BRIDGES: Making a game out of the impeachment process


EVER since President Joseph Estrada was accused of bribery, graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust, and culpable violation of the Constitution in 2000, certain Filipinos, with some limited success, have tried to make impeachment a regular process of government. If you had not noticed, they are at it again.

On Monday an impeachment complaint was filed against President Benigno Aquino III for implementing the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).

The 28 complainants, which include religious leaders, members of the academe, corruption whistleblowers and sectoral leaders, sought the ouster of President Aquino whom they accused of turning the General Appropriations Act, through DAP, into his “own presidential pork barrel.”

They claimed that by authorizing the DAP, the President “has usurped Congress’ power of the purse and undermined the principles of separation of powers and system of checks and balances” and “has exacerbated the corrupt pork barrel system, committing tyrannical abuse of his powers, violating his oath of office, and perpetrating multiple counts of technical malversation and corruption of public officials.”

The 75-page impeachment complaint was endorsed by Bayan Muna representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarrate and Anakpawis representative Fernando Hicap.

Currently, impeachment has become the weapon of choice by those in the opposition. The likelihood these people will impeach anything other than their own credibility is zero, and given their existing lack of credibility by thinking Filipino, this undertaking appears to be a minor risk for them.

And so, promoters of impeachment breathlessly push the idea, claiming increasing numbers in Congress are with them.

Over the next 30 months, rage at President Aquino will reach such velocity as to hurl off or suck under those who ride its whirlwind whether they like it or not.

However, to read the purported charges against President Aquino, it is clear his detractors have adopted a concept that any president can and should be impeached if found he “has usurped Congress’ power of the purse and undermined the principles of separation of powers and system of checks and balances.”

These thoughtless zealots are, in fact, damaging our democratic process by gaming the political system. Encouraging them is only slightly more irresponsible than pretending they are doing no damage whatsoever.

We should point out that impeachment is the big cannon of the legislative process, a unique tool to deal with a special problem. Everywhere impeachment is a power that is used only in rare circumstances.

To quote Michael Gerhardt, a leading scholar on the impeachment process, impeachment is a “political process designed to investigate, expose and remedy political crimes committed by a special class of politicians subject to unique political punishment.”

Today, particularly here in the Philippines, impeachment represents the current politics’ critical mass and it is just one more opportunity for trying to bring a presidency down. Some people will not hesitate in calling for the impeachment of a leader by claiming our government must operate exactly per the letter of our Constitution.

In doing so, however, they are weakening the separation of powers concept of our system, as they try to make impeachment something of a standard procedure.

Has it not been obvious that impeachment has become just another partisan tool that conservatives are willing to abuse to get their way, or make their point?

Because clearly these promoters of impeachment are not seeking to protect the system; rather they are radicals who are gaming our constitutional system. Unfortunately, their current impeachment insanity could have serious consequences and cause far more problems that they seem to understand./PN