THE instantaneous killing of the three impeachment complaints against President B. S. Aquino 3rd by the House committee on justice for being “insufficient in substance” was not at all unexpected. But it does not alter the need to remove the miscreant, nor should it end any determined legal effort to do so.
In the eyes of many, Aquino has become totally impeachable on virtually all the grounds enumerated in the Constitution, namely, “culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.” And if the process outlined in the law will not work, they must find another way of achieving the same results.
But are any prepared to soldier on?
Under the Constitution, the House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment. The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide such cases. A vote of at least one-third of all the Members of the House shall be necessary to either affirm a favorable committee resolution on the Articles of Impeachment, or override a contrary resolution.
Now, the Committee voted, 54-4, to junk the three complaints for being insufficient in substance after finding them sufficient in form. If that is an indication of how the House will vote in plenary on the Committee report, the chance of an override seems quite remote.
The complaints would then be dismissed with finality, and no new impeachment complaint could be filed against Aquino within a period of one year.
After the one-year period is over, assuming he is still in office by then, he could have a nuisance complaint filed against himself, so that after it is thrown out, he could have another year during which no serious impeachment complaint could be filed against him. This was what his predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo did during her watch to beat the continuing threat of impeachment.
All this was made possible by the 2003 Supreme Court interpretation, in Francisco v. House of Representatives, of the constitutional provision which says “no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.”
We believe the SC interpretation, penned by then Associate Justice and now Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, is a complete misreading of the Constitution. In this ruling, the subject of an impeachment complaint can no longer be made to answer a new complaint over a one-year period, even if the earlier complaint had failed to prosper into a case in the hands of the House. What the Constitution obviously means is that within a period of one year, the House shall not entertain any impeachment complaint against any official whom it had previously impeached and whom the Senate had acquitted.
But that ruling was meant to, and did in fact, save then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. from certain impeachment, simply by showing that he had been subjected to an earlier complaint which had failed to prosper, therefore he could no longer be made to answer a new complaint over a one-year period.
It later saved Mrs. Arroyo from possible impeachment simply by her causing a defective complaint to be filed against herself, which gave her a one-year immunity from impeachment after the mock complaint had been thrown out.
It has now become Aquino’s uncomfortable shield.
As a result of the junking of the complaints, the committee, chaired by Iloilo’s Rep. Niel Tupas, who headed the bumbling prosecution panel during the 2012 Senate impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, can look forward to a period of spirited speculation on how much Malacañang had paid its members to throw out the three complaints. Because Malacañang had paid off the members of Congress to impeach and remove Corona in 2011-2012, critics find it easy to assume they were similarly paid off to junk the three complaints.
I would like to believe there was no need for it. Having been bought before, when 188 congressmen, many of whom are still in the House, signed the Articles of Impeachment against Corona, even without reading the document, I don’t believe it was necessary to buy Tupas and company all over again. They are “honorable” men, and honor would demand that once bought, they remained bought.
But the complainants are not entirely blameless. By limiting their ground for impeaching PNoy to the unconstitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program, and to the alleged lopsidedness of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States, they may have ensured their own defeat.
For while the Supreme Court had earlier ruled by a 13-0 vote that the DAP was unconstitutional, that ruling is still under appeal and has not been made final and executory. No matter how remote the possibility that the Court would reverse, that was the legal situation which the Tupas committee could exploit, and in fact decided to exploit.
The criminal use of the DAP and the Priority Development Assistance Fund, which the Court had earlier declared unconstitutional, to bribe members of the House and the Senate to impeach and remove Corona might have made a far more compelling ground. Not only did this constitute bribery and corruption of public officers, it was also a high crime and a betrayal of public trust.
Of course, the Committee would have thrown it out anyway, especially since it would accuse not only Aquino but also the Committee members who had been bribed to impeach Corona. But the gravity of the allegation might have merited some extended committee investigation and debate at the very least.
As for the alleged unconstitutionality of the EDCA, this appears to be an issue that has to be decided first by the Supreme Court, not by Congress, least of all by the House justice committee.
Sec. 25, Article XVIII of the Constitution provides that, “After the expiration in 1991 of the Agreement between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States of America concerning Military Bases, foreign military bases, troops, or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate and when the Congress so requires, ratified by a majority of the votes cast by the people in a national referendum held for that purpose and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting State.”
One may disagree with the wisdom of Aquino’s decision to enter into the agreement, but that would not make the agreement unconstitutional nor render impeachable his decision to enter into it. However, if one believes the EDCA cannot take the form of a mere executive agreement but should take the form of a treaty, the better course of action would have been to ask the High Court to prevent the Executive from implementing the agreement until it shall have been concurred in by the Senate.
If after the Court shall have ruled that Senate approval is required, the President still refuses to submit the agreement to the Senate for concurrence, then that is when Aquino should be impeached for his constitutional offense.
But the impeachment complaints were doomed from the very start for reasons other than those mentioned above. Assuming the House had transmitted the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for trial, how on earth could the latter, in its present form, have constituted itself as an impeachment court? Having been bribed by Malacañang to convict Corona, most of the Senators have lost all moral authority to sit in any impeachment proceedings as “senator-judges.” It would be a complete travesty, were they to rest one hand on the Bible and raise the other to swear an oath, before God and on TV, to “render impartial justice.”
Because of the wounds that have been inflicted on the impeachment process, it can no longer function as it should in the present Congress. It has been thoroughly corrupted and destroyed. This is why from the very beginning, I have proposed that a well-studied impeachment complaint against Aquino be circulated for mass signature to the public, and filed not with the totally discredited Congress but with the sovereign Filipino people, from whom all government authority emanates, and who will then decide what to do with it.
That proposal is worth repeating, and those who are interested in pursuing it will not need the next twelve months to do it.