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Impeach circus

Publication Date : 11-08-2014


The leadership of the Philippine House of Representatives is expected to refer the three impeachment complaints filed against President Aquino during the last congressional recess to the justice committee as early as today.

We hope that committee members will see the complaints for the political stunts that they are, and throw them out immediately. For exactly the same reason, we also hope that those representatives, some of them members of the same justice committee, who have threatened the Supreme Court with impeachment cases stop, also posthaste. The public is tired of these political games, and our democratic project deserves much better.

Impeachment is not the only way to exact accountability from our highest officials; as our own experience of the last decade and a half proves, it isn’t even the most efficient means. It should be used as the Constitution intended, as a true last resort. The complaints backed by the Makabayan bloc in Congress and the threats issued by the Aquino administration’s allies should be rejected for the same reason: They use impeachment for brazen political purposes, as a first resort.

Two of the impeachment complaints against Aquino are based on the militant left’s optimistic reading of a controversial passage in the unanimous Supreme Court decision on the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program: They interpret the passage about possible liability for those behind the DAP not as a mere judicial aside, but part of the ruling itself. This reading scants the much longer passage in the decision where the lack of liability in the operative fact doctrine is discussed, and is the legal equivalent of wishful thinking.

“If there is liability for DAP, then the President has culpably violated the Constitution.” This is a leap in logic that the Court’s decision cannot support. (Not every unconstitutional act amounts to a culpable violation of the Constitution.) But the complaints’ premise is also untenable. As we have noted before, the two complaints are premature, because the Supreme Court has accepted the government’s motion for reconsideration. There is no final ruling on liability just yet.

The third complaint is based on the militant left’s horror of the new Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement between the Philippines and the United States. But again it is premature; there is as yet no finding that Edca is unconstitutional, or that President Aquino has severely compromised either national sovereignty or the security of the state. A legal challenge is still pending before the Supreme Court. In other words, what the Makabayan bloc contests is a policy they do not agree with.

This newspaper has expressed serious reservations about Edca: about whether there was a real need for it, about whether the primary interest it serves is that of the Philippines or of the United States, about whether it should have passed through Senate deliberations first.

We will continue to share these concerns, but we do not see the President’s actions in reaching an agreement necessarily impeachable. Problematic, yes. As we have argued before, administration officials should have factored in public support for closer cooperation with the Americans, and dropped the unnecessary layers of secrecy. They should have worked closely with their allies in the Senate. But impeachable?

The unsubtle threats from the President’s allies in Congress, the rumors of impeachment trouble over the recurrently controversial Judiciary Development Fund, have an obvious purpose: To pressure the Supreme Court into issuing a more favourable second ruling on the DAP.

If anything, these noises from seasoned politicians are even more offensive. Members of the Makabayan bloc think they are not like other politicians; they stage walkouts, they pretend they did not benefit politically from their own pork barrel allocations. But the administration’s allies threaten impeachment because they think the Court is packed with politicians too. The first is political immaturity; the second is political cynicism. For both, impeachment is a stunt. The standard of proof is not scientific or even legal, but merely political.

Enough already. Stop the impeachment circus, and get started on the tedious, grinding work of holding an administration to account.


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