So it happened. A few days after my column last week where I exhorted the impeachment of both Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo, the President, weary of yet another TRO from the Arroyo court -asked his allies in Congress to impeach the Chief Justice. And while I have maintained that this should have been done since day 1 of his administration, its certainly better late than never, as the saying goes.
Critics though have claimed that the impeachment will undermine the independence of our courts. Far from it. In the first place, it was Corona who did it to himself. He agreed to become an unconstitutional Chief Justice when he assumed the office knowing fully well that both the language and the spirit of the Constitution barred his appointment. You cannot undermine the judiciary when you remove an unconstitutional appointee. On the contrary, you uphold the supremacy of the Constitution by doing so.
True, the Constitution defines judicial power as including the power to declare any act of any branch or instrumentality of government as null and void where there is grave abuse of discretion resulting in lack of or excess of jurisdiction. Included in this function is the duty to declare as illegal any act that is contrary to the constitution. But this is not a monopoly of the Courts. All public officers are required to uphold the constitution and the laws of the land. Surely, when it is the Supreme Court that makes a mockery of the Constitution, as it did in the case of De Castro v. JBC where the midnight appointment of Corona was upheld, the executive is duty bound to resort to the constitutional tool of impeachment to uphold the constitution and accountability of public officers.
It must be underscored that while the Constitution refers to the Senate as an “impeachment court”, the language of the organic act should not deceive the Senate. They are a court only for the purpose of determining whether the impeached official should be removed from office. This does not make them a court of law. They are still policy makers who must formulate policy on whether one should continue in public office. They should not make the mistake, as argued by Estelito Mendoza during the Erap impeachment, of acting like a court hearing a criminal case. Public office is still a privilege and not a right. When the Constitution vested in elective representatives of the people the power to remove impeachable officers, it was their will to include the issue of fitness for a public office as a policy issue and not a criminal inquiry. The standard is hence not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, nor any of the standards recognized by our rule of evidence. The sole criterion is fitness to remain in office from a policy point of view. While the grounds for impeachment should still be proven, the Senate though is free to decide on the basis of other considerations considered relevant in formulating policy. Otherwise, the power to impeach and sit as an impeachment court should have been vested in the judiciary.
So how will the Senators possibly vote on the Corona impeachment case? Well, while it is still too early to tell, my crystal ball shows the following: all four LP Senators: Drilon, Recto, Pangilinan, and Guingona will vote for impeachment. They have to. When we say impeachment is a political process, it also means that political parties, at least in the United States from whom we copied our constitution, vote along party lines. Expect the four to be joined by Senators Trillianes, Estrada , and Lacson, all of whom have proven to be staunch political nemesis of Corona’s boss, CGMA. Add to the list Senate President Enrile who should know that voting in favor of Malacanang’s wish would be the surest way of safeguarding his post as head of the Senate. Voting with JPE would be his majority floor leader Sotto and his prodigee, Honasan. That’s a sure 10 votes for impeachment.
Those who will most likely cast negative votes would be Senators allied with or sympathetic to CGMA. This would include Senators Revilla , Lapid , Arroyo, and Marcos. That’s a sure 4 votes against impeachment.
The rest, 9 in all , I think, are undecided: Santiago , in my mind, is undecided because while she appreciates Malacanang’s support for her ICC candidacy, still, she has been very clear that she does not think Corona should be impeached. Angara, as a veteran politician, should be open to offers. The same goes for Legarda. Villar and his block, including the two Cayetanos, have been rabid anti-Malacanang Senators. Palace operators may have to strike a deal first with the Villar block, if they want to have the numbers to remove Corona. Osmena is undecided because he has been maverick lately, opposing even the nomination of P Noy’s Tito, Domingo Lee, as Ambassador to China. This means that Osmena does not believe in voting along party lines. And finally, Escudero is an undecided because he normally defers to his elders in his own fraternity. One of his esteemed senior brod, former Chief Justice Renaldo Puno, is seen as being sympathetic to Corona as in fact- he even resigned earlier than his 70th birthday to facilitate Corona;s appointment. Pimentel is an undecided because he has been quoted as saying he will decide on the basis of evidence.
We need 16 Senators to remove Corona. But anything can happen. As we have known all along: never underestimate the vast powers of the President