Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Grave Abuse of Discretion by the Supreme Court on Impeachment

In Impeachment as Safety Net, constitutionalist Joaquin Bernas, S.J. reviews the 2003 ruling by the Supreme Court regarding the initiation of an impeachment proceeding:
The crucial point to determine is when the “impeachment proceeding” is deemed to have been “initiated.” In 2003, in the case involving the attempted impeachment of Chief Justice Hilario Davide, the Court ruled that the “impeachment proceeding” is deemed to have been “initiated” not when the justice committee starts deliberations on the complaint, nor when the committee submits its report to the House, nor when the House starts deliberation on the committee report, nor when the House sends the complaint to the Senate for trial, but much earlier—that is, when the House presiding officer sends the verified complaint to the justice committee for study.

In arriving at this conclusion the Court argued thus: “A proceeding must be ‘initiated.’ To initiate, which comes from the Latin word initium, means to begin. On the other hand, ‘proceeding’ is a progressive noun. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It takes place not in the Senate but in the House and consists of several steps: (1) there is the filing of a verified complaint either by a Member of the House of Representatives or by a private citizen endorsed by a Member of the House of the Representatives; (2) there is the processing of this complaint by the proper Committee which may either reject the complaint or uphold it; (3) whether the resolution of the Committee rejects or upholds the complaint, the resolution must be forwarded to the House for further processing; and (4) there is the processing of the same complaint by the House of Representatives which either affirms a favorable resolution of the Committee or overrides a contrary resolution by a vote of one-third of all the members. If at least one-third of all the Members upholds the complaint, Articles of Impeachment are prepared and transmitted to the Senate. It is at this point that the House ‘initiates an impeachment case.’ It is at this point that an impeachable public official is successfully impeached. That is, he or she is successfully charged with an impeachment ‘case’ before the Senate as impeachment court.”

The Court continued: “The ‘impeachment proceeding’ is not initiated when the complaint is transmitted to the Senate for trial because that is the end of the House proceeding and the beginning of another proceeding, namely the trial. Neither is the ‘impeachment proceeding’ initiated when the House deliberates on the resolution passed on to it by the Committee, because something prior to that has already been done. The action of the House is already a further step in the proceeding, not its initiation or beginning. Rather, the proceeding is initiated or begins, when a verified complaint is filed and referred to the Committee on Justice for action. This is the initiating step which triggers the series of steps that follow.”

Did the Supreme Court correctly interpret the relevant Constitutional provisions? Here they are in Article XI (Accountability of Public Officers):
Section 1. Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.

Section 2. 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. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.

Section 3. (1) The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.

(2) A verified complaint for impeachment may be filed by any Member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution or endorsement by any Member thereof, which shall be included in the Order of Business within ten session days, and referred to the proper Committee within three session days thereafter. The Committee, after hearing, and by a majority vote of all its Members, shall submit its report to the House within sixty session days from such referral, together with the corresponding resolution. The resolution shall be calendared for consideration by the House within ten session days from receipt thereof.

(3) A vote of at least one-third of all the Members of the House shall be necessary either to affirm a favorable resolution with the Articles of Impeachment of the Committee, or override its contrary resolution. The vote of each Member shall be recorded.

(4) In case the verified complaint or resolution of impeachment is filed by at least one-third of all the Members of the House, the same shall constitute the Articles of Impeachment, and trial by the Senate shall forthwith proceed.

(5) No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.

(6) The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment. When sitting for that purpose, the Senators shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the Philippines is on trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside, but shall not vote. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.

(7) Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualification to hold any office under the Republic of the Philippines, but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to prosecution, trial, and punishment, according to law.

(8) The Congress shall promulgate its rules on impeachment to effectively carry out the purpose of this section.
The word INITIATE occurs exactly twice in Article XI above, first in Section 3(1) which speaks of the exclusive power of the House to initiate all CASES of impeachment, and in Section 3(5) which limits to once per year the power of the House to initiate impeachment proceedings against a given impeachable official.

I agree completely that the Supreme Court correctly distinguishes between the "impeachment proceedings" and the "case of impeachment" which may or may not result therefrom, the difference being one of product and process, or even, cause and effect. A Senate impeachment trial will only result when the House exercises its exclusive power to initiate a case of impeachment, but the process or "proceedings" by which such a case is brought into existence, the Supreme Court asserts rightly, begins earlier. But when?? Though they enumerate four or five possible points of initiation, in this Decision they locate such a beginning of the process at the earliest of these possibilities, namely right after a verified complaint for impeachment has been filed and automatically referred to the Justice Committee for processing, as has just happened with the Pulido complaint.

Did the the Supreme Court have the right or the power or the privilege to make such Rule on the initiation of impeachment? Or did it commit a grave abuse of its own discretion?

It cannot be denied that the Constitution is quite silent about the question of WHEN the impeachment proceedings are initiated. The big question is, WHO has the right, the power, the privilege and the appropriate discretion to answer this question of WHEN the process begins?

Take a look at the last sentence of Article XI: Section 3 (8) The Congress shall promulgate its rules on impeachment to effectively carry out the purpose of this section.

THE CONGRESS itself has this power, NOT the Supreme Court! I conclude therefore that the Supreme Court committed a grave abuse of its discretion in making the impeachment initiation rule for Congress, which, in the utterly corrupt desire of the pro-GMA leaderhip to save Davide from impeachment in 2003, it did nothing about, even if the complaint already had the one third minority required to initiate a case of impeachment!


