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The Crux of Article II

(Article published in the Feb 8,2012 issue of Manila Standard Today) 

Perhaps, now that more than a dozen days have elapsed and almost everything that could be said have been said about Article II of the Articles of Impeachment against Chief Justice Renato C. Corora, it is appropriate for us onlookers, so as not to lose sight of the forest by reason of being too focused minutely at the trees, to go back to the relevant text of the Constitution relating to the grounds of impeachment.  The text of Section 2, Article XI, relates as the only grounds for impeachment of Members of the Supreme Court, “culpable violation of the constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.”

Thus, as clearly highlighted textually by the use of commas, there are only six grounds under the constitution for which Members of the Supreme Court may be impeached, and upon conviction, and be consequently removed from office during his tenure, namely (a) culpable violation of the constitution, (b) treason, (c) bribery, (d) graft and corruption, (e) other high crimes, and (f) betrayal of public trust.

In addition to limiting the grounds of impeachment to six, Section 2 of Article of Article XI of the constitution, by the obviously deliberate ordering and sequencing of the enumeration of grounds, indicates a clear intent on the coverage of said grounds.


In the 1935 Constitution, Section 1 of Article IX on Impeachment, recites as grounds only four grounds, namely  “culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery or other high crimes.”  There is no doubt that the scope of what acts may be grounds for impeachment under the 1935 constitution, is, following the principle of statutory construction known as ejusdem generis, confined to those acts that are both (a) crimes; and (b) “high” or very serious ones.  Just to stress the obvious, unjust vexation, although a crime, is not a ground for impeachment under the 1935 constitution because, although it is a crime, it is not a “high” crime.

 Section 2 of Article XIII of the 1973 Constitution retained the sequence of grounds but added a fifth, namely, “graft and corruption.” The position of the fifth ground in the sequence is noteworthy, following as it does the last of the four original grounds, namely, “other high crimes.”  This means, from where I sit, that while the first three may have been intended by the framers of the 1935 Constitution as having the character of being a “high” crime, the 1973 Constitution added a fifth that was mentioned after “other high crimes” and therefore outside the pale of the characteristic common to those in the previous enumeration.

In other words, while it is acceptable to argue that the acts that constitute grounds for impeachment under the 1935 Constitution must be of such gravity as to be categorized as “high crimes”, the acts constituting “graft and corruption” that was added by the 1973 constitution, need not be of “high crime” quality.  Acts constituting “graft and corruption” are crimes; but, for impeachment purposes, they need not be “high”.  If this was not the intended meaning, proper drafting demanded that the 1973 Constitution recite “graft and corruption” before, and not after, the phrase, “other high crimes.”

The same method of textual analysis helps us understand what was intended by the Constitutional Commission of 1986 on “betrayal of public trust” which is sixth and the most recent addition to enumeration of impeachment grounds.  The 1987 Constitution placed “graft and corruption” before “other high crimes” giving the signal that the framers, contrary to the implication under the 1973 constitution, intended to subject “graft and corruption” to be covered by the circumscribing effect of “other high crimes.”

 Again, just to stress the obvious, under the 1973 constitution, petty graft, like receiving a small tip for a stick of cigarette or a mid-afternoon merienda for facilitating the processing of the giver’s license, was a ground for impeachment.  But no longer so under the 1987 constitution because although it a crime that smacks of graft and corruption, it is not “high” and therefore not contemplated by the by the 1987 constitution as a ground for impeachment. 

In contrast to “graft and corruption” that was placed before “other high crimes”, “betrayal of public trust” was placed by the 1987 constitution, after, and not before, “other high crimes.” Therefore, from where I sit, “betrayal of public trust”, like “graft and corruption” under the 1973 Constitution was not meant to be not circumscribed by the restrictive influence of “other high crimes.” Acts therefore that can be considered “betrayal of public trust” need not be crimes, much less be serious or “high”. 

If that was the negative intent, what are we to understand is the positive content of “betrayal of public trust”? Fortunately, the meaning of the phrase, though not as definite as the previous five, was discussed by the members of the Constitutional Commission of 1986.  It means, according to an objective reading of the deliberations of the commissioners, any violation, whether criminal or not, of the public official’s oath of office.

Hence, the threshold question, before one enters into an examination of whether by his acts Chief Justice Renato C. Corona “betrayed public trust” on the basis of the acts and omissions stated in Article II is “what precisely did Chief Justice Renato C. Corona swear to upon his assumption of office as a member of the Supreme Court?”  I encountered great difficulty getting a copy of the chief justice’s actual oath of office and thus have to assume that his oath was in the form and the substance that the law required for public officials whose oaths of office are not specifically written in the constitution.

Section 40, Chapter 10, of Book I of the Administrative Code of 1987 (Exec. Order No. 292) provides that “all public officers and employees of the government, including every member of the armed forces, shall before entering upon the discharge of his duties, take an oath or affirmation to uphold and defend the Constitution; that he will bear true faith and allegiance to it; obey the laws, legal orders and decrees promulgated by the duly constituted authorities; will well and faithfully discharge to the best of his ability the duties of the office or position that he is about to enter; and he voluntarily assumes the obligation imposed by his oath of office without mental reservation or purpose of evasion...”

The most crucial portion of that oath, for purposes of the current impeachment proceedings, is “obey the laws, legal orders and decrees promulgated by the duly constituted authorities”.  Are those now clearly established omissions (e.g. the absence of acquisition cost in the reported items in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth for several years) and the apparent undervaluations, in some years, of the few that were reported indicative of the Chief Justice’s failure to “obey the laws, legal orders and decrees promulgated by the duly constituted authorities”?

         That is the question that the senators-judges  must determine.  After hearing the defense, of course.