An impeachment is a statement of “verified” charges filed by at least one third (95) of Congressmen. It is not a conviction. Like an indictment in a criminal case, the accused still has to be tried.
The President, VP, Supreme Court Justices, Members of a Constitutional Commission and the Ombudsman can be impeached for “culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes or violation of public trust”. Only Erap and Ombudsman Gutierrez have ever been impeached.
“Culpable violation of the Constitution” is “the willful disregard of the fundamental law”.
“Other high crimes” are “offenses so serious as to affect the orderly workings of Government” (Ex-Justice Isagani Cruz).
“Betrayal of the public trust” denotes any act unbecoming of a public official such as abuse of authority or neglect of duty.
The other charges are self-explanatory.
The prosecution is represented by 11 Congressmen called Representative-Prosecutors.
An impeachment is a political process not a legal one. Thus, the accused may be “convicted” even if he has not committed a crime: The Senators may simply deem he is unfit to hold his office. Erap was detained because of a Sandiganbayan decision, not because of the impeachment trial.
Two, the prosecutors and Senators are not bound by court rules of procedure and evidence. However they must be fair and consistent.
Three, the Senators, most of them non- lawyers, are expected to vote based on public interest, not necessarily on the law. Their verdict is not appealable.
The Articles of Impeachment charge Corona with eight counts:
1. For being partial in cases involving GMA.
2. For non-disclosure of his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
3. For flip-flopping decisions in final and executory cases (e.g. the PAL Union matter), for his wife holding a Government position and for discussing with litigants cases pending in the SC.
4. For breaching the Constitutional separation of powers by issuing a status quo ante in the impeachment against the Ombudsman Gutierrez.
5. For arbitrariness and for resurrecting decided cases involving the status of 16 newly created cities and promotion of Dinagat Island into a province.
6. For partiality in granting the TRO and related decisions in the GMA travel matter.
7. For improperly exculpating Justice del Castillo in the plagiarism case.
8. For not adequately accounting for the Judiciary Dev. Fund and Special Allowances.
The case for the defense has so far been:
1. The Articles are defective because they have not been “verified” by the 188 signatories as constitutionally required. “Verification” means reading the complaint and affirming the charges based on the evidence.
2. The SC is a collegial body in which the Chief Justice is only one of 15 votes.
3. As with the other Justices, the CJ has administratively if not “publicly” disclosed his SALNs. Only two, Carpio and Sereno, have publicly disclosed theirs.
“Conviction” on any one charge is sufficient to remove the CJ.
What is the likely outcome of the trial?
A two-thirds vote of the Senate is required to ‘convict”. Since there are only 23 Senators (P-Noy vacated his seat to become President), the magic number is 16 even though, arithmetically, it is 15.33.
Theoretically, the Senators should vote based on the evidence. In fact they will also be swayed by their political affiliations, horse-trading with Malacanang, their financial sponsors (with SC cases), and for those seeking re-election in 2013, P-Noy’s support; and public opinion.
The public seems to favor a conviction because it sees Corona as an extension of GMA.
Below are the 23 Senators (* denotes those to be re-elected in 2013) and the possible body count:
Likely to convict (Administration bloc):
1. Drilon (LP)-
2. Recto (LP)-
3. Guingona III (LP)-
4. Pangilinan* (LP)-
Leaning to convict:
1. Trillanes IV*- Could use P-Noy’s endorsement in 2013.
2. Estrada*- His family and GMA have been at odds.
3. Osmeña III- Investigating reported GMA cronies.
4. Pimentel III*- Believes he was cheated in the 2007 elections.
5. Lacson*- Feuding with FG.
1. Enrile- Will show impartiality as Presiding Officer.
2. Arroyo*- Associated with the opposition NP bloc but you never can tell.
3. Escudero- A past P-Noy ally, he cherishes his independence.
4. Revilla- As far as the public, he can do whatever he wants.
5. Santiago- Administration supported her bid at the International Court but she ran under the NP in 2010.
6. Sotto- Majority leader of bloc with Enrile, Estrada, Honasan, Trillanes and Lacson. Will they vote as one?
7. Honasan* – Could use P-Noy’s endorsement next year.
8. Angara* – His son, Sonny, is one of the prosecutors.
9. Lapid- Hails from Pampanga.
Leaning to acquit (Opposition NP bloc)-
1. A. Cayetano* – Senate Minority leader
2. P. Cayetano –
5. Villar*- Losing presidential contender.
Whatever their inclinations, the Senators will all want to appear open-minded and politically correct. More important, each would secretly love to be the swing vote.
On the above (amateur) handicapping there are 9 likely to convict, 9 undecided, and 5 unlikely. Only 8 are needed to acquit. If the Opposition votes together and, say, brings in Lapid, Arroyo and Santiago, the game is over unless public opinion is so strong they will have to retreat.
The key to the public, the one they understand and the easiest to prove if at all, is the case for ill-gotten wealth even though, ironically, it is not specified in the Articles. If this is bullet-proof then we will have a new Chief Justice. Otherwise a conviction is challenging unless the CJ resigns.