The finding by the House Justice Committee that the three impeachment complaints vs. President Benigno S. Aquino III were “insufficient in substance” effectively killed the complainants’ attempt to get to the bottom of the controversy-ridden Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and raise the alarm about the gravity of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) through the impeachment process.
Did the 54 committee members who voted to junk the complaint render “justice” to Mr. Aquino as Malacaang claims? On the other hand, should the six Makabayan Coalition lawmakers bow their heads in shame for having been swiftly and brutally defeated by such overwhelming numbers?
We need not reprise the recital of facts or the bases in law that formed the grounds for the filing of the impeachment complaints. The complaints are easily available online for people to read and decide for themselves whether these are indeed sufficient in substance or not.
It is to the credit of the complainants and the endorsing lawmakers that they put their money where their mouth is. The complainants painstakingly put together the formal complaints as basis for exacting accountability over the DAP fiasco as well as the extremely lopsided EDCA. The endorsers cogently presented and argued their positions given the very short time that they were allowed in the Justice Committee hearings, even as the anti-impeachment congressmen freely hogged the time.
This is on top of having filed petitions against the DAP and EDCA in the Supreme Court (the former, by the way, they won by a unanimous decision, although the Aquino administration has filed a motion for reconsideration); assiduously bringing the issues to the public consciousness in countless forums and public demonstrations; and most recently, embarking on a people’s initiative to legislate a law (thereby circumventing the pork-laden Congress) that would abolish the pork barrel system once and for all.
It should be evident by now to all except the most biased, that the move to impeach Mr. Aquino on the basis of DAP and EDCA is not at all whimsical. The President is immune from suit while still in office; ergo, the only legal way to make him accountable for culpable violations of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust is through the impeachment process.
What are some of the repeated arguments raised against impeachment, from the legal to the demagogic to the seemingly pragmatic, but in truth mere demonstrations of lapdog loyalty?
Several committee members continued to hammer away at the alleged “prematurity” of the impeachment complaints since the Supreme Court has not ruled with finality on the DAP, more so on the EDCA. An editorial in a respected broadsheet repeated the erroneous argument even after the Justice Committee chair himself had ruled that the pendency of the DAP and EDCA petitions in the Court cannot be a bar to Congress impeaching the President or any other impeachable official so long as it follows its own rules for impeachment.
While the Court decides on whether an act of the executive or legislative department is constitutional or not, the Court does not have the authority to impeach. Only the House does. Consequently, confining impeachment proceedings to the rulings of the SC is not only unfounded, it is irrational. Impeachment proceedings determine whether an impeachable official is unfit for public office based on constitutionally defined grounds and not on the Court’s decisions.
The other argument pretending to be a legal argument but is actually a demagogic one is that culpable violation must be taken to mean that the violation of the Constitution is “perverse” and of such severity that warrants impeachment. It can be argued that culpable means “blameworthy, involving the commission of a fault or the breach of a duty imposed by law.” There is no gainsaying that Mr. Aquino had indeed culpably violated the Constitution when he engaged in “cross-border transfer” of funds when he released government funds to projects without any appropriation item.
But what is more important is that Mr. Aquino stands accused of illegally pooling at least P144 billion in DAP funds and illegally distributing these as pork barrel to his party mates and other favored members of Congress together with allied local government officials. Mr. Aquino is not called by the parliament of the streets as “pork barrel king” for nothing.
More reprehensively, Mr. Aquino used DAP funds as bribe money to exact favorable decisions from Congress such as the Senate conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona. The Aquino administration has still to fully account where the DAP funds were taken from and where they went. The P144-billion DAP anomaly dwarfs the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam by any reckoning.
Apart from Mr. Aquino’s usurping the congressional power of the purse, he is accused of doing so in order to exercise fiscal dictatorship. He placed in his own hands immense and exclusive power over humongous sums of public funds by which to unduly influence if not control both the Legislature and Judiciary and to exact submission if not canine loyalty from politicians on all levels.
The pro-Aquino congressmen had no qualms in showing that sufficiency in substance was farthest from their minds. What, for instance, is the relevance of the remaining time left in Aquino’s term, the damage he has done and the possible good he can still do, to the substance of the impeachment complaint? The dogged, if non-sequitur and irrelevant defense of Mr. Aquino while totally skirting the arguments raised on the sufficiency of substance of the complaints only betrayed the fact that these committee members were voting not on the sufficiency of substance but for the retention of the DAP and upholding of the EDCA.
If Mr. Aquino and his backers and allies, especially in Congress, think they have nipped in the bud the clamor to hold accountable Mr. Aquino and all those involved in graft and corruption at the highest levels of government, and that they can continue to have their pork and wallow in political patronage albeit under the guise of new mechanisms and devices, they are bound to be caught again red-handed.
For one, the public by and large have unequivocally turned down overtures for Charter change that would grant a term extension for Aquino and revoke the judicial power of the courts to review gross abuse of discretion by any branch of government. Furthermore, many groups and formations continue to sprout, calling for the end to the pork barrel system and political patronage in government.
If media commentaries are any indication, the vote fooled no one as to the reason behind its lopsidedness. Certainly, it had nothing to do with rendering Mr. Aquino justice, nor with judging the sufficiency of substance of the impeachment complaints. The predominant view, even before the hearings began, was that it was, as one top radio anchor summed it up, a question of “sufficiency of numbers.”
Carol Pagaduan-Araullo is a medical doctor by training, social activist by choice, columnist by accident, happy partner to a liberated spouse and proud mother of two.
Published in Business World
September 7, 2014