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Amicus Curiae

The Peoples’ Power in the impeachment of elective officials

Charlemagne Rae P. Chavez

April 05, 2017

The President, Vice-President, the Supreme Court Justices, the Ombudsman, and the Commissioners of the Constitutional Commissions may be removed from office by impeachment. Among these public officers, only two are elective officials, namely, the President and the Vice-President. The removal of the top two executive officials from office transcends legal framework because it entails the peoples’ revocation of their imprimatur which they expressed in the polls. In this sense, the impeachment process is political. It is a constitutional safeguard of the democratic process wherein the true bearer of power -- the people -- decide whether to retract their delegation of power to the President or Vice-President. This is the essence of democracy.

 

No less than the Constitution states that public office is a public trust. Elective officials must, therefore, at all times be accountable to the people. This accountability is demandable when the President or Vice-President commits acts which betray public trust. Under the Constitution, impeachable offenses include treason, bribery, graft and corruption, or other high crimes. These transgressions are violations of law which the regular courts may penalize at the proper time. The Senate, however, sitting as an impeachment court, deals solely with the propriety of the President or Vice-President’s removal from office.

The Constitution adds two more impeachable offenses which are, the culpable violation of the Constitution and the betrayal of public trust. As worded, an act which may be deemed as a violation of the Constitution or that which betray public trust may not necessarily be a violation of law. These seemingly overarching grounds for impeachment signify that the top two executive officers of the land are subservient to the Constitution and the powers exercised by them ultimately belong to the people.

It is only apt that the impeachment process is entrusted to the peoples’ direct representatives in government. The House of Representatives has the exclusive power to initiate, while the Senate has the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment. In this structure, the House of Representatives vote to impeach the President, Vice-President, or the other impeachable officers. If the public officer is impeached, selected members of the House of Representatives will prosecute the impeachment case before the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court. The Senate will decide the impeachment case whose members will vote either to convict or acquit.

During an impeachment proceeding, the House of Representatives, acting as prosecutor, exercises functions normally reserved for the Executive Branch of government. The Senate, meanwhile, exercises functions of the Judicial Branch when it sits as an impeachment court. This expansion of roles granted to Congress as a body is a testament to the peculiar and extraordinary character of an impeachment proceeding as a mode of constitutional checks and balances. As such, impeachment is normally considered an option of last resort. Impeachment as the peoples’ remedy is reserved for such high crimes or serious misconduct which constrains the people to remove the sitting President or Vice-President from office despite the prior mandate of election. Otherwise stated, impeachment is by nature reserved for instances when the people seek to remove the duly elected President or Vice-President, who by act or omission, no longer possess the confidence of the people to sit in office.

Currently, impeachment complaints have been filed against the President and the Vice-President in the House of Representatives. The grounds include betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption, bribery, other high crimes, and culpable violation of the Constitution. Which of the allegations supporting these grounds, if at all, are grave enough to warrant the revocation of the people’s imprimatur? The peoples’ direct representatives in the House will soon decide. While impeachment is said to be a numbers game, the House of Representatives will decide by the tenets of the Constitution. After all, is not the Constitution for the people, by the people, and of the people?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. This article is for general informational and educational purposes only and not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion.