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Fly in the Ointment

Fly in the Ointment
Ronald Roy — 3 April 2012

Happy Easter, everybody! May the Spirit of Lent lead us on with renewed enlightenment as Christians, and more particularly as Filipinos embroiled in a fervid search of constitutional responsibilities in the ongoing impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.

There is absolutely nothing in the Constitution that prevents any impeachment senator-judge from rendering a personal verdict of conviction or acquittal. He or she can do so for whatever reason he or she may fancy under the sun.  For instance, he or she may decide this way: “The facts and the evidence say that the respondent is innocent. But because my blood boils whenever I see his mug, I will convict him.”

And it is not remote that such a scandalously reasoned-out vote may count as the deciding one needed to pronounce the unmerited destruction of the respondent’s career or profession, the worse part being that the inequity may not be reviewed by any agency or body other than the impeachment trial court itself.

Yes, Audrey (de Santos), that’s how things go in our imperfect world, a milieu where an unjust collegial impeachment decision can result from just one misguided voter.

But if it’s any consolation, that one perfidious senator-judge will so fall out if his or her constituents’ grace, that if he or she were up for reelection, or sought another elective office, his or her aspirations would most likely be in jeopardy of rejection.

But then again, the errant senator-judge’s comeuppance would be utterly pyrrhic, compared to the humongous damage done to an innocent man in particular, and the judiciary in general—as in the current case of the Chief Justice’s impeachment trial.

In reality, however, it won’t happen that way because the senator-judges will not be required to explain their individual decisions. Besides, the deviant judge would not dare reveal the reason for his or her vote, secretly knowing the same to be roguish and unjust.

The point of all this discourse, Audrey, is that I believe that each senator-judge owes it to the electorate to explain his or her vote, whether for conviction or acquittal.

This way, we get to recognize and adhere to the principle that, while an impeachment trial is meant by the organic law to be a judicial activity, it is likewise a political undertaking in which the senator-judges are called upon by those who voted them into office to act with fairness and reason, and that their failure or refusal to do so would be politically ruinous to them.

The fundamental law is quite explicit, Teddy (Malvar), that the sovereign Filipino people have chosen only elective officials—repeat: only elective officials— to handle impeachment cases, to wit: 1. The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment [Art. XI, Sec. 3(1)]; and 2. The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment [Art. XI, Sec. (6)].

To be sure, therefore, the sovereign people’s choice of elective officials is what gives the enterprise of impeachment a political character and dimension. Their choice likewise implicitly prohibits the representative-prosecutors and the senator-judges from going beyond the pale, i.e., stepping into areas where undue influence may be exerted by forces like the Chief Executive, mobsters, media and pollsters.

Otherwise, there would be no need for impeachment courts, and a survey, e.g., would suffice. This, Teddy, is precisely what is happening in respect of the ongoing impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona.

Inferentially, it follows with equal force that neither was it the intention of the framers of the basic charter to allow any external pressure of whatever kind and from whatever source to be made to bear upon both chambers of the Congress discharging their respective impeachment mandates.

Unfortunately, what we now see over the horizon is the exception rather than the rule. Without safeguards to ensure that our legislators can freely and independently perform their impeachment roles, the removal from office of the impeached CJ Renato C. Corona may so debilitate the judiciary as to render inoperative our democratic system of checks and balances. This indeed would be the most calamitous aftermath imaginable.

One good step by way of interdicting this misfortune, texter #0114, is an urgent statutory criminalization of such acts (e.g., by the president, mobsters, media, pollsters, or any group or person) as amount to, say, a survey, trial by publicity, bribery, coercion, and the like.

Would that our legislators took note of this imperative suggestion with the least of partisan sentiments in mind, lest they be later blamed for having foolishly reneged on a duty to avert a political disaster when they had an excellent chance to do so.

In this respect, focus is laid on Impeachment Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile as the man of the hour. To him belongs the enviable challenge of leading his court into successfully completing a first impeachment case ever—hopefully to the satisfaction of his fellow citizens—and being the jurist to exert a patriotic effort to initiate the codification of what may later be called the Philippine Impeachment Law.

Needless to state, however, that challenge remains parlously daunting. Let us then be bullish with the thought that not a single aberrant one of his associates will stand in his way like a fly in the ointment.

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