Debasement of impeachment

Posted by watchmen
December 21, 2020
Posted in OPINION

Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen’s former colleagues and friends have expressed support for the magistrate as he battles an impeachment complaint endorsed by a congressman from the north. 

Lawyers, judges, former students, environment and human rights advocates, said the complaint that prays for Leonen’s dismissal is unfounded and should not be given due course as it assaults nothing less than the integrity of the Supreme Court itself.

Security of tenure in the judiciary is not dependent on popularity. A judge does not decide cases in order to score points in the tally board of public opinion. Judges are guided only by the facts and the law and must not be swayed one way or the other by extraneous circumstances that have no bearing on the controversy before them.

There is always a winner and a loser in cases decided by judges. In which event, he is fifty percent popular and fifty percent unpopular.

That is how the system works. A judge is liked only half of the time. The only instance where both sides walk away happy is when a judgment is issued on compromise where the demands of either of them are met at the sound of the gavel.

A politician, unlike a judge, desires to be liked by everyone. The popular will is the source of his mandate. It is his business to court as many votes as possible in order to get into an elective position or to remain in that office.

The Philippine government has three branches that are supposed to check and balance one another. Two branches are made up of politicians, i.e., the legislature and the executive department.

The judiciary is the only branch where membership is not by election but strictly by appointment. The vetting process is administered by the judicial and bar council – a body created by the Constitution. This is where applicants for judgeship get to establish their competence, probity, integrity, and independence.

Take note that competence, probity, integrity, and independence are required of Supreme Court Justices only, and are not minimum requirements for political office such as the Senate or the Presidency.

To qualify as President, for instance, one only has to be a natural-born Filipino citizen, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least 40 years of age on the day of the election, and a resident for at least 10 years immediately preceding the election.

Incidentally, it is worth mentioning that the impeachable officers—President, VP, Members of the SC, Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman, are not subject to the disciplinary authority of any other body except the Senate sitting as an impeachment court.

Thus, while it is the President who signs the appointment papers of Supreme Court justices, he does not have the power to fire them because that power is lodged in the Senate after a full-blown impeachment trial. This purportedly ensures that the justices are independent in their thinking and will decide the cases before them free from pressure from the appointing authority.

The experience of Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno comes to mind. The impeachment complaint against her did not reach the Senate for trial. Instead, it became a fishing expedition for admissions that would ultimately be used against her in a quo warranto petition decided by her peers in the court. We all know how that turned out.

The impeachment process is designed to be difficult. It is available only for high crimes, exercisable by the legislature as representatives of the people in order to address grave abuse of power in the other two branches of government. In the case of Sereno, it amounted to a discovery procedure to lay the basis for removal via quo warranto.

Is this the same tack being taken by the complainants in the Leonen case? Members of Congress are urged not to think as politicians in this instance. They are better off assessing whether the weapon of impeachment has been dulled by constant use against members of the weakest branch of government – all in the name of political expediency./WDJ


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