Impeachment of the Chief Justice: Our Institutions on Trial

Press Statement – As human rights advocates and as officers of the court, we support this constitutionally-mandated impeachment process to hold any one accountable, including those who are charged with frustrating efforts at accountability.

The impeachment process is a device to make high public officials, including members of the Supreme Court, when warranted, accountable for their actions. It serves as a deterrent to   grave abuse of authority and betrayal of public trust.  It operates on and is meant to preserve and strengthen the principle of checks and balances. Thus, while it is the Chief Justice on the dock, the independence, credibility and integrity of our institutions will all be put to the test in this trial.

But a critical stance must be taken in examining the proceedings. It will not serve its purpose if the result would be a judiciary that is subservient to the dictates of the other branches of government.

Any criticism of the Court, or any of its members, must be principled and based on sufficient legal arguments and just grounds. The Court is not immaculately infallible and had its own share of decisions that invited vigorous exceptions or protests from various quarters. But such dissent must not undermine the independence of the judiciary as an institution and should present valid reasons whether or not there should be trust and confidence in the equal and equitable dispensation of justice.

The Pnoy administration has overtly and covertly shepherded this impeachment.  Yet the impeachment complaint contains on its face a number of serious allegations and grounds that need to be tried objectively and resolved on their merits. It is now incumbent on the House prosecutors to prove any of these grounds convincingly and address the criticism that the complaint was passed with inordinate dispatch and even undue haste for reasons other than that of public interest.

The Senate sitting as an impeachment body is tasked to decide with judiciousness, unbridled by any other consideration.    Though ultimately more a political exercise in a legal forum to be decided by politicians, the process must not be reduced to a simple numbers game and must be fair and credible. The people must engage and must be involved.

The impeachment should also not be used to cover up the incompetence and failure of a PNoy administration to concretely address the gut issues of the people, including their unmet basic social and economic needs and the disproportionate priority to largely unheeded demands for justice and accountability for grievous human rights violations.  The process can in fact result and help in no small way in holding the GMA administration itself fully accountable.

The impeachment against the Chief Justice will certainly set a precedent. Whether it will be a good or bad one will depend on how it will be handled and decided upon and how credible the process is seen by the public. It may make for a better judicial institution by serving as a springboard for reforms in the administration of justice. Or it may bamboozle the courts and undermine the system of supposed checks and balances and be the opening to monopoly of power.

So-called as the “last bastion of democracy,” the Supreme Court, or any of its members, must be beholden to no one- past or present – and its partiality should be in favour only of the people’s rights and interests.  It must have the moral authority to inspire trust, confidence and belief.

For us and especially our clients who have less in life and even in law, one thing is of transcendental importance amidst all these — whether our formal democratic institutions can really make our  public officials or any of their perceived proxies truly accountable for their actions. Whatever the outcome of this crucial exercise, the basic political and civil rights and the social and economic demands and needs of the people remain and must be effectively addressed by our institutions. #

Reference: Atty. Edre U. Olalia, NUPL Secretary General, +639175113373

National Secretariat
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers(NUPL)
3F Erythrina Bldg., Maaralin corner Matatag Sts. Central District,Quezon City, Philippines
Tel.No.920-6660,Telefax No. 927- 2812
Email addresses:[email protected] and [email protected]
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By calling yourselves the ‘people’s lawyer,’ you have made a remarkable choice. You decided not to remain in the sidelines. Where human rights are assaulted, you have chosen to sacrifice the comfort of the fence for the dangers of the battlefield. But only those who choose to fight on the battlefield live beyond irrelevance.”  Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, in his message to the NUPL Founding Congress,Sept. 15, 2007

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