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Monday, June 24, 2024

Taking the sting off impeachment

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The Constitution tells us that impeachment is an option we can take in the event our top officials err gravely but cling to their posts.

Congress can impeach and try the president, vice president, justices of the Supreme Court, members of the constitutional commissions—the Commission on Elections, the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Audit—and the Ombudsman.

The law is specific on the grounds for impeachment, and the process of removal of an official is spelled out.

Unfortunately, our experience with impeachment over the years has trivialized its perceived significance and transformed a serious, far-reaching process into a circus that saps resources, energy and good sense out of our lawmakers and our people.

Filipinos have become desensitized to the real objective of the process. We now tend to ignore, rightly or wrongly, the consequences of impeachment moves that begin at the House.

Most tragic about all this is that the outcome hardly establishes the guilt or innocence of the impeached official.

These days, we talk of impeachment again given Patricia Bautista’s revelations about her husband, Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista, which seem to point to irregular dealings during his time in governmentt. The issue has cast doubt on the integrity of the 2016 national and local elections.

Sought for opinion, Palace Spokesman Ernesto Abella said President Duterte supports moves, including impeachment, if it would rid the government of corruption. The support holds, regardless of who the official is, or what political affiliations are.

The President himself has not been spared this charge. Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano filed an impeachment complaint against him for the supposed policy of a brutal war against drugs. Of course, the complaint never prospered in the administration-dominated Congress.

Other officials against whom impeachment cases have been initiated are Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, for supposed selective justice in not indicting former President Benigno Aquino III in the Disbursement Acceleration Program despite his active participation in the scheme, Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo for recording a speech criticizing the government’s drug war and sending it over to a United Nations body, and Chief Justice Lourdes Sereno for the purchase of a luxury vehicle and alleged inaccuracies in her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

Numbers, not the truth, determine the fate of impeachment complaints, and numbers in turn are decided by who is currently in power and who the lawmakers seek to please. This is not necessarily their constituents.

Bautista, for his part, should save this nation a lot of trouble and just quit. Sure, resignation could be taken to mean he is admitting his guilt or is too defeated to assert his innocence. But it could also mean he recognizes his effectiveness will be hampered by the time he spends defending himself—in the court of public opinion, in the impeachment court dominated by politicians, and in a court that tries facts.

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