Silencing the Oracle!!

Atty. Ralph A. Sarmiento's Blogsite!

Saturday, October 21, 2000

Impeachment: Democracy at its Best

The ability to remove from office our highest official reflects the depth of our commitment to a government of laws, not men.

When 48 people sat down in 1986 to formulate our Fundamental Law, one of their primary goals was to institute a system of government that would prevent the rise of another Marcos. They took pains not to give the President too much power. They adopted measures to prevent him from becoming too powerful. The result was the weakening of the specific powers which were abused by dictator Marcos. The Commander-in-Chief powers that include the power to declare a state of martial law and to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus have been considerably reduced and put under the check of the other great branches.

However, they realized that all of the measures to keep the President within the constitutional bounds of his powers might not be enough. The framers felt that a constitutional mechanism for the peaceful removal of an oppressive or unfit President must be put in place. As such, we have this process called impeachment.

Impeachment is the process by which charges are brought against high government officials, which can result in their removal. It has been described as an inquiry into the conduct of public men. The word "impeach" is derived from the Middle English word "empechen," meaning to impede or accuse, and the Latin "impedicare" which means to entangle or put in fetters.

Our Constitution provides that the President may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. Therefore, to remove the President, there are two processes involved, he must be impeached and then convicted of the grounds aforementioned.

Impeachment is done by the House of Representatives upon the support of at least one-third of all its members, though this means only that the House brings the charges or indicts the President. It does not conduct the trial or vote to determine whether the President will be removed from office. Thus, we say that Pres. Clinton has been impeached although not removed from office because he was acquitted on both Articles of Impeachment against him. The same is true of Richard Nixon who was also impeached but who opted to resign instead of being convicted in the Senate. In the Philippines, however, no President has ever been impeached though there had been previous attempts against three: Elpidio Quirino in 1949, Diosdado Macapagal in 1963, and Ferdinand Marcos in 1985. All three attempts failed to muster the required number of votes to place the President on trial in the Senate.

Our Constitutional gives the Senate the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment and when the President is the one on trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside, but shall not vote. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate. Incidentally, the Senate votes separately on each charge or alleged ground for impeachment. If there is two-thirds vote to convict on any ground, the President is convicted and removed from office, even if he is acquitted of all other charges.

Impeachment is an expression and means of protecting our hard-earned and ever-precious liberty. It reminds the President of the elementary principle that a public office is a public trust; that the Presidency is not a license to commit wrongdoing; that the fixed term of six years does not give him security of tenure; and that he can be brought to heel if he abuses the trust the people place in him.

The removal of a President through the impeachment process will surely be a national tragedy and a national crisis, but nevertheless, it will be a display of democracy at its best. A president will be lost but a quintessential principle will be affirmed, that is “No man is above the law.” And the beauty in this is that this principle will be affirmed without bloodshed.

Sunday, October 08, 2000

Federalism as the Key to Peace

In their desire to find the ultimate solution to the Mindanao problem, some policy makers have accidentally chanced upon the idea of federalism. Senators Pimentel, Osmeña, Tatad and Santiago are saying that the “adoption of the federal form of government may be the ultimate solution to the centuries-old Bangsamoro uprising in Mindanao.” As Senator Pimentel said “Federalism would respond positively to their demands, prevent the dismemberment and keep the republic intact, and establish just and lasting peace in Mindanao.”

The Mindanao problem did not come by mere chance or by accident; and to say that the problem is only about a group of bandits or terrorists or that it is a mere hostage drama are big understatements. The Bangsamoro struggle has been with us for the last 4 centuries, and it drives to me to think that our political system has something to do with it.

Total war would not solve the problem because in war there are no victors. It is like the improper administration of antibiotics, which would only lead to the mutation of the virus and the development of new strains. First, we had the MNLF, then the MILF, now the ASG and there would be no end to it.

Now is the time for us to reexamine the ties that bind us as a nation. Is it a tie founded on genuine equality for all its component elements or just a sheer demographic arrangement supposedly based on some historical accidents? Why do many people in Muslim Mindanao feel neglected by the so-called imperialist Manila? There would be no end to the Bangsa Moro uprising until our Muslim brothers feel that they are being treated as equals and until they are ridded off of this feeling of being neglected. Under the federal set-up, our Muslim brothers would no longer have the reason to ask whether or not they are being neglected by Manila because all that will be left to ask is one and only one question, true of every federal component and that is “Are we neglecting ourselves?”

Federalism will give local communities the ability and power to chart their own destinies, to realize their own aspirations, and to determine their own laws, according to their own unique culture and traditions. Federalism will promote political and economic dynamism of the regions or the different nations that make up the Philippine Republic. It will bring power back to where it really belongs – the people.

It is only through federalism where we will realize the true concept of autonomy characterized by decentralization both of power and administration, unlike in our present structure where there is only decentralization of administration and not of power with the result that our cities and provinces become the mere administrative agents of our country’s capital.

Let us throw away the myth that only through a centralized, unitary government, with concentration of powers in a single center, could the republic be maintained. Coerced or forced unity, instead of keeping the nation intact, will divide it in the long run. Experience of other countries as well as ours would bear me out if I say that the unitary system is not appropriate for a heterogeneous country like ours. After all, whether the Manila admits it or not, we are still a country of many nations, many cultures, many languages, and many religions. Shall we therefore allow our provinces or regions to be the mere peripheries of the center? Shall we continue to allow our cities to be miserably dependent on Manila, or as others put it, “mere colonies of Manila”?

In 1986, 48 persons from different sectors and persuasions convened to draft a Constitution that would prevent the rise of another dictator or the concentration of power or authority in one man. Today, I believe the time has come to elevate that Constitution further to greater heights so that it will not only prevent the concentration of power in one man but will also put a stop to the centralization of power or authority in only one city or province.

It is not differences that break up nations. It is not differences that divide republics. It is not differences that lead people to war. But it is indifference, intolerance, and failure to accommodate and understand differences. Federalism with its characteristic tolerance and accommodation for cultural, lingual, and religious diversity will ultimately be the key to peace not just to Muslim Mindanao but also and more importantly to the entire republic.