There is yet another very powerful way of looking at Article XI that I have discovered by considering this crucial issue, and it has to do with the Separation of powers.

In my opinion, what Article XI does is to give to the Congress, which is the ONLY branch of the government that does NOT have any impeachable officers, the EXCLUSIVE and SOLE JUDICIAL POWER to remove from office the Constitutional Officers listed in Section 1, namely and in order of the numbers they possess, the fifteen Supreme Court Justices, the five Comelec Commissioners, the three members each of the Commission on Audit and Civil Service Commission, the two Executive officers, the President and the Vice President, and one Ombudsman.

Indeed, it is obvious from the most plain reading of Article XI that the Supreme Court does not in fact have ANY jurisdiction over such a power to remove their own Members and all other impeachable officers. It is a JUDICIAL POWER exclusive to and solely possessed by the POLITICAL branch of the government, the Congress. Article XI indubitably locates the entire process of removing such officers ENTIRELY and CONGRUENTLY within the boundaries of the Congress, giving to the House the exclusive power to begin the process and to the Senate the sole power to finish the process. The verdict of a Senate impeachment court CANNOT even be appealed to the Supreme Court, because such verdict is FINAL and EXECUTORY.

Although the Constitution does not specify explicitly WHEN impeachment proceedings are deemed initiated, the Supreme Court however had no right to do so, for the House clearly has that right by explicit mandate of the Constitution. The Supreme Court therefore exercised a power explicitly granted to a different branch of the government when it so ruled. It violated the principle of the Separation of Powers to save one of its own in 2003, the oh-so-destructive Hilario G. Davide, Jr. Thus the Supreme Court committed a grave abuse of its own discretion by exercising a power it usurped from the House of Reprenstatives. Its decision is legally and morally NULL and VOID ab initio, and may righteously be ignored and disobeyed by the Congress, even today. The House can adopt new Rules on Impeachment Initiation and overrule the Supreme Court's decision, and thus reclaim the JUDICIAL power usurped from it.

The Supreme Court of course is granted the power to interpret the meaning of the Constitution. But it made a mistake in this case. It should have ruled that the Congress alone has the power over impeachment, including making the Rules that fill in any blanks in the Constitution, such as WHEN an impeachment proceeding begins. It should have returned the petition to the House and told IT to decide under powers granted to it in Section 8, when such proceedings begin. By selecting for the House when along the process this happens, it abused its power to interpret the Constitution, a grave abuse of discretion!

I believe that several quite significant misinterpretations and demonstrable violations of these theoretical principles have led to a dangerously malfunctioning government that is producing an intolerably unjust society in which all manner of social and political evils go unchecked and the most serious crimes by public and private entities go unpunished.

Like a highly complex piece of moving and rotating machinery, the Government's very different and separate parts are normally kept running smoothly in close coordination with each other, by the nuts and bolts of these general principles and theories. Conversely, when the Machine's operators act unwisely and they loosen the screws, or lose them altogether, the resulting unchecked and unbalanced turmoil and strife increase exponentially and a major cataclysm or explosion becomes unavoidable.

The "Machine" to which I am referring is of course the Government itself, whose form and function are both defined in some detail by the Constitution.

The FORM of this Machine is that of a representative democratic government composed of three main branches: the Presidency, the Congress composed of House and Senate, and the Supreme Court.

These POWERS of the Government consist of the legislative power to make new laws in addition to the Constitution; the executive power to implement and enforce those laws; and the judicial power to interpret what the Constitution and the laws mean in the specific circumstances of "justiciable cases" that come before it in order to settle disputes between and among citizens and institutions.

I intentionally avoid using the terms executive, legislative and judicial branches of the government. I think applying these three adjectives to the branches of government rather than to its powers or functions, creates the wrong impression that Separation of Powers means the executive power flows like tree sap into the executive branch, the legislative power into the legislative, and the judicial power into the judicial branch.

Yet when one carefully examines the engineering design document for this Machine of separate parts --namely the Constitution--one discovers that the separation of powers mandated therein is far more complex and subtle than the above simplistic description might suggest.

For example, every Supreme Court Decision becomes part of the laws of the land. They have as much force to compel our compliance as any law crafted by the Congress, and therefore it is an inescapable conclusion that the Judiciary partakes of the legislative power in a substantial manner, and is indeed capable of overpowering and annulling any law passed by Congress that it deems to be unconstitutional. Of course, this is just a way of saying that the judicial power of the Court includes a "negative legislative power" of repealing existing laws.

Likewise, I think it has also been demonstrated that the Legislature actually has JUDICIAL power that is GREATER than that of the Supreme Court in the matter of the removal of impeachable officers.

Separation of Powers is thus seen to be the well-spring of CHECKS and BALANCES in a democratic government by which judicial and legislative powers are shared and distributed between Court and Congress.

What Is Fair Has Just Priority Over What Is Good
Our Bantay Salakay Supreme Court and the Separation of Powers
Laughable Textbook Errors In Crucial Supreme Court Decisions

1 comment:

Tongue's Wrath said...

The SC decision on Davide's impeachment was self-serving. It reduced the impeachment from being a means to removing an unwanted constitutional officer to a mere filing contest.

The House, as Fiscals, should welcome all improvements to a case, not prevent them. They are mandated afterwards to provide public funds for the prosecution panel. With this in mind, a bogus impeachment complaint is therefore, a waste of funds. That being the case in this instance the process is deemed violative of standing statutes and laws.

The bottomline is, the decision on Davide's case is flawed and needs to be corrected promptly by the SC itself.