question the order of things | throw a monkey wrench in to the machine
Now that the individual Senators will be thinking about their decisions for tomorrow’s (29 May 2012) judgment in the impeachment against Chief Justice Renato Corona, I am surmising that most of us are interested to know if the Chief Justice should be removed, even if he can be found guilty on an issue of negligence in filing up his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth (SALN).
(Backstory: At one point, the defense was arguing that simple negligence is not an impeachable offense.)
In a news report on 26 May 2012, the Senate President and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago were quoted as having different opinions on the extent of penalties that can be meted out against the Chief Justice. The Senate President holds the view that removal is the only available penalty, while Senator Defensor Santiago’s implies that Article XI, Section 3 (7) of the Constitution provides for removal from office as the maximum penalty, and logically, there could be a minimum penalty.
Prior to the delivery of closing statements on 28 May 2012, Senator Defensor Santiago formally offered her contentions in plenary, with the Senate President saying that the contentions can be discussed in a caucus after hearing the defense’s and prosecution’s closing statements.
Going by the Senate’s Rules of Procedure on Impeachment Trials (Resolution No. 39), there is no clear indication if the Senate can mete out penalties lower than removal from office, and perpetual disqualification from holding any public office.
In the absence of any precedent in Philippine practice, United States jurisprudence may provide guidance. The problem, however, is that even in the United States, there is no clear-cut policy if the Senate, sitting as an impeachment tribunal, can give a decision lower than removal from office. Some quarters claim, though, that the Senate can censure or admonish an impeached official. But this is borne more of historical practice, rather than by constitutional direction. In 1834, the US Senate sent a resolution against President Andrew Jackson regarding his actions that, to the view of the Senate, were violations of the Constitution and of United States’ laws.
The problem, however, is that President Jackson was not facing impeachment when the Senate sent him that resolution. It is argued even by some law journals that the resolution may not even be a censure because it did not condemn the President’s actions, but only narrated the events and concluded that his actions were improper.
Further, the ‘censure’ resolution was expunged from the Senate records after three years, when the Senate Democrats obtained a majority.
In 1998, when President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives and was tried by the Senate because of alleged perjury, his camp floated the censure option as a possible penalty in lieu of removal from office. It was not meted out, however, because the Senate acquitted the President.
There is no actual test case for censure as an impeachment penalty. But I will submit that our Constitution has invested the Senate with enough authority to decide the type of penalty it can mete out, since the Senate has “the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment” [Article XI, Section 3(6)].
I agree with Senator Defensor Santiago that the only boundary provided by the Constitution covers the maximum penalty that the Senate can impose: “Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualification to hold any office under the Republic of the Philippines, but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to prosecution, trial, and punishment, according to law” [Article XI, Section 3(7); Underscoring supplied].
In short, the Constitution provides the ceiling, but not a floor.
Thus, follows a rule of statutory construction: “The fact that the statute is silent, obscure, or insufficient with respect to a question before a court will not justify the latter from declining judgment.”
Going by that rule, constitutional silence must not restrain the Senate from meting out a lesser penalty that, to its wisdom and sound discretion, will be just and reasonable given the facts, information, and evidence presented to it as the impeachment tribunal.