The Political Jurist

In my e-group, a posting expressed a confusing matter for many:  impeachment is said to be a political exercise and the will of the people will be followed.  But does this mean that the verdict will be based on the discretion of the senators without regard to legal frameworks and procedures?

The interplay of legal and political has been the subject of many commentaries during the course of the impeachment trial.  Political scientist Randy David opined that impeachment is essentially a political exercise which must be done in a fair, orderly and sensible way without having to resort to the restrictive conventions of the courtroom.  He says that if the Senate impeachment court were just another courtroom, then clearly what it should be looking for is proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt – regardless of what the public may believe.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban agrees saying that by its nature, impeachment belongs more to the people than to lawyers; more to public wisdom than to legalisms.  An impeachment proceeding is sui generis; has its own unique genre, and is equal to no other.

During the course of the impeachment proceedings, Senate President Enrile was seen balancing (with great success ) the interplay of legal and political considerations.   The procedures and decorum required were based on the rules of court and evidence.  The primacy of the constitution particularly the bill of rights was invoked in resolving difficult questions on the articles of impeachment and admissibility of introduced evidence. The doctrine that the Supreme Court is the final arbiter of legal and constitutional questions was invoked by majority of senator-judges in abiding by the  controversial TRO issued by the Supreme Court stopping the disclosure  by banks of the dollar deposits of CJ Corona.

But while the impeachment court leaned on law with respect to procedural matters, the dominant political dimension of the proceedings is not lost on majority of the senator judges, even to the most “legalistic” Senator –Judge Miriam Santiago who at some point said that the trial is both quasi-judicial and quasi-political, hence sui generis—a class of its own. Two, it being a political process, the public should understand what’s going on, because the issue at the heart of Corona’s trial is good governance. Three, the impeachment court is not strictly bound by the rules of evidence and, fourth, the trial should be conducted in a way that should not turn it into a triumph of technicalities.

CJ Corona and his defense panel clearly understand that politics will largely drive the proceedings and the verdict.  This is the reason why their strategy was not purely legal but also includes a public relations campaign to counter balance the media blitz of the Aquino administration.  (I surmise that the publicized rift between defense counsel Judd and former Justice Cuevas has to do with extra-legal moves which I suspect are orchestrated by Atty. Judd Roy and resisted by the legal eagle Justice Cuevas.)

CJ Corona played politics in his impeachment trial.  By addressing himself to the Filipino people, he acted like he is political candidate.  Worse, he made assertions and attacked people bereft of any supporting evidence.  Yes, the impeachment process is a political exercise but it is not a political rally without rules or norms.  In the end, people will accept only a verdict that is a product of a fair process and supported by credible evidence.

The impeachment process should lead the nation to take a second look at the broad judicial review powers of the Supreme Court which under our constitution includes the power to determine abuse of discretion on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government.  This power has practically blurred the distinction between legal issues and political questions which historically are resolved not by courts but by the executive or legislative branch of government.  The Supreme Court has been criticized for ruling on political and economic policies because of this broad definition of judicial review.  The TRO on the disclosure of the dollar deposits of CJ Corona is an exercise of this expanded power of judicial review.  The lawyers of CJ Corona do not foreclose the possibility that they will raise the conviction of CJ Corona to the Supreme Court if there is grave abuse of discretion by the impeachment court.  The framers of the constitution assumed that this expanded power will be exercised strictly in accordance with the constitution and laws.  They did not anticipate that this power can be dangerous when put at the hands of a political jurist.

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May 25, 2012 · 12:51 am

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