By Perry Diaz
In the past two decades, impeachment – or the threat of it — has become the most common method of removing constitutional officers from office. It is a two-step “political” process that begins in the House of Representatives and ends in the Senate. Removal from office occurs when the House impeaches a public official by one-third vote of the House and followed by conviction by two-third majority of the Senate sitting as judges.
The first and only president to be impeached was Joseph “Erap” Estrada who was impeached by the House of Representatives in November 2000 on charges of bribery and corruption. However, the Senate failed to convict and remove him from office because he was ousted in what is now referred to as EDSA 2 People Power revolution, which elevated then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the presidency.
So far, only one public official – the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona – was impeached, convicted, and removed from office. But it was revealed later that the senator-judges reached a decision to convict Corona after they allegedly received bribes from then President Benigno Aquino III in the form of pork barrel allocations.
Another public official – former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez – was impeached by the House but she avoided a Senate trial by resigning from her position in a deal she struck with Aquino.
But while impeachment worked with non-elective constitutional officers, it has yet to successfully remove an elected constitutional officer – i.e., president and vice president – from office. Take the case of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who faced impeachment complaints just about every year during her presidency. It could have been more but the constitution allows only one impeachment complaint to be filed each year against the same person. Many believe that in the case of Arroyo, weak impeachment complaints were filed against her by her allies in the House to preempt legitimate complaints from being filed. It worked!
In the case of Aquino, he was spared from impeachment because of massive pork barrel allocations – officially called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) — totaling P62.5 billion that he used to keep his House allies happy. Why would they get rid of the goose that lay golden eggs for them?
In addition, Aquino had a humongous pork barrel known as the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that amounted to P157 billion. The controversial DAP, the brainchild of Aquino’s Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. PDAF was also deemed partially illegal and was also stopped by the High Court.
It is interesting to note that 325 House of Representatives members and 17 senators were allegedly the beneficiaries of his presidential dole-outs. However, only three opposition senators – Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla – were charged and detained. Now, you can see why Aquino was untouchable and immune from impeachment. However, there are still some of Aquino’s political enemies who’d like to see him imprisoned for corruption in handling the PDAF and DAP funds.
But that has been placed in the back burner for now because of new attempts to impeach both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo. Duterte lashed out at Robredo and Senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Leila de Lima, accusing them of being behind the move to impeach him.
Last March 16, Rep. Gary Alejano of the Magdalo party-list group filed the first impeachment complaint against Duterte for allegedly “pursuing a state policy of extrajudicial killings and amassing more than P2 billion in bank deposits.” He accused Duterte of culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust and committing other high crimes, which are the grounds for impeachment under the Constitution. Incidentally, Alejano is a former marine captain and a colleague of Trillanes who led the Oakwood mutiny against Arroyo in 2003.
Alejano claimed that in just over eight months in office, Duterte’s “war on drugs” has resulted in the gangland-style killings and executions – known as “salvaging” — of more than 8,000 individuals.
Robredo, on the other hand, said that defeated vice presidential candidate and former Senator Bongbong Marcos has a hand in the filing of impeachment complaints against her. Two impeachment complaints have thus far been filed against Robredo. The first was filed by known Marcos “loyalists” Oliver Lozano and Melchor Chavez, accusing her of having “committed acts of injustice” when she spread “fake news” about the Philippines with her video message to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs side event criticizing the administration’s war on drugs.
The second impeachment complaint is being prepared by a group of six lawyers who call themselves “Impeach Leni Team.” One of them is Bruce Rivera who represented the “pork barrel queen” Janet Lim Napoles in the serious illegal detention case against her.
With all these impeachment complaints taking center stage, one wonders if the government would be able to serve the people’s needs. Their pre-occupation with political wrangling and posturing could lead to destabilizing the government, which is already enmeshed in sovereignty issues over the Spratlys, Scarborough Shoal, and Benham Rise. A few days ago, Duterte was reported to have said “in jest” during a speech that he “believed China was seeking to turn his country into a province of theirs.” “They really want to make the Philippines a province of China,” he joked. But the joke could be on him because China has transformed the Philippines into an economic vassal state. And if Duterte doesn’t know it yet, then he deserved to be impeached.
As for Robredo, it is obvious that the impeachment complaints against her are all trumped-up charges and don’t have any legal or constitutional basis. How can one say that she violated the law and the constitution when the office of the vice president doesn’t have any governmental function? As they say, it’s just a “spare tire.”
At the end of the day, what we’re seeing in these impeachment complaints – just like before – are episodes of moro-moro, which is to entertain the people and lull them into forgetting the misery that their government inflicts on them.