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San Juan Gossip Mills Outlet

A veritable fanatic of the Internet. His avocation is teaching while his main vocation is practicing the much maligned law profession. Currently teaching Constitutional Law at the FEU Institute of Law and a guest lecturer at the De La Salle University teaching "Freedom and Regulation in Cyberspace" in the Graduate Program of the Department of Communication. He is married to his beautiful Ateneo law school classmate and is blessed with a daughter and a son.

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Location: San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

Friday, July 22, 2005

GMA WARS: Episode Two - The Attack Of The Judges

In 2000, when then Congressman Manuel Villar surreptitiously but prayerfully referred the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, he set in motion for the first time the role of the Senate as an impeachment court. There were a host of issues to be resolved.

During the debates on the Senate's role on impeachment by the 1986 Constitutional Commission, Commissioner Felicitas Aquino wanted to transfer the impeachment court from the Senate to the Supreme Court because she believed that that while impeachment is a judicial proceeding, it was controlled by political forces. This is a euphemistic way of saying that justice may never be achieved since the senators are bound by party affiliations and loyalty and not necessarily, to the evidence presented. While her dim view of the Senate as an impeachment court holds currency now more than ever, her proposal was roundly rejected on the beliefs by Commissioners Christian Monsod and Blas Ople that the provisions on impeachment, in and of themselves, were already effective deterrence. Thus, the Senate was retained as the court of impeachment.

Having no experience in impeachment cases, the Senate never saw fit to promulgate rules of impeachment procedure until the Eraption. As its reference, the Senate used the US Senate's Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials.

Our senators drafted the rules by substantially copying the US Senate's except on three major points: First, the Senate dropped the US senate provision on the formation of a Senate committee to receive evidence and take the testimony of witnesses. For expediency, it was necessary for the US Senate to form a committee since they have 102 senators (2 senators from each state) and in order to prevent an unwieldy situation from arising. In our jurisdiction, since they are a mere 24 senators, they can easily hear testimonies directly and receive evidence;

Second, when any senator moves for a formal vote on any question involving issues on evidence, the proponent and the protestant are allowed to explain their positions for two minutes and a one-minute rebuttal is accorded them. In the US Senate, when a senator moves for a formal vote, the whole senate votes without debate.

Third, the US senators are not allowed to verbally propound questions to the witnesses. All questions were to be in writing and to be submitted to the Chief Justice who, in tun, will ask the questions. In the Philippines, the senators can ask questions directly to the witness with a two-minute time limit. While the purpose of this rule was to hasten the proceedings, the Erap impeachment trial, if anything, showed us this rule was a marvelous opportunity for some senators to grandstand and parade their intellectual prowess, badger the witnesses, and reveal their Cindy Lauper, or rather their, true colors.

Oh, another minor difference between the two bodies is the Protestant work ethic of the US Senate. Under their rules, the impeachment court sits from Monday to Saturday while our senate deemed it unholy to work on a Saturday.

Another issue to be resolved was what standard of proof will the senators need to make a judgment. Will the standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt be applied as in criminal cases? Or will it be preponderance of evidence as in civil cases? Many commentators hold the view that an impeachment trial is not criminal in nature since the sole penalty is removal from office. Moreover, a criminal case may be pursued subsequent to removal. Therefore, not being in the nature of a criminal case, the lofty standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt cannot be applied.

The US Senate has never employed any uniform standard of proof. It has been said that each senator must find in his own conscience the standard that would satisfy him and that an "overwhelming preponderance of evidence" standard be employed to adjudge the defendant.

Our Senate has likewise skirted the issue. We have no basis of knowing from the Erap impeachment trial what standard the senators might have used but one thing is certain: the procedural rules on impeachment are silent on the standard of proof thus, leaving each senator to use prudence, conscience, bias, pride, prejudice, blood money, patronage or hopefully, truth to guide his judgment.

There are other issues yet