highest officials of government, the Charter does not define the grounds for impeachment; it is content to supply broad headings and generalities.
Betrayal of public trust, wrote one Con-com member, was added as an additional ground for impeachment. He said that such betrayal need not involve a criminal offense. Generally, a violation of one’s oath of office may constitute a betrayal of public trust.
With the other grounds, the rationale is left in limbo. The House is totally free to determine or decide what it considers impeachable.
The Constitution is sacred in our government system. The work of the Supreme Court focuses on interpreting the meaning of its words. The powers of every branch of government are defined by what it says.
These solemnities notwithstanding, it is not unlawful or sacrilegious, to speak truth to its power and language.
The Constitution is poorly written, wordy and imprecise. Like copy in journalism, it badly needs a rewrite.
I suspect that our public officials will stumble less often on its provisions, or dare to commit transgressions, if the Charter were shorter, clearer, and better-written.
Then perhaps, we can build a “constitutional culture,” as a fellow columnist in another paper has wisely suggested. “If ours is a government hemmed in by the Constitution, as it should be, then the Constitution should be of paramount importance, which is the reason that every public officer swears to uphold and to defend it. But ‘Constitution’ cannot refer only to the written text—as the present conundrum so amply demonstrates It must refer as well to the culture of respecting the institutions of the Constitution and keeping them from the hands of the reckless…We might very well refer too to a ‘constitutional culture’—the culture of keeping within the bounds of the purpose of constitutional provisions. Certainly, impeachment was not meant to be a ready tool of political vendetta or the persecution of one’s political foes. It was a device by which the Republic might save itself from the stewardship of inept, incapable or corrupt and treacherous leaders!…What is sorely lacking is a constitutional culture that makes us respectful of what is unwritten but clearly intended.”
2. Impeachment is a political process
The crude view of the Benigno Aquino III administration and its allies in Congress was that the impeachment process is just a numbers game in the legislature. Whoever has the votes controls the fate of the object/subject of impeachment.
Not so, says the spokesman of the Sereno Supreme Court, Theodore Te. It’s not just a numbers game because the legal issues arising from it may be brought before the Supreme Court.
“While an impeachment proceeding is a political process in which party alliances play a crucial role, it can also involve contentious legal issues that only the high court can settle.”
Te made the statement in comment on the moves in the House to impeach President Duterte and Vice President Robredo.
Te explained: “There have been instances where the Supreme Court has been asked to come in, but on very, very limited issues.”
He cited the impeachment cases against retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona, and former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, that all reached the high court.
In the Davide case, the high court decided on the issue involving the constitutional rule requiring only one impeachment complaint against an official per year and tackled its jurisdiction over the case. In its 2003 ruling, the SC disallowed the filing of a second impeachment complaint against Da-vide after the first one was dismissed by the House.
In the 2010 Gutierrez case, the high court was asked to review the power of the House to conduct hearings on an impeachment case. The high court then upheld the House procedures and the former Ombudsman resigned from her post in April 2011 even before her trial in the Senate could start.
In both cases, the high court temporarily stopped the House from proceeding with the impeachment process pending a resolution of the petitions.
Corona also filed a petition with the high court when he faced impeachment in February 2012, but the high court did not grant him relief until the Senate ordered his ouster after his impeachment trial.
Te said that in all these cases, the high court did not touch on the grounds of the impeachment cases.
“There has been no instance when the court actually reviewed the basis for impeachment,” Te said.
He said impeachment is a “political process to remove a public official unfit for a position.”
“It is not a criminal trial, it is not a trial per se as we understand it in the courts. It is not a judicial process. It is basically a political disciplinary process.”
3. Duterte and Robredo will keep jobs
The odds of success are against the impeachment complaints against Duterte and Robredo. Aside from the political and PR difficulties, judicial hurdles could scuttle them.
DU30 muddled matters when he returned from visits to Burma and Thailand. He told his allies in Congress to stop the impeach moves against Robredo.
Speaker Alvarez tried to argue that impeachment is the business of the House, and not of the Pal-ace. Congress is fully independent from the executive. It is unlikely that we will hear Alvarez on this matter anymore.
The situation points to an incontrovertible conclusion: President Duterte and Vice President Robredo will get to keep their jobs. And they will get another chance to do the same things that ignited the impeachment complaints in the first place.
They could even marry, if Leni takes up DU30’s quip on the impeach situation.
Politics can be a wearisome and Sisyphean exercise. After all the exertions, we do not pocket any-thing.
Voting the right people into office is less stressful than removing politicians who are already seat-ed.