Impeachment fever
AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman (The Philippine Star) - September 10, 2017 - 4:00pm

The way things are going, we may be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the Impeachment capital of the world, for the most number of impeachment complaints filed in a year. Impeachment complaints have been filed against the President, Vice-President, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Chairman of the Commission on Elections, the Ombudsman, and maybe the heads of the other constitutional commissions will be next.

Is there an impending Impeachment fever outbreak? Is it because more people had become zealously patriotic in instituting complaints or is it just motivated by media? Did the political opposition unwittingly start a series of witch hunts by filing what was believed to be an “ill-advised” complaint against the most popular President? Are the appointees of the former president truly unfit with “jaundice” prejudicial to the interest of public service, thereby necessitating an immediate political cure? Is Congress flexing its muscle either by cutting budgets to absurd proportions or through impeachment, in a scheme to re-organize the top echelon of government via short-cut? Or are we simply gunning for another world record?

The Constitution 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, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or betrayal of public trust.” The obvious intent is to protect the stability of government by limiting the grounds for removal from public office of these high government officials only to serious and grave causes. While there was a debate during the Corona impeachment trial as to what constitutes “betrayal of public trust,” the Supreme Court had already clarified that this catch-all phrase should be limited to “acts attended by bad faith and of such gravity and seriousness as the other grounds for impeachment.” We must remember that in the 1935 and 1973 constitution, betrayal of public trust was not an impeachable offense.

Could management style, attitude, lying, or a mistake in a video presentation be grounds for impeachment then? Unless tainted with graft and corruption, is the buying of an expensive car for the Chief Justice betrayal of public trust if there is an approved appropriation for this and considering the stature and security concerns of the office? Was not President Quirino exonerated for allegedly buying an expensive golden orinola? I am not in a position to even advance an opinion on the propriety of the charges in the impeachment complaints now pending in congress, but I am sure many will find some of the allegations flimsy and downright amusing.

While Congress is vested with the power to impeach and remove high officials as a way of checking abuses in other branches of government, this must be used sparingly and only in circumstances of extraordinary exigency. Otherwise, the primary legislative purpose of enacting laws would be adversely affected, as it already appears to be so in view of the time-consuming hearings in aid of legislation and re-election to publicly elicit from resource persons facts already known to everybody, such as the customary corruption in the Bureau of Customs. Based on past experience, we could not afford to have impeachment proceedings every day, which is bound to happen if all these impeachment complaints reach the senate for trial. This exercise is highly divisive and counter-productive. People will be glued to their TV sets watching the drama unfold to the prejudice of work or studies. Many will become instant political analysts fanning heated arguments and misunderstandings even between spouses and family members. The “word war” in social media will bring out the worst between the fanatic yellowtards and dutertards. Public service will be reduced to the bare minimum especially in the agencies affected. Then the economy will suffer once the investment climate is clouded with uncertainties brought about by the impeachment brouhaha.   

I just hope that if there is any iota of truth to the serious and truly impeachable charges against these high public officials, they would find it in their hearts to spare the people of the trouble and immediately resign with whatever is left of their dignity and honor. But do not do it the Judas or the Japanese way for there is still life after government service. That is if one has not squandered his loot in accumulating material goods in keeping up with the Joneses.

On the other hand, I also expect the House of Representatives to be more circumspect in scrutinizing the merits of every impeachment complaint beyond political party lines and affiliations. It is important for stability in government to preserve the integrity of the impeachment process as an implement of constitutional checks and balances, and prevent it from being abused as a political tool to silence dissent, bully the opposition, or prematurely curtail legally-protected terms of offices. If this is too much to ask of our Honorable Congressmen, I wish that the members of the Senate, seating as an Impeachment Court, will not only perform better than the way they handle their telenovela-like inquiries, but more significantly, to act with the expected cold neutrality of impartial judges free from political bias usually rumored to be induced by manna from the palace.

Wasn’t there an allegation that the former President used the unconstitutional DAP fund for the unconstitutional purpose of influencing the senators in the trial of the late Chief Justice? President Digong says “Corruption must stop,” thus, it is very unlikely that he would even consider any form of corruption to effect the removal of a high official charged with graft and corruption, among others.

While the impeachment process is understandably a political exercise regardless of the evidence presented, it is still important to convince the people that proceedings are conducted and votes cast with the best interest of the public in mind. Wasn’t somebody deposed because the people did not like the way the senators handled an impeachment proceeding before? The people could also find a political short-cut not necessarily against a popular president but against the other institutions of government. I hope this is not a prelude to a revolutionary government, or will one be better for us? I pray, God bless us all!

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