"In a democracy, no one is above the law and above justice."
Under the Philippine Constitution, the President can be removed from office only by impeachment.
This is, of course, if the President doesn’t die or resign voluntarily. Three presidents died in office—Manuel Quezon in 1944, Manuel Roxas in 1948, and Ramon Magsaysay in 1957. Joseph Estrada resigned in his mind, according to the Supreme Court, under an act called “constructive resignation”. Actually, Erap was a victim of a coup in 2001—just like Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.
Under our Constitution, the following are impeachable offenses: Culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. In the 1935 and 1973 constitution, betrayal of public trust was not an impeachable offense.
Treason is going against one’s country or “giving aid and comfort to the enemy.” Bribery is when the public officer does something in consideration of any offer, promise, gift or present, or when the officer accepts gifts by reason of his office.
Corruption is enriching oneself or accumulation of property or money out of proportion to one’s salary.
Betrayal of public trust is “betrayal of public interest, inexcusable negligence of duty, tyrannical abuse of power, breach of official duty by malfeasance or misfeasance, cronyism favoritism, etc. to the prejudice of public interest and which tend to bring the office into disrepute.”
Other high crimes are “offenses which like treason and bribery, are so serious and enormous a nature as to strike at the very life or the orderly workings of the government.”
In America, presidents have been removed for much lesser offenses. Richard Nixon for bugging Watergate Hotel; Bill Clinton for having a sexual act with a young White House intern, with the help of a cigar.
Donald Trump has committed far graver offenses. Yet, a large minority (per latest poll, 43.6 percent) of Americans do not think he should be impeached. By party, 83.2 percent of Democrats think Trump should be impeached, as do 43.7 percent of Independents. Republicans? Just 9.1 percent want one of America’s worst presidents, out.
Why is this so? I think times have changed. It is the age of demagogues, tyrants and dictators. The more corrupt or insane or vile they are, the better, it seems.
Or maybe, it is the Spartacus effect, the Roman-era gladiator Netflix series where leaders and other characters routinely copulate, in public, (with people who are not their spouse), commit acts of corruption and bribery, and kill—all together in just one episode.
Life must be so boring or values have so depreciated in America that the likes of Donald Trump are still welcome as a leader. To start with, Trump became president, via the Electoral College system, because he won by just an 80,000-vote margin in three small battleground states. He lost the popular vote nationwide, by three million votes, to Hillary Clinton.
In the US Constitution, the president can be impeached on three grounds: treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
According to the US House Judiciary Committee, “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” refer mainly to acts committed by public officials, using their power or privileges, that inflicted grave harm on the political order. Those include treason, bribery, serious abuse of power, betrayal of the national interest through foreign entanglements, and corruption of office and elections. “Officials who abused, abandoned, or sought personal benefit from their public trust—and who threatened the rule of law if left in power—faced impeachment. Each of these acts, moreover, should be plainly wrong to reasonable officials and persons of honor. When a political official uses political power in ways that substantially harm our political system, Congress can strip them of that power.”
The US House Judiciary Committee notes: “The Framers (of the Constitution) were careful students of history and knew that threats to democracy can take many forms. They feared would-be monarchs, but also warned against fake populists, charismatic demagogues, and corrupt kleptocrats. The Framers thus intended impeachment to reach the full spectrum of Presidential misconduct that menaced the Constitution. Because they could not anticipate and prohibit every threat a President might someday pose, the Framers adopted a standard sufficiently general and flexible to meet unknown future circumstances: “‘Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors’.” This standard was proposed by (George) Mason and was meant, in his words, to capture all manner of ‘great and dangerous offenses’ against the Constitution.
The main point of impeachment is that in a democracy, no one is above the law and above justice.
“Unlike Britain’s monarch, the President would answer personally—to Congress and thus to the Nation—if he engaged in serious wrongdoing,” says the 52-page report of the US House Judiciary Committee last Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019.
“Impeachment is the House’s last and most extraordinary resort when faced with a President who threatens our constitutional system. It is a terrible power, but only ‘because it was forged to counter a terrible power: the despot who deems himself to be above the law’,” the House Judiciary Committee report concludes.
“The consideration of articles of impeachment is always a sad and solemn undertaking. In the end, it is the House—speaking for the Nation as a whole—that must decide whether the President’s conduct rises to the level of ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ warranting impeachment.”