Posts Tagged ‘judiciary’

Impeachment: How did it come to this?

Americans Reinstate Audencia Territorial: Judges take the Oath

 

Now that the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice is well underway, it is worth some time to examine how we had arrived at this situation.

After EDSA and under the helm of the first President  Aquino, the sovereign Filipino people  overhauled their Constitution for the second time (not counting the provisional Constitution). One of the most significant innovations of the 1987 Constitution was Article VIII, Section 1 which expressly bestows power on the courts not only to decide “actual controversies” but also to correct grave abuses of discretion “on the part any branch or instrumentality of government,” to wit:

Section 1. The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.

Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government.

This “power” to review acts of other branches is not exactly new. In Angara vs. Electoral Commission (GR No. L-45081), the Supreme Court was asked to decide a conflict between a Resolution of  the National Assembly (i.e., the legislature) confirming the election of Jose Angara and a resolution of the Electoral Commission allowing his opponent until a certain date to file a protest. One of the issues raised in the case was whether the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to settle the controversy involving as it does a co-equal branch of government (the National Assembly) and a Constitutional body.

In its Decision penned by Justice Laurel, the Supreme Court recognized the supremacy of each branch “within its own sphere” but held, much like in Marbury vs. Madison, that the Constitutionally mandated system of checks and balances requires the Supreme Court to effectively check the other branches of government because of its power to determine constitutional boundaries and if other branches went beyond them. It went further than Marbury vs. Madison however, in that the High Court pronounced itself the “final arbiter” to settle constitutional conflicts in “times of social disquietude or political excitement,” thus:

The separation of powers is a fundamental principle in our system of government. It obtains not through express provision but by actual division in our Constitution. Each department of the government has exclusive cognizance of matters within its jurisdiction, and is supreme within its own sphere. But it does not follow from the fact that the three powers are to be kept separate and distinct that the Constitution intended them to be absolutely unrestrained and independent of each other. The Constitution has provided for an elaborate system of checks and balances to secure coordination in the workings of the various departments of the government. For example, the Chief Executive under our Constitution is so far made a check on the legislative power that this assent is required in the enactment of laws. This, however, is subject to the further check that a bill may become a law notwithstanding the refusal of the President to approve it, by a vote of two-thirds or three-fourths, as the case may be, of the National Assembly. The President has also the right to convene the Assembly in special session whenever he chooses. On the other hand, the National Assembly operates as a check on the Executive in the sense that its consent through its Commission on Appointments is necessary in the appointments of certain officers; and the concurrence of a majority of all its members is essential to the conclusion of treaties. Furthermore, in its power to determine what courts other than the Supreme Court shall be established, to define their jurisdiction and to appropriate funds for their support, the National Assembly controls the judicial department to a certain extent. The Assembly also exercises the judicial power of trying impeachments. And the judiciary in turn, with the Supreme Court as the final arbiter, effectively checks the other departments in the exercise of its power to determine the law, and hence to declare executive and legislative acts void if violative of the Constitution.

But in the main, the Constitution has blocked out with deft strokes and in bold lines, allotment of power to the executive, the legislative and the judicial departments of the government. The overlapping and interlacing of functions and duties between the several departments, however, sometimes makes it hard to say just where the one leaves off and the other begins. In times of social disquietude or political excitement, the great landmarks of the Constitution are apt to be forgotten or marred, if not entirely obliterated. In cases of conflict, the judicial department is the only constitutional organ which can be called upon to determine the proper allocation of powers between the several departments and among the integral or constituent units thereof.

That assertion of judicial supremacy has never been seriously questioned and arguably may even be critical to the orderly functioning of society. To be fair, the Supreme Court has showed self restraint in the exercise of judicial power. Oddly enough therefore, the need to express the authority to exercise judicial review more definitively in the Constitution came as a reaction to the perceived weakness of the Tribunal and its hesitation to correct legal abuses committed by the former President Marcos in cases like Javellana vs. Executive Secretary (GR No. L-4460) .

As it turns out, strengthening the judiciary is all well and good but inadvertently manufactures another logical dilemma: that of a counter-majoritarian court which has the power to strike down acts of the other branches of government. In other words, how is it possible, in a “democratic” government founded on the rule of the majority, for unelected magistrates to veto acts of officials elected by the people and in certain cases even influence policy? To whom are they accountable?

The obvious answer is that Justices of the Supreme Court are accountable to the people directly. Under Article XI, Section 3 of the 1987 Constitution, an impeachment complaint may be initiated by any citizen upon a resolution of endorsement of any member of the House of Representatives, thus:

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.

However, this is true of all officials who can be removed by impeachment.  Thus, the provision is not specifically designed as a check against the abuses of a “rogue” court and may prove to be inadequate for the purpose.

As the impeachment grinds on and more legal issues are raised in the Senate, resort at some point to the Supreme Court almost seems inevitable. To what extent then, if at all, will the Supreme Court assert its role as the “final arbiter” of legal questions as against the exclusive jurisdiction of the Senate over impeachment cases?