IMPEACHING THE  PRESIDENT: A HOW-TO GUIDE & WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT

MANILA, JULY 27, 2005
 
(STAR) By Joseph Nacino - The Philippines must be setting a new record as it verges on having a second president impeached within a decade, which is symptomatic of the deep divisions within the country.

As political rallies dot the landscape, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo faces the threat of impeachment from Congress with the filing of a complaint by Attorney Oliver Lozano.

Pres. Arroyo is facing charges, to quote Lozano, of "betrayal of public trust arising from the 'Gloriagate' tapes." Pres. Arroyo has been allegedly caught on tape talking to a poll official during the May 2004 presidential polls, an act which has brought a storm of criticism on top of her head.

Because of the tapes, the political opposition has-after some hesitation-brought up its big guns in support of the impeachment complaint.

However, the opposition is also gearing to amend the complaint in order to bolster their chances of ensuring the passage of the Articles of Impeachment through the House of Representatives to the Senate. And, hopefully, with the upper chamber of Congress sitting in as an impeachment court, win their case.

But what will this entail? And where is this going?

According to the Constitution

The 1987 Philippine Constitution lists safeguards against abuses of presidential power, specifically the power of impeachment.

Section 2 of Article XI of the Constitution states that "the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman 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."

The Constitution likewise deems the House of Representatives with the exclusive power to impeach the president. It also notes that a verified complaint may be filed by a member of the House or by any citizen with the endorsement of a member of the House.

With the complaint found legal and valid and conforms with the procedural rules laid down in the Constitution, the next step is for the proper House Committee to rule on the complaint. A report and a resolution on the complaint then needs a majority vote of all its Committee members before it can be passed on to the House itself.

A vote of at least one-third of all the members of the House is then required to either pass a favorable resolution with the Articles of Impeachment of the Committee or override its contrary resolution. However, the Constitution also lists another possibility: that if one-third of all the members of Congress file the impeachment complaint or the resolution of the impeachment complaint, it becomes the Articles of Impeachment. In both cases, the Articles of Impeachment can be passed on to the Senate.

At the Senate, the Constitution states the upper chamber of Congress shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment with the senators sitting in as the Impeachment Court. When the President of the Philippines goes on trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall head over the Impeachment Court but shall not vote.

Lastly, to gain a conviction, the concurrence of two-thirds of all the members of the Senate is needed. If the president is indeed judged to be guilty of the charges in the impeachment complaint, the chief executive will be then removed from office and disqualified from holding any government office again.

However, once removed from power, the president will also be liable and subject to prosecution, trial, and punishment according to the law.

The Matter of President Joseph Estrada

As things stand now, the Philippines have gone through one impeachment process already-the first in the country's history.

In 2000, then-president Joseph Estrada was accused of a number of crimes, including graft and corruption, money-laundering and accepting jueteng bribes, which he denied having committed.

All of the controversies and investigative reports against the Estrada administration were later brought to a head when Ilocos Sur Governor Luis 'Chavit' Singson raised the aforementioned jueteng charges against Estrada in Congress during a Senate inquiry in October 2000.

Because of this, 4th district of Isabela representative Heherson Alvarez filed an impeachment complaint against Estrada as the principal initiator, with the endorsement of Bohol representative Ernesto Herrera. Also signing the complaint were Teodoro Casiño and Teresita Quintos-Deles.

Filed against Estrada before the Justice Committee of the House of Representatives were four charges of corruption, bribery, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the constitution.

This is where the process became slightly controversial. Despite supposedly supported by more than one-third of the 218 members of the House, the impeachment complaint was rushed without debate or vote in eight minutes flat by the Speaker of the House Manuel Villar, a former Estrada supporter

In an event well-covered by the media, Villar opened the session with a prayer, proceeded immediately to read the impeachment articles, and then, ignoring points of order and protests from Estrada supporters, declared: "It's now official that the impeachment rap is with the Senate. We have indicted the president."

He then banged his gavel and ended the session, setting the stage for the first impeachment trial of a president in the Philippines.

As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Hilario Davide became the head of the impeachment court. Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. was Senate President at that time, replacing Senator Franklin Drilon who had just quit the ruling coalition to join the political opposition.

Facing off against Estrada was a prosecution panel composed of 11 members from the lower chamber of Congress and led by Makati City Representative Joker Arroyo.

However, the Estrada impeachment trial came to an abrupt halt after the Senate voted 11-10 to block the opening of key bank records in January 2001. According to the prosecutors, the documents would have proven that Estrada had amassed 66 million US dollars in bribes and kickbacks under four aliases during his 18 months in office.

This eventually led to the walkout by the House prosecutors and set off the 2nd Edsa uprising that forced Estrada to step down from office.

Déjà vu all over again

Pres. Arroyo, who was Estrada's vice-president and later succeeded him as Chief Executive after the uprising, doesn't seem to doing as well with an impeachment complaint in the offing.

Lozano filed the complaint alleging Pres. Arroyo betrayed the public trust by contacting the election official, widely known as former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, during the vote count of the May 10, 2004 elections.

Lozano pointed out Pres. Arroyo's nationally televised admission on June 27 over the wiretap tapes already signified her conduct unbecoming of a public official.

Lozano himself found an endorser for his complaint in ALAGAD Party-List representative Rodante Marcoleta, who just happened to be a member of the pro-administration coalition in the lower chamber of Congress.

Pres. Arroyo apologized before the nation for phoning the official before she was declared winner, but denied manipulating the outcome.

Currently, the political opposition-a hodge-podge group composed of Estrada's supporters, former allies of Pres. Arroyo, and those from the Left-are readying charges to amend to Lozano's impeachment complaint.

Opposition lawmakers announced that up to 10 criminal charges, including election fraud and corruption, will be filed against Pres. Arroyo. In this case, the complaint must gain the support of one-third of the 236 members of the House before it is transmitted to the Senate.

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero himself confirmed that they will file the amended impeachment complaint on July 25, the day Pres. Arroyo delivers her SONA during the opening of the Second Regular Session of the 13th Congress.

The lawmakers said they are looking for witnesses among the 13 former Cabinet members and top aides who have quit in recent weeks - some of whom said they are willing to testify against their former boss.

Opposition San Juan representative Ronaldo Zamora has been selected as the head of the opposition's legal team. And in all probability, Chief Justice Davide will once more step up to the plate as head of the next impeachment court.

However, current Senate President Franklin Drilon may or may not retain his post as the head of the upper chamber of Congress after he broke away from Pres. Arroyo's camp. Ironically, Drilon did the same thing during Estrada's tenure.

Whatever else will happen is up to heavens as the Philippines readies itself for another round of impeachment woes.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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