by: Atty. Rovelson R. Velmonte
Section 1, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution declares that “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.“ These words echo loud and clear today as our country’s leaders find themselves at the brink of conducting this constitutional process.
Impeachment has been defined as a national inquest into the conduct of public men. It is a necessary safeguard to ensure that public officers have the moral fitness and integrity to fulfill their mandate. The provisions on impeachment are enshrined in Article XI of the 1987 Constitution.
Impeachment followed by conviction is often the only way to forcibly remove a sitting public official. While "impeachment" is often used to refer to the entire process of removing an official from office, it only formally refers to the indictment stage in the House of Representatives, not the trial stage in the Senate. Under the 1987 (present) Constitution, an official can be impeached by one third votes of the members of the House of Representatives.
Under Section 2, Article XI of the present Constitution, the following are the Impeachable officials: The President, Vice-President , the Justices of the Supreme Court , the Ombudsman, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions namely, the Commission on Elections, Civil Service Commission, and Commission on Audit.
Other officials can be removed from offices but not by impeachment: those under the executive department may be dismissed by the president; members of Congress can be expelled by two-thirds vote of the chamber the member is a part of; local elected officials can be removed from office through recall.
In the same section, the Constitution limits the Impeachable offenses to the following:
1. Culpable violation of the constitution
For purposes of impeachment, "culpable violation of the constitution" is defined as "the deliberate and wrongful breach of the Constitution."
According to the Revised Penal Code, treason is defined as "Any Filipino citizen who levies war against the Philippines or adheres to her enemies, giving them aid or comfort within the Philippines or elsewhere."
The Revised Penal Code defines bribery in two forms:
- Direct bribery is "committed by any public officer who shall agree to perform an act constituting a crime, in connection with the performance of this official duties, in consideration of any offer, promise, gift or present received by such officer, personally or through the mediation of another."
- Indirect bribery is "committed by a public officer when he accept gifts offered to him by reason of his office."
4. Graft and corruption
Any violation of the Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act is an impeachable offense.
5. Other high crimes or betrayal of public trust
In Francisco Jr. vs. Nagmamalasakit na mga Manananggol ng mga Manggagawang Pilipino, Inc., the Supreme Court purposely refused to define the meaning of "other high crimes or betrayal of public trust," saying that it is "a non-justiciable political question which is beyond the scope of its judicial power." However, the Court did not specify which agency can define it; the Court impliedly gives the power to the House of Representatives, which initiates all cases of impeachment.
Procedure in Impeaching officials:
- Any citizen with an endorsement of a member of the House of Representative may file charges.
- The House Committee on Justice will decide by majority vote if the complaint has substance.
- The House Committee on Justice will decide by majority vote if the complaint is sufficient in form.
- The House Committee on Justice will decide by majority vote if the complaint is sufficient in grounds.
- The House Committee on Justice will decide by majority vote if there is probable cause in the complaint.
- The House of Representatives will vote to impeach the official. A one-third vote is needed.
- If the vote passes, the complaint will become the "Articles of Impeachment" and the House will appoint prosecutors who may or may not be members of the House.
- If the vote fails in any part of the procedure, the official accused can't be filed for impeachment for one calendar year.
- Censure or a reprimand, or
- Removal from office and prohibition to hold any governmental office
In Section 3, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution limits the number of impeachment complaints that can be filed against an official to one per year. There has been controversy over what counts as an impeachment complaint. While some argued that for a complaint to count against the limit it must be voted on, and others have proposed other interpretations, the House has decided that any complaint filed fulfills the quota regardless of how well-formed it is or who filed it.