Thursday, November 27, 2008


For the fourth time the impeachment complaint against Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been junked, with the House justice committee voting against if for insufficiency of substance. According to Rep. Edcel Lagman, the recital of facts supporting the allegations of wrongdoing by the president was insufficient and failed to "ensnare" her.

But the spirit of pro-impeachment congressmen has not been dampened. Even as the impeachment is yet to be brought before the House plenary session - a battle they are likely to lose again given the difficulty of mustering the 80 votes needed for a favorable resolution of endorsement of the impeachment complaint - they are already eyeing the Supreme Court as the next battleground.

Once a petition is filed with the Supreme Court challenging the House's action on the impeachment, anti-impeachment solons are expected to assert the political independence of the House as a co-equal branch of government. They will claim separation of powers, political question and judicial restraint - the traditional grounds for resisting judicial review of actions by the executive and legislative branches of government.

Given the prevailing trend in our jurisprudence, however, these justifications may no longer be decisive. Francisco, Jr. v. House of Representatives, which also involved questions on an impeachment complaint before the House - making it therefore on point, not only reaffirmed but unequivocally settled the extent of judicial power to review actions of other branches of government whenever there is grave abuse of discretion that amounts to lack or excess of jurisdiction. The courts almost always find grave abuse of discretion when the challenged action violates the constitution.

As long as the petitioners are able to show that the House transgressed constitutional limitations in the manner it dealt with the impeachment complaint, there is a strong likelihood that the Supreme Court will entertain the petition. Besides, unlike the US Supreme Court which retains the discretion on whether to entertain petitions filed before it, our Supreme Court is duty-bound by the present constitution to rule on such petitions; it has not only the power but the duty to exercise such power.

The challenge that faces pro-impeachment congressmen is the way the Supreme Court justices will vote on the merits of the case. If Neri v. Senate Committee is any indication - where a divided Supreme Court upheld President Macapagal-Arroyo's executive privilege in connection with the testimony of former NEDA Director General Romulo Neri before a senate investigation committee on the controversial ZTE-NBN deal - pro-impeachment groups may not get a favorable decision. Nine of the justices who voted in favor are the president's appointees, and for a court with 15 members nine is more than enough to carry a decision.

In a recent survey by ABS-CBN of the voting patterns in the Supreme Court, over cases involving the administration, the same nine justices have voted more than 50% of the time in favor of the administration, which shows a strong tendency to favor possible anti-impeachment respondents.

Strong political and pragmatic considerations may sway a majority of the Supreme Court to vote against the viability of the impeachment. Aside from the propensity of presidential appointees to favor their benefactor, the 2010 elections are fast approaching and justices might not be willing to put the country in another exercise that will test the country's political stability while preparations for the upcoming elections are underway. The attitude might be to allow the president to finish her term since barely two years of it remains.

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