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Atty. Ralph A. Sarmiento's Blogsite!

Monday, November 06, 2000

Impeachment and Reasonable Doubt

When we convened the NO-ERAP (Negros Occidental – Expel Remove Actor-President) Movement several weeks back, most people were pessimistic about the chances of an impeachment move against our actor President. They were saying that the same was hopeless, as it would not even pass the first base, which is the House of Representatives. Of course, such pessimism was not without any basis because our history books show that all previous attempts to impeach the President –Elpidio Quirino in 1949, Diosdado Macapagal in 1963, and Ferdinand Marcos in 1985– had failed to muster the required number of votes even just to place the President on trial in the Senate. Such pessimism was further reinforced by the fact that only a little over 40 Representatives signed the Complaint for Impeachment at the time of its filing in the House of Representatives which was way below the required one-third of all the members of the House.

Then came storm after storm… Yolanda Ricaforte gave testimony that collaborated that of Singson in many of its material points, the peso kept on falling, all economic indicators signaled the downfall of the economy, more and more people trooped in the streets calling for Erap’s ouster, and recently we witnessed the so-called LAMP Exodus. Now, what seemed to be hopeless a couple of weeks ago is almost within grasp. But this is no time for jubilation or passivity! The war is far from over albeit now in its next level – the Senate Trial!

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. It also provides that no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate. Ultimately therefore, it will be a numbers game! The President can be removed from office upon the concurrence of 2/3 of all the members of the Senate.

But should the President be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in order to be convicted and removed from office? In this question, I would say no because an impeachment case is not a criminal proceeding. It does not result in the imposition of criminal punishment like imprisonment or fine. Its purpose is not punishment but the removal of an unfit President. Impeachment is an inquest into the conduct of public men. As such, to be convicted, guilt beyond peradventure of doubt is not necessary!

In fact, it can be said that as long as a prima facie case is made against the President, he has the burden of proving his innocence, failure in which he shall be convicted. Any doubt must be resolved strictly against the President! If there is some reasonable basis in the charges against the President but the same cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt, does it make sense that he remains in office just because of some reasonable doubt? Acquittal on reasonable doubt is predicated on the classic principle that it is better to free a thousand criminals than to punish one innocent person. But when at stake is the salvation of a country from a President in whom the people have already lost confidence, acquittal on reasonable doubt in the impeachment case appears too rigid.

Ultimately, as I have previously intimated, it will be a numbers game, like the jueteng which started it all. Two-thirds of all the members of the Senate is the people’s lucky number. However, unlike jueteng which is left to chance, the people should not leave anything to chance if they want to strike a jackpot in the impeachment case. People should get involved and should closely follow every step and every movement in the impending impeachment trial.
Lastly, to our Senators, do not forget that you are acting as representatives of the people. When you vote in the impeachment trial, do not forget that it is not your personal decision that must prevail, but that of the people you are representing. Through you, the highest official of the land can be removed and through you the will of the people can be affirmed.


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