December 12, 2017, 9:11 am
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Impeachment

THE current impeachment hearings in the Committee on Justice of the House of Representatives in connection with the charges against Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno prove just how Philippine democracy handles or mishandles this constitutional tool for accountability.

Our experience with the impeachment process has been less than perfect, often with bumps and protuberances that are the usual characteristics of our failed or failing institutions.

The case of President Joseph Estrada in 2001 showed how the President respected the rule of law, how he subjected himself to an impeachment trial in the Senate, only to be overtaken and eased out by people power.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo learned from this presidential debacle, expectedly because she was partly responsible for Erap’s downfall being its principal beneficiary. So Gloria cunningly made the most use of the timing provision of the impeachment process, with the filing of weak complaints against her almost every year, of course with the cooperation of her congressmen-friends.

President Benigno Aquino III reportedly used both the impeachment process and the billion-peso legislative sweeteners called PDAF and DAP to kick out Chief Justice Renato Corona from his high perch in the High Court.

Corona was replaced by Sereno, who was then touted as the least qualified among nominees to the post.

But as the saying goes, the chickens have come home to roost, for a new President, the arch-enemy of Aquino and Mar Roxas, has taken over Malacañang and his first order of business was to subject to the finest comb of accountability known Aquino loyalists on the top rung of the bureaucracy. These include key generals in the Philippine National Police, and the sitting heads of the Office of the Ombudsman and the Supreme Court.

The problem with impeachable officials who are now the targets of impeachment is that they are not exactly impeccably right or clean, and so the constitutional process of removing them from office is gaining traction.

One good thing about this exercise is that it reinforces the process of vetting of top government officials. One congressman pointed out that members of constitutional commissions such as the Commission on Elections, ambassadors and Cabinet members all undergo confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. But the Chief Justice, who has enormous power over appointments and supervision of judges, only passes the scrutiny of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) and the appointing power, the President. There is only one lawmaker, either a representative or a senator, who is member of the JBC, and being an elected official, has a direct mandate from the Filipino people. 

This is one reason, the congressman said, why Congress should be strict and fastidious in wielding the constitutional tool of impeachment in the case of the Chief Justice, be it Sereno or any chief justice.
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