IMPEACHMENT NOT A PURELY PARTISAN ENTERPRISE
(Statement of Minority Leader Edcel C. Lagman at the Resumption
of the Impeachment Proceedings Against the Ombudsman on 08 March 2011)
The Supreme Court in Estrada vs. Desierto (G.R. Nos. 146710-15, 08 March 2001) admitted that the “exact nature of an impeachment proceeding is debatable”. Many authorities, however, assert that it is sui generis, a class by itself.
But it is most errant to claim that an impeachment proceeding is simply a “political exercise” or a purely “partisan enterprise”. It is not.
While impeachment is not a judicial process in the nature of a court litigation, it is akin to a prosecutorial and adjudicatory proceeding. It is for this reason that the Rules of Procedure in impeachment proceedings of the House of Representatives under Section 16 of Rule VII thereof provides that “The Rules of Criminal Procedure under the Rules of Court shall, as far as practicable, apply to impeachment proceedings before the House.”
Even judicial terminologies and parlance pervade the impeachment rules, like “verified complaint”, “finding a probable cause”, “notice to respondent and time to plead”, “submission of evidences and memoranda”, “conduct a hearing”, “period of examination and cross-examination”, “power to issue compulsory processes”, and “The House of Representatives shall act as the sole prosecutor at the trial in the Senate”.
Moreover, the Committee is tasked to find probable culpability, if any, on the part of the respondent. Determining “probable culpability” is not simply political in nature. It partakes of an adjudicatory process.
I raise these points in order to impress on the leadership and membership of the Committee on Justice not to jettison the immutable tenet of due process. The critical imperativeness of due process must not be sacrificed to imprudent haste or partisan importuning. Impeachment of a respondent at all costs is not the raison d'être for redeeming a campaign promise.
The call for the observance of due process and rules of impeachment is regardless of the final outcome of the proceeding as I do not speak for the Ombudsman. It is call to fealty to the Constitution and adherence to genuine fair play.
Consider the following:
1. It was only yesterday afternoon when Members of the Committee on Justice received the voluminous evidentiary submissions of the complainants, measuring approximately two feet in height. Incidentally, it was also only yesterday when Members were given copies of the two answers of the Ombudsman.
We must perforce give justice to the complainants for such “herculean” preparations, but Members of the Committee cannot read and assess all of these pieces of evidence just overnight and be expected to vote on probable cause the following morning, this morning.
While some quarters are attacking some members of the Supreme Court for voting for the issuance of the status quo ante order without the ample opportunity of reading the petition of the Ombudsman, are we going to heedlessly follow suit, granting that the accusations against the Justices are true.
2. The established precedent in impeachment proceedings in the previous Congresses is the creation by the Committee on Justice of two panels of discussants or speakers – one for the endorsers or proponents for the impeachment and another for the oppositors.
This practice was initiated and subsequently followed to expedite the proceedings without sacrificing due process and in order for the contending sides to explain, ventilate and summarize their respective positions, and afford the Members of the Committee to fully assess the issues before casting their respective votes.
The contending panels were created to determine “sufficiency in substance” of the complaint. With more reason the panels should be activated to determine a higher level of sufficiency – sufficient grounds for impeachment.
3. Are we going to abandon this beneficent precedent and vote now with inordinate alacrity?
4. The ascertainment of probable cause in a criminal proceeding should not be any different from assuring the existence of probable cause in an impeachment proceeding. As provided by our Rules of Impeachment “The Rules of Criminal Procedure under the Rules of Court shall as far as practicable apply to impeachment proceedings before the House.” Indeed, it is practicable.
In Philippine jurisprudence, “probable cause has been uniformly defined as such facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonable, discreet and prudent man to believe that an offense has been committed” by the accused or the respondent (Co vs. Lansanas, G.R. No. 150877, 04 May 2006).
“Probable cause is defined as such facts and circumstances that will engender a well founded belief that a crime has been committed and that the respondent is probably guilty thereof and should be held for trial.” (San Miguel Corporation vs. Puzon, Jr., G.R. No. 167567, 22 September 2010).
Probable cause “requires more than a bare suspicion”. (Illusorio vs. Illusorio, G.R. No. 171659, 13 December 2007).
Verily, the ascertainment of the existence of such facts and circumstances determinative of probable cause demands a conscientious and deliberate assessment, which standard could be negated by imprudent haste.
5. The respondent seasonably filed her answers to the two complaints within the new deadline imposed by the Committee. What are the procedural steps required under the rules subsequent to the respondent’s filing of her answers? Whether the answers are considered responsive pleadings or part of the Ombudsman’s evidence, effectively the admission of the answers set back in time the process and makes the earlier findings of “sufficient grounds” premature and precipitate.
a) Under Section 5 of Article III on “Finding a Probable Cause”, it is provided that “within three (3) days from receipt of the answer, the complainant may file a reply, serving a copy thereof to the respondent who may file a rejoinder within three (3) days from receipt of the reply, serving a copy thereof the other complainant.
b) The same Section provides “together with their pleadings, the parties shall file their affidavits or counter-affidavits, as the case may be, with their documentary evidence”.
c) Likewise, the same section provides that “notwithstanding all of the foregoing, failure of any respondent to file an answer will not preclude him/her from presenting evidence in support of his/her defenses.”
d) Only after compliance with the foregoing procedures, will it be seasonable for the Committee to “determine whether the complaint alleges sufficient grounds for impeachment.” (Section 6, Rule III)
e) Section 6 also provides that “if the Committee finds that sufficient grounds for impeachment exist, the Committee shall conduct a hearing.”
f) For purposes of the hearing, “the Committee through the Chairperson, may limit the period of examination and cross-examination.”
6) It is usually said that at the end of the day, impeachment proceedings are a veritable numbers game. But would it not be much better if these are a confluence of superiority of numbers and ascendancy of reason and arguments which obtained in the past?