(Opening Statement of Rep. Edcel C. Lagman at the “Prospects for the Philippines” forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP)
on 19 January 2012 at the Mandarin Oriental, Makati City)
For some time now the entire nation is focused on the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, particularly on the current trial before the Senate.
It is the daily fare of tri-media as well as of social networking sites. It is the preoccupation of the time, the flavor of the season. Its intensity continues to escalate.
There should be no debate that impeachment is a recognized constitutional process to uphold public accountability and sanction the excesses of high government officials like the President, Vice President, Justices of the Supreme Court, Members of the Constitutional Commissions and the Ombudsman.
It is also settled that more than a judicial proceeding, impeachment is a political exercise.
Consequently, the Congress of the Philippines, indubitably a political department, plays the stellar role in impeachment proceedings. The House of Representatives impeaches and prosecutes, and the Senate of the Philippines tries the respondent and decides to acquit or convict after trial.
However, the other political department, the Executive Branch headed by the President of the Republic, has no constitutional role. In fact, the Constitution bars the President from extending clemency or pardon to convicted respondents in impeachment cases.
Nonetheless, the rule of law, not the importuning of the mob or the obsession of one man, must be ascendant in all the phases of the impeachment process. It is a political undertaking circumscribed by due process and the tenets of fair play.
Consequently, the Senate as the impeachment court should have conducted a preliminary hearing to determine whether the “verification” of 188 complainants was compliant as a component of due process or was a shameless sham because it was physically impossible for 188 Representatives to have individually and personally “read and understood” in a couple of hours the 57-page complaint as required by the Constitution and the House Rules on Impeachment Proceedings. A valid verification is a condition precedent to impeachment and trial. The purported verification of 1/3 of the Members of the House was the speed vehicle which conveyed with alacrity the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate. Perforce, a preliminary hearing on the alleged fatal verification was in order.
The Senate should have motu proprio prohibited and sanctioned print media for publishing self-serving full-page paid advertisements which tend to influence Senator-Judges and calculated to sway public opinion on which some Senator-Judges announced they would base their decision.
We commend the Senate for warning the prosecutors and defense counsel not to present and advertise their evidence before the public. Indeed, the only proper forum to adduce evidence is before the Senate as the impeachment court.
We also welcome the ruling of the Senate denying the prosecution’s request to subpoena the kin of the Chief Justice. The majority of the Senator-Judges saw through the malevolent scheme of involving the family of the Chief Justice to inordinately hurt and harass him in order to force him to resign.
Like the impeachment of the Chief Justice, the controversial reproductive health bill has also been regular media fodder. It has consistently received media mileage – both negative and constructive – and partisans from both sides are still enthusiastically airing their opinions on an issue that will affect the health and lives of millions of women and children.
Again, like the ongoing impeachment trial, there seems to be no lukewarm or ambivalent reaction to the issues on reproductive health, responsible parenthood and population and development.
One either strongly believes that the impeachment is a farce, a travesty of the rule of law and a direct assault on the Judiciary or that the days of impunity of errant magistrates are over.
The same is true with the reproductive health bill. Critics of the measure have labeled it an instrument of the devil and claim that it would signal the demise of the Filipino family and race. On the other hand, supporters of the bill readily maintain that an RH law would guarantee the right to health of mothers and children and will be instrumental to achieving sustainable human development.
Certainly, passions have run high in both the impeachment trial and the passage of the RH bill. Some quarters may even go as far as claiming that both the current trial of the Chief Justice and the campaign to pass a reproductive health law are so divisive and conflict-ridden that they have struck a discordant note in the Filipino public’s nerve and have polarized the country.
But the striking contrasts between the impeachment proceedings and the RH advocacy are gravely important to underscore.
The impeachment agenda, however noble, has a limited impact on the lives of people, particularly of the poor, marginalized and disadvantaged who care more about the eradication of petty graft like those committed by kotong cops, market collectors and small-time bureaucrats which bedevil their daily existence. On the other hand, the RH advocacy will save and uplift the multitude of women and children as maternal health is improved and infant mortality decreased, consistent with the Millennium Development Goals.
It is in this context that the President must employ the same, if not more, zeal and determination in having the RH bill enacted as he did and is doing to have the impeachment prosper.
He has the vast arsenal of power to convince his allies in Congress to fast track the enactment of a long-delayed legislation for the good of the greater number.
The President has prioritized the RH bill before the LEDAC and the Congress. But “prioritization” is not enough. Perforce, he must assure its immediate enactment by marshalling the resources and forces of his office.
While the impeachment of the Chief Justice is viewed by many as an insidious assault on the independence of the judiciary as a democratic institution, the passage of the RH bill will enhance human institutions, alleviate poverty and make sustainable human development achievable.
The impeachment process against the Chief Justice may result to a collateral damage to legislation and governance.
It appears that legislation, including the enactment of the RH bill, may be put in the back burner as congressional attention and energies are concentrated on the impeachment process.
Likewise, the implementation of national policies may be further stalled or temporized as the Aquino administration is consumed by an inordinate obsession to remove and replace the Chief Justice.
I hope it is not true that the Aquino administration is contriving to use “People Power” to the hilt to oust the Chief Justice in the event he is acquitted by the Senate. Governance should not be forfeited to the rabble.
In contrast, the enactment of the RH bill optimizes governance as the government will be liberated from spreading too thinly limited resources to a ballooning population which may soon hit the 100 million mark.
The enactment of a comprehensive RH law, with adequate funding and willful implementation, will assure that important human development factors like quality education, adequate health care, full employment, stable food security, responsive mass housing and a robust environment will not remain impossible dreams.
Let the impeachment proceedings continue and end as warranted, but we must enact the RH bill with alacrity because it will have more positive far-reaching and long range benefits to the Filipino nation.
Finally, I assure all of you that whatever is the result of the minority intramurals in the House, I am ever ready to defend to the utmost the RH bill which is one of my principal advocacies and shepherd it to eventual passage.