Thursday, November 20, 2008

Assault With a Dead Weapon

Four impeachments attempts and an bloggers intervention later, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo shines with hubris as her Press Secretary invokes God on her behalf for 2010.  The power of impeachment, used only once since 1987,  with disastrous results, has been reduced to "assault with a dead weapon".  Why?? 
[Following is part of a recent post at Filipino Voices...]

In my opinion, the One-third Minority Rule on initiating cases of impeachment is a fundamentally flawed and undemocratic concept. It is philosophically inconsistent with Majority Rule, which is at the heart of everything the Congress does, from electing its officers to passing the budget, to making laws. People only like it if they don't like the President or other impeachable officials because they think it will be easier to impeach them. But by exempting impeachment from Majority Rule we are paradoxically devaluing, degrading, or even illegitimizing the process of impeachment itself, thus defeating the stated purpose of 1987's lowered impeachment initiation threshold. I think it is the principle behind Majority Rule that legitimizes any official act or law in a representative democracy. Official acts or laws ought to be legitimate in both form and substance. For me, legitimate in substance means the act or law does all things necessary and sufficient to achieve its stated purposes. Legitimate in form means it has passed the test of Majority Rule.

When we do not require the free will and approval of the Majority in a matter as gravely political as the initiation of removal proceedings against the President, or other high officials, we invite big trouble. By not requiring the "good housekeeping seal of approval" that Majority Rule bestows, we are building a weak foundation of public trust in the process of impeachment. For how is the public to evaluate or appreciate the overall merit or wisdom of an impeachment complaint or case, without the benefit of the same level of institutional approval or discernment that the public expects of even the most mundane legislation, such as the renaming of streets?

The attempt to impeach a particular President may be legitimate in substance, but because of the One-third minority rule, we are depriving it of the primordial legitimacy of form bestowed on acts and laws approved by Majority Rule. Unless a clear Majority supported it, the impeachment case will arrive at the Senate Court dressed in the shabby garments of every rejected proposal in the House, none of which ever dark the Senate's door.

At the moment the Administration forces in the House have been able to prevent the Opposition from attaining the required one-third threshold to impeach the President. (It is a testament to Gloria Arroyo's compleat understanding and political mastery of the Members of the House.) This would be the case of "legitimate in substance" but railroaded to the dumpsite by the Majority.

But there is something far worse possible. Someday, we could easily have a very different situation. We could have a "good" President undeserving of impeachment, faced with a stronger House opposition able to regularly muster the required 33% to satisfy the Minority Rule on impeachment. Then we could see all sorts of morally or ethically illegitimate impeachments going to trial in the Senate. After all there are thirty-one targets available at least once a year, not just the President. Such a profligacy of impeachments suits could be a good or a bad thing, but both conditions would be vastly improved if all impeachments that did reach trial, had all the seals of good housekeeping bestowed by Majority Rule.

For reference, here are the relevant portions of 1987 Art. XI on 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.

How can it be right that a far greater fraction of the people's sovereignty is required to rename a street or pass the most mundane of laws, than it is to proceed with removing the President or Chief Justice from office by putting them on impeachment trial in the Senate?

The rule makes initiating a case of impeachment easier by lowering the arithmetic threshold, yet there is an absolute once-per-year limit on the initiation of impeachment proceedings. The sum of these two opposed effects is however, not zero, because the one third minority rule has badly damaged the power of impeachment by saddling it with the essential illegitimacy of an act with threshold of approval set much lower than every other act of the House and Senate. Hilario Davide, whose handiwork this brilliant 1987 innovation is known to be, actually first proposed a ONE-FIFTH minority rule for initiating impeachment, on the theory that another Dictator Marcos could be prevented if the Congress could impeach him at the first sign of culpable violation of the Constitution.
How much better would THAT idea have been?! Disastrous results, especially for Constitutional Separation of Powers, attended the one time it was invoked to impeach Erap exactly seven years ago last week--who was removed from office not by conviction at Senate trial (which was sure to acquit him) but by the inexplicable, extrajudicial act of the Chief Justice suddenly swearing in the Vice President, who claimed the President was permanently incapacitated--a bald lie.

There is supernal irony to the fact that a deeply undemocratic principle in the one-third minority rule, underpins impeachment, over which the Congress has sole and exclusive power and jurisdiction. Not even the Supreme Court can reverse or review a decision by the Senate in a case of impeachment. Neither can even the power of the President to grant pardons and commutations change the verdict or penalty in any case of impeachment. Yet this vast power can be wielded and deployed under a Minority Rule.


Anonymous said...

In today's pinas, minority rule or majority rule is mute against money rule. Gloria has the money, thus she rules.

raj said...

yea right! 250-500k per cong. does make a difference...yet, let us examine the essence of this thing called impeachment. it has its roots in the British system and the last time it was used there successfully was in the 1800's...we're in the 21st century yet we almost have it here as a sideshow annually...though unsuccessful...

nixon was not impeached..nor erap...i think the only way you can impeach a president is when we have a senile one in power...behavior is the basis...

it also boils down to public we really trust PGMA? i dont...congress? neither..."you could die laughing!"

there is honor among they say...

Claro Margallo said...

The wordings in the Constitution regarding the impeachment process are working appropriately. It only takes a modicum of leadership against the sitting president to obtain 1/3 of the vote of the Lower House, but the opposition congressmen are unable to muster the votes, surely because they reflect the will of the people in the baranggays that elected them. Only one-third --- not even majority rule --- only one-third. But the anti-president can not muster the votes.