A frank discussion about impeachment, after impeachment

Two things stand out from the exercise of impeaching the Chief Justice:

One, the voting could have been closer. 

Since Corona eventually “revealed” the true extent of his deposits (and in the process admitted the omission charged in the Complaint), his defense was confined to providing legal justification for the non-inclusion of certain amounts in his SALN. In essence, he claimed that he did not disclose a portion of his peso deposits because they were owned by other members of his family and he did not disclose the peso equivalent of his dollar deposits because the dollar deposits were absolutely confidential under the FCDA.

However, if the revelation had been done earlier and without constructing a veritable Marginot Line of technical obstacles to defeat court processes, the former Chief Justice would have avoided (largely if not entirely) the impression that he had something to hide. Then, the impeachment case would have been reduced to a purely legal question: whether or not the non-disclosure of certain assets in an official’s Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth without intent to maliciously conceal these assets, constitutes a high crime which warrants impeachment of an official. The reality of it is that NONE of the Supreme Court justices’ SALNs are available to the public and the non-disclosure of true worth as required by law is not unique to Corona.  His case grated sensibilities only because it was colored by impropriety. Thus, had the defense been able to show lack of malicious intent to conceal, the Senate might have found it harder to justify removal of the highest magistrate on a single technical ground.

Two, a discussion of the Rules and the nature of the impeachment process is in order.

It must be of some significance that the provisionon “impeachment” is found in Article XI of the Constitution on “Accountability of Public Officers.” Read with the other provisions in the same Article, it takes no great leap of logic to realize that impeachment is simply a platform to allow the people to directly hold certain high officials accountable for their conduct in office.

On the other hand, the term “accountability” or the “state of being accountable” connotes not only liability for acts but “explanation.” In other words, an impeachment proceeding is not so much a trial (unfortunate persisting terminology notwithstanding) to prove that a public officer should be removed but as a national inquiry into his conduct while in office. The removal (and disqualification) of the impeached officer is nothing but the logical consequence of a positive finding of failure to properly render an account and is not punitive but protective. It is protective insofar as the removal (and/or disqualification) of the public officer is not designed so much as to punish the accountable officer but to prevent further damage to the people which he serves.

In Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton argued that the Senate was the “most fit repository” of the power to decide impeachment cases because impeachment was “designed as a method of NATIONAL INQUEST” and the legislators are the most proper “inquisitors,” being the representatives of the nation themselves.If we subscribe to this proposition, then it also follows not only that a “fishing expedition” is allowed but that it is in fact the main point of the impeachment.
It was frustrating to see technical Rules of Evidence, on the theory that they are “suppletorily” applicable, be utilized to hamstring the process of discovery. For that matter, other procedural concepts are hardly appropriate in the context of impeachment proceedings. Chief of these is the extension of the Right of the respondent in an impeachment proceedings to the same presumption of innocence accorded to an accused in a criminal case. The fact that the prosecution agreed to such application hopefully has not elevated the principle to a precedent because it is simply misplaced. A respondent in an impeachment case cannot be given the same presumption because: (i) an impeachment case is not punitive and the respondent does not stand in the same footing  as the accused in a criminal case; and more importantly, (ii) the respondent in an impeachment case has already been impeached by the Lower House. Consequently, the burden is not on the prosecution but on the “defense” to show that the complaint is unmeritorious.

Leave a Reply