Was both sad and disappointed when the Integrated Bar of the Philippines took the stand that the impeachment against Chief Justice Renato Corona was an affront to the independence on the Judiciary. Sad because I hold the IBP very dearly, having served as its Presidential Assistant for Human Rights for two years during the incumbency of President Feliciano Bautista. Disappointed because knowing almost all of its national officers personally, including its incumbent President Roan Libarios whom I had the pleasure of serving with when he was National Vice-President of the IBP, I do not understand how they can misread the importance of impeachment as a constitutional tool for public accountability of public officers. It was indeed a wrong statement.
The IBP anchored its stand on the false belief that any and all means to promote accountability on the part of our magistrates is an affront to the Judiciary. Nothing can be farther from the truth. When the Constitution made the Supreme Court a co-equal branch of government, it did so mindful that there was a need to promote both independence and accountability of our magistrates. To achieve independence, the Constitution gave the Court both fiscal autonomy and security of tenure for all magistrates to serve until age 70. But to balance this independence, the Constitution included the remedy of impeachment to remove magistrates with otherwise fixed terms should they commit culpable violations of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and graft and corruption. To provide the Court only with means to make it independent but bereft of an instrument of accountability would be to make a monster out of our courts. Hence, contrary to the position taken by the officers of the IBP, impeachment is a constitutional tool to promote accountability and not the sword of Damocles that it portrayed it to be.
Furthermore, as I argued in my paper which I delivered only this month in Hong Kong University on the occasion of the 4th International Conference of the Asian Society of Constitutional Law, the impeachment is a tool by which our policy makers, both from the House of Representatives and the Senate, can uphold the supremacy of the Constitution particularly on the issue of Corona’s appointment as Chief Justice. Normally, legal formalism demands that we accept as final and executory decisions made by the Supreme Court particularly where it interprets the Constitution. In Angara v. Electoral Tribunal, the Court declared that when it declares an act of any branch or instrumentality as unconstitutional and hence, null and void, this is not an exercise of “judicial supremacy”, but one that “upholds the supremacy of the Constitution”.
But what happens when the Court abdicates this duty to uphold the Constitution as it did in De Castro v. JBC when it resorted to constitutional draftsmanship in upholding Corona’s appointment as a midnight Chief Justice in a manner contrary to the language and intent of the Constitution? Are all the other branches of government precluded from defending the Constitution? Certainly not.
All public officers from all branches of government took an oath to uphold the Constitution. Here, the remedy is clearly impeachment, as the issue to be resolved by our policy makers will include that of the correctness and the wisdom of the Court’s ruling in De Castro. Surely, the people that gave life to the Constitution did not intend to grant unto the Court a monopoly of upholding the supremacy of the highest law of the land.
As correctly observed by Senator Joker Arroyo, Article 1 of the articles of impeachment will involve purely legal issues which includes the constitutionality of Corona’s acceptance of the post of Chief Justice.
I would also have appreciated it if the IBP’s leadership attempted to consult its members prior to issuing its statement against the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona. Certainly, as the compulsory national organization of lawyers, there is virtue in hearing what its members, all of whom are trained in constitutional law, have to say before issuing a statement that appears to bind all of its members. As it turned out, I am a bona fide member of the IBP and I have been whole-heartedly supporting the impeachment of Corona as a means of strengthening the constitution and the Court as an institution. My leaders in the IBP did not consult me before they issued their official position despite the fact that the articles of the IBP do contain a provision on consultation with its members. I am now constrained to put on record the fact that I do not approve of the IBP stand and that I have not authorized them to speak on my behalf on this particular issue. This is sad, but necessary.
In any case, I am pleased that the House of Representatives chose lawyer Mario “Ayo” Bautista to lead its panel of private prosecutors in the impeachment trial. Ayo was my boss during my first year of litigation practice and I know him to be a brilliant and dedicated litigator. With him on board, I am sure that the people’s interest would be promoted and safeguarded in the impeachment trial.
I’m sorry to write a serious article for my last column for the year. Rest assured, I will try to be less serious in the upcoming New Year.
Happy New Year to one and all!