Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was first published in Interaksyon.com on February 17, 2012.
“Compromise, if not the spice of life, is its solidity. It is what makes nations great and marriages happy.”
Is the Supreme Court superior to the Impeachment Court or is the Impeachment Court supreme within its ambit? That is the question of the moment.
Lawyers will always cite the Constitutional provision that favors their argument. One side will point to Art VIII Sec 1 (The Supreme Court has the power and the duty “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government”) and the other side will cite Art X1 Sec 6 (“The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment”). Either argument is solid so the question, if neither side gives in, will have to be resolved arbitrarily.
An impasse has to be ended one way or the other if the country is to move forward. That will bring the Executive into the picture because it is the only branch of government that has the means to enforce the rule of law. And the thing is the Executive can go either way on the issue and it will still be preserving and defending the Constitution and the rule of law because both points of view, as far as supremacy is concerned, are valid.
The way out of the dilemma cannot be found in the language of the Constitution as interpreted by lawyers. The way out can be found through common sense.
There are only 31 officials who can be impeached: the President, the Vice-president, the Ombudsman, 15 members of the Supreme Court, 3 members of the Commission on Audit (COA), 3 members of the Civil Service Commission (CSC), and 7 members of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).
One can glean from that list that it will not be difficult for the Supreme Court to exercise neutrality, to referee and call fouls, in the impeachment of 16 officials. (The Court’s behavior in the cases of Chief Justice Davide and Ombudsman Merci Gutierrez were, hopefully, exceptions.) But how can one assume impartiality from the Supreme Court when one of its own is being impeached? That would be like asking a member of the opposing team to referee a championship game and expect him to remain non-partisan. It defies reason. It goes against human nature.
There must be a compromise. The Impeachment Court must defer to the Supreme Court when it comes to those 16 officials and the Supreme Court in turn must defer to the Impeachment Court when it is its members who are being impeached. Now an argument can be made that such a compromise is unfair to the 15 justices of the SC because they will have no recourse if they believe their rights have been violated. Unfortunately, the framers of the Constitution did not foresee the day when the SC would have to referee a proceeding where one of its members is the respondent. (Who would have thought our justices would sink so low?) Consequently, the Impeachment Court and the Supreme Court have no choice but to work with what they have. They can use their wisdom and defer to each other or they can butt heads until the Executive is forced to step in.
At this point, it is vital to know the difference between principled compromise and compromised principles.