Impeachment Is A Purging Process

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Impeachment is a process provided by the Constitution to remove Presidents and Chief Justices. When an impeachment happens, there is disruption, the kind that triggers dramatic and unexpected change. I am happy that the situation is bringing us towards drastic change. Nothing less can reverse the endemic corruption and massive poverty afflicting the Philippines.

The impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona is a welcome development. It affirms that co-equal heads can both be vulnerable to impeachment. Even the bid to impeach P-Noy by a lawyer known to be a Marcos loyalist can remind us that there are crucial unresolved issues concerning that dictatorship and the effort to extract justice for its victims. Corona is seen as a puppet of Gloria Arroyo just as Lozano is to the Marcoses. It is good to see where lines are drawn, where Filipinos can choose to be with or against.

Even more welcome is the first show of support by judges and court employees for Corona. We have paid so much attention to the corruption in the executive and the Legislative over the decades that the corruption in the Judiciary has been put in the back burner. Yet, the view of many Filipinos, if not most, is that the justice system, meaning judges and justices, including the Supreme Court, are themselves badly tainted.

Change can now be focused on the Judiciary as well. That makes all three branches truly co-equal when change can target all of them – especially on the issue of corruption or its promotion and protection. I can remember from my boyhood the accusations and allegations against presidents and senators and congressmen. Well, today offers an opening for change that is rare.

Constitutions do not determine what is right and wrong, human conscience does. Laws cater to what people believe is right and deter what people believe is wrong. Constitutions spring from the aspirations of citizens for security, for justice, for a bright future. What is constitutional cannot veer away from the common good as expressed by the people themselves.

The weakness of the Constitution of the Philippines, all versions of it, is that the majority of Filipinos have never read it, were not party to its formation, and cannot possibly understand the letter of its provisions. The strength of a democracy, however, is not in its Constitution. It is in the value system that is most acceptable or inspiring to the people if such is reflected in the Constitution.

More than laws, it is values that are most relevant to members of a society. It is values that determine daily behavior, and values that dictate collective standards.  From these values are formed the ethics of work, the ethics of business, the ethics of professions.

What is beautiful about impeachment is that it is a political process as much, or even more, as it is a legal one as well. Being political gives Filipinos a chance to participate. If it were just legal, how can citizens get involved? I remember that an impeachment trail was going on and affected Filipinos so much that they took to the streets when they thought that numbers would be more important than what was true, what was fair. Impeachment can lead to people power if it is abused.

Corona can be removed if the impeachment process finds enough senators voting that way. But so can P-Noy.  Estrada was impeached by a Congress where he had the majority in support of him.  People power is the ultimate arbiter, not the Supreme Court. In the cases of Marcos and Estrada, the Supreme Court was not the source of change, just a bystander to it. Its greatest participation was its Chief Justice swearing in the new president.

The impeachment of Corona will focus on his character, on his integrity, on his subservience to Gloria Arroyo. In his fighting speech the other day, Corona claimed P-Noy wanted to appoint his own Chief Justice “na hawak niya sa liig.” He did not mention that the opposition to his appointment was based on law governing midnight appointments. Trying to justify why a law can be subverted to accommodate his appointment is more difficult than to accuse P-Noy of being partisan. Corona will have to do better because that glaring accommodation will be a central public focus.

It will do Corona good to prepare to justify the Supreme Court’s decision to protect one of their own who was accused of plagiarism and could not find a valid reason for such dishonesty except to claim he meant no malice. Who is more dishonest, the thief or the court which declares him innocent of theft because he meant no malice?

And Corona will have to contend with the distrust of Filipinos for Gloria Arroyo whom he is being accused of protecting more than the Constitution. Gloria Arroyo is not just unpopular; she is suspected or judged to be a liar, a thief and a cheat.  This judgment has been reflected in surveys over several years and could possibly be the strongest reason why Filipinos voted for a candidate who, in their eyes, will not lie, will not steal, will not cheat.

On the other hand, P-Noy must run to the people, to his “boss,” and not depend at all on the superior numbers of the Liberal Party and its allies in Congress. If P-Noy is anchoring his move against Corona on his crusade against corruption, the people will support him. But if he is seen as simply using politicians against a Chief Justice, he will lose the high ground and it will devolve simply to numbers more than nobility.

There is no Constitutional crisis, only a moral and ethical one. Impeachment is a purging process, and there is so much need for it. Most nations became one and strong because they went through and survived great conflict. This may be our momen.


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