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Davide vs. Goliath

(Article published in the Oct 27,2003 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

       Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr. must have a giant of an opponent, judging from the way the second complaint against him swiftly and mightily reared its head from the murky depths of the House of Representatives, just a couple of days after 24 of the 26 members of its Committee on Justice voted the first complaint against the Chief Jsutice and his seven colleagues as insufficient in substance.   For several weeks now, we have been wondering why faxes and e-mails, all unsigned and anonymous, have all of a sudden began circulating almost everywhere, casting aspersions in unbridled fashion on members of the Supreme Court.  Now it seems, the carpet bombing of our sensibilities was but the prelude to the big push, a second impeachment complaint, this time for alleged irregularities in the disbursement of the Judiciary Development Fund, signed by, at the last reported count, around 90 congressmen.   From what I know of the man, whom I first met when he was a member of the Constitutional Commission of 1986 and I was the chief of staff (made up of no more than 5 people) of his fellow member, my then and present boss, Ricardo J. Romulo, Hilario Davide, Jr., I am certain, will give a good account, of himself and of the fund, in the days ahead.  He has both the knowledge and the courage regarding the impeachment process.  Not only because he presided over the only impeachment case that ever reached our Senate, but more so, because, he had substantial inputs on the process itself when it was crafted into the present commission.   From the very beginning, the provisions in the Constitution relating to the impeachment process have been problematic.  Then Commissioner Christian Monsod in his sponsorship speech for the Article on Accountability of Public Officers readily disclosed the balancing that the drafters had to do of objectives pulling in different directions.  On the particular issue of numbers, he openly sought suggestions from the floor.  “This is one section” he said “on which we would like to consult with the members of this body.  This is a very important provision, and we would be advised by the consultations and wisdom of this body with respect to this provision, particularly on the numbers and vote necessary to initiate, to try, or to convict”. The section that Chris Monsod referred to is what is now Section 3 of Article XI of the Constitution.  To understand the thinking that went into it, it would be useful to pour hours of poring over the lengthy discussions of the Commission on the entire article.  But for our present purposes, a quick hop-skip-and-jump on a key provision would suffice, namely, subsection 3(5) which provides that “no impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year”. The one-year moratorium of sorts on impeachment proceedings is a rule that was not in the 1935 nor in the 1973 constitutions.   










Understandably, Commissioner Villacorta asked for its meaning and the reason behind it.  He asked, “Does this mean that even if an evidence is discovered to support another charge or ground for impeachment, a second or subsequent proceeding cannot be initiated against the same official within a period of one year?  In other words, one year has to elapse before a second or subsequent charge can be initiated.  The intention may be to protect the public official from undue harassment.  On the other hand, is this not undue limitation on the accountability of public officers?  Anyway, when a person accepts a public trust, does he not consider taking the risk of accounting for his acts or misfeasance in office?” Commissioner Romulo, who according to Commissioner Christian Monsod, was the principal author of the section on the procedure for impeachment, explained as follows:   “Yes, the intention here really is to limit.  This is not only to protect public officials who, in this case, are of the highest category from harassment but also to allow the legislative body to do its work of lawmaking.  Impeachment proceedings take a lot of time.  And if we allow multiple impeachment charges on the same individual to take place, the legislature will do nothing else but that.” This two-fold purpose of the one year moratorium on impeachment proceedings cautions against accepting the hair-splitting argument claiming that the one-year prohibition operates only when the previous complaint has been acted upon by the House Committee on Justice and submitted to the plenary. The damage wrought by an impeachment complaint, regardless of whether it reaches the floor or not, is the same. Impeachment, as described by then Commissioner Ople, is a powerful weapon, like a sword.  “It may be a sword in the scabbard but there are circumstances when a sword in a scabbard is as good as a sword drawn”, he said. About 90 Congressmen, it seems, have drawn that sword and are swinging it in wild abandon.  Their uncalled for behavior sets a precedent that unfairly taunts a good man, that distracts themselves and the nation from the more serious problems of our national life, and that drives foreign investments to safer distances.  God forbid that the country gets seriously hurt from all their dangerous flailing of the impeachment sword. Better that their irresponsibility make them all fall on it.      

 

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