MANILA—Impeachment is not only about the numbers game but the political as well, Supreme Court (SC) spokesperson Atty. Theodore Te said Thursday.
The SC official made the statement amid moves in the House of Representatives to impeach both President Rodrigo Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo.
Te, a law professor, explained that impeachment is a “political process to remove a public official unfit for a position.”
“It is not a criminal trial, it is not a trial per se as we understand it in the courts. It is not a judicial process. It is basically a political disciplinary process,” Te said in a television interview on Thursday.
“The only issue in impeachment is always fitness to continue holding the office – regardless of the grounds like bribery, graft and corruption and other high crimes like betrayal of public trust,” the SC spokesperson noted.
Te explained that there are justiciable issues in impeachment proceedings that may be subject to judicial review, citing previous cases that the high court had ruled upon.
“There have been instances where the Supreme Court has been asked to come in, but on very, very limited issues,” he noted.
He cited the impeachment cases against retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona and former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, which all reached the SC.
In the Davide case, Te said that the high court had decided on the issue involving the constitutional rule requiring only one impeachment complaint against an official per year and tackled its jurisdiction over the case.
The SC, in its 2003 ruling, disallowed the filing of the second impeachment complaint against Davide after the first one was already dismissed by the House.
In the 2010 Gutierrez case, on the other hand, the SC was asked to review the power of the House to conduct hearings on the impeachment case. The high court then upheld the House procedures and the former Ombudsman resigned from her post in April 2011 even before her trial in Senate could start.
In both cases, the high tribunal temporarily stopped the House from proceeding with the impeachment process pending resolution of the petitions.
Corona also filed a petition with the SC when he faced impeachment in Feb. 2012, but the high court did not grant him relief until the Senate ordered his ouster after impeachment trial.
But Te pointed out that in all cases, the SC did not touch on the grounds of the impeachment cases.
”But the court said we will not talk about the merits, ito ba ay ground , ito ba ay basis, ito ba ay a sufficient sabi ng court hindi pwede pumasok doon because that is really for the political arm. There has been no instance where the court actually reviewed the basis,” he added.
Last March 16, Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano filed impeachment complaint before the House of Representatives against President Rodrigo Duterte.
Alejano, in his complaint, said the President has committed culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption and “other high crimes”.
The government’s top legal counsels however said that the impeachment complaint filed by Alejano against President Rodrigo Duterte has no legal basis.
”The impeachment complaint has no factual and legal basis. The allegations in the complaint are not anchored on concrete or solid evidence that would support findings of any of the enumerated grounds for impeachment. Mere allegations without proof are not evidence,” Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said.
The DOJ Secretary said the Duterte administration is not at all alarmed by the said act, adding that the President will continue doing what is good for the country and the Filipino people.
He said the complaint could be part of a wider plot to destabilize the administration though he did not provide details of the supposed plot to oust the President.
”That’s just part of efforts to destabilize the Duterte administration,” Aguirre said, who served as a private prosecutor in the historic impeachment trial of the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.
For his part, Solicitor General Jose Calida slammed Alejano, calling him a “puppet” of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a staunch critic of the President.
He noted that Trillanes and Alejano were both part of the Oakwood mutiny and the Manila Peninsula siege in Makati City which failed to oust former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
”The mischiefs of the Magdalo outcasts, Senator Trillanes and his acolyte, Representative Alejano, are afoot again. Obviously, they have not learned their lessons in the Oakwood and Manila Pen foolish misadventures to topple the government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, they want a reprise of their failed dreams by filing an impeachment petition against President Rodrigo Roa Duterte,” said Calida.
President Duterte holds majority support in the House of Representatives, where a vote of one third of all members is needed to transmit the complaint to the Senate for trial.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez’s plan to file an impeachment complaint against Vice President Leni Robredo over the latter’s video to the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs where she criticized the conduct of the administration’s anti-drug campaign.
Alvarez said the House of Representatives will stand by its constitutional duty to hear impeachment complaints against high-ranking officials, even as President Duterte called for an end to any ouster moves against the Vice President.
The House Speaker said that he is still studying the impeachment complaint against Robredo, noting that it should be sufficient in substance to stand trial in the Senate.