Politics and impeachment are like the two sides that make up a coin: inseparable. There can be no removal from office by impeachment without the politics that propels it to that end. But then, impeachment and politics can be used to achieve an end beneficial to the greater number.
Impeachment, which Alexander Hamilton defined as “a method of NATIONAL INQUEST into the conduct of public men” (Federalist Papers, No. 65), is a constitutionally-created means to achieve political ends. By the term “public men”, we mean officials in government, particularly those named in the fundamental law as impeachable. Not the celebrities who are even more known to the public than other men in government. The result of the inquest is, in Hamilton’s words, “regulated more by the comparative strength of parties than by the real demonstration of innocence or guilt”. Achieving those political ends is the art of politics. For the purpose of this brief essay, we shall adopt the definition by that 1950s sociologist and political scientist Harold D. Laswell who said that politics is “who gets what, when and how”. The examination of men in government by other men in government is politics in action.
Every impeachment filing is undeniably driven by a desire to get something or someone, at any given time, in some manner and strategy, for the benefit of another . Impeachment is a creation of the law for a noble purpose of getting rid of undesirable government officials, but oftentimes used to achieve ignoble objectives of advancing narrow political interests of factions, political parties, or even personal ambitions. Whatever the real purpose or purposes may be, proponents of filing impeachment complaints always proudly claim to advance the welfare of the country and its people.
What are the consequences of these impeachment filings? In the impeachment cases filed in the Philippines, particularly those against the President, the chances of success in the House of Representatives where the articles of impeachments originate is minimal. The prospect of conviction in the Senate is distant. Winning or losing depends on numbers that is determinable from the beginning. But the benefits of simply filing appeal to its proponents who savor being in the public eye for a considerable period of time. It is a way of telling the public that their party or group remains relevant and consequential. Under these circumstances, however, the filings are a waste of public funds , waste of time of other public officials, and display irresponsibility and disregard of what the country and people really need and deserve.
Every impeachable official in the Philippines, particularly the President, has been the target of impeachment complaints or threats of impeachment filing. The immediate past Supreme Court Chief Justice was convicted after trial by the Senate, a rare result. The incumbent Chief Justice has the threat of impeachment hanging over her head. As of this writing, three impeachment complaints have been filed in the House of Representatives against the President of the Philippines based on the grounds of “culpable violation of the Constitution” and the catch- all phrase of “betrayal of public trust”.
Does declaration of unconstitutionality of a law necessarily gives rise to a culpable violation of the Constitution? For a violation to be considered culpable, there must be “a showing that the person acted purposely, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently with respect to each material element of the offence.” (Black’s Law Dictionary). Simple logic dictates that the person who implements a law before such law is declared unconstitutional can hardly be held liable for culpable violation of the Constitution.
And when does one commit “betrayal of public trust”? The concept and its boundaries may not be so clear. To borrow the words of former US President Gerald R. Ford (who was a congressman and Speaker of the House before he was elevated to the Vice-Presidency with the resignation of Vice-President Spiro Agnew over threat of impeachment, and later, Presidency with the resignation of Richard Nixon likewise over threat of impeachment), “betrayal of public trust” could be “whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.” This astute observation suggests that any act contrary to what the public expects from the public official arguably constitutes a “betrayal of public trust”. This may be viewed as an all-inclusive ground that makes every other criminal grounds for impeachment a “betrayal of public trust”.
However we look at it, impeachment remains the ultimate non-violent weapon of the people against abuses of officials in the highest echelons of government. The proclivity to file impeachment complaints that are evidently primarily dictated by political expediency , however, must be tempered by the rational appraisal of what the consequences might be. This may be considered an unrealizable ideal, but it is feasible in a government with officials who may somehow deserve to be called representatives of the people, and a people uncorrupted by the transient lure of money on election day. In the kind of society we have and the system of government we adopted, the quality of politics in how the law on impeachment is effected will depend on how the people wants it to be.
But then one may ask, when will that time come?
New York, NY
See other works of Brod Manuel B. Quintal, Esq.
Inspirational Words to Live By
The Universality of Rizal’s Ideas and Its Relevance to Filipinos Today
Rizal: Filipino hero, Asian and a universal man
Constitution: To Amend or not to Amend?
Words: The Tools of the Legal Profession
About the Author
Brod Manuel B. Quintal, Esquire, is a former college professor of Political Science and Law, with graduate degrees in both disciplines. He practices law in the State of New York. His Law Offices of Manuel B. Quintal, P.C. is located at 291 Broadway, Suite 1501, New York, NY 10007, United
States of America. He is the president of the Tau Kappa Phi Law Fraternity Alumni Society – USA/Canada, for 2014-2016.