OP-ED EDITORIAL: OPINION & CARTOON – By The Manila Bulletin -‘Let the Senate impeachment trial begin’ – Friday, March 2, 2018

Let the Senate impeachment trial begin

The Constitution lists the officials of the country who may be removed from office only by impeachment. They are the President, the Vice President, the members of the Supreme Court, members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman.

Presidential immunity from being charged in court while in office is a doctrine recognized in most democracies, including ours. Our Supreme Court in a ruling in 2006 said: “Settled is the doctrine that the President, during his tenure of office or actual incumbency, may not be sued in any civil or criminal case and there is no need to provide for this in the Constitution or in law as it is deemed inherent in the Office of the President.”

Because of the “equal protection of the law” clause in the Constitution, the other officials listed with the President in the Constitutional provision on impeachment are likewise immune from suit, the lawyer of then Vice President Jejomar Binay argued when the issue of immunity for the Vice President was raised in a Senate hearing in 2015. This doctrine of immunity for impeachable officials started as a mere tradition, the lawyer said, but it has always been followed and if it is shown that it has been abused, the Supreme Court could issue a ruling abandoning it.

We have today the case of Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno against whom an impeachment complaint was filed with the House of Representatives on September 13, 2017– five months ago. One would expect that by this time, the House would have already decided whether to reject the complaint or send it on to the Senate for trial. But the House hearings continue and on matters such as Sereno’s appointment of an official of the Philippine Judicial Academy, her failure to submit her Statement of Assets and Liabilities covering income earned before her court appointment, and even her low rating in a psychological test when the Judicial and Bar Council was considering candidates for chief justice in 2012.

The House Committee on Justice by now should have accumulated enough information needed for the House to decide on the impeachment charge against Chief Justice Sereno, whether she was indeed guilty of “forcible violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.” Sereno’s appointments, her failure to report previous earnings, and her low psychological rating may not seem applicable to this formidable list of constitutional violations needed for impeachment, but the House can decide any way it wants. Impeachment is largely a political rather than a judicial process.

If she should be removed from office after the Senate trial and she loses her constitutional immunity, she may well be charged in court on the charges raised against her during the many committee hearings.

During all these past five months, many quarters, including members of Congress and the Supreme Court itself, have been calling on Sereno to resign but she has resolutely decided she will face an impeachment trial in the Senate. After five months of hearings in the House, along with exchanges of press releases condemning and defending her, it is truly time to move on.

Send the impeachment complaint to the Senate and let the trial begin.



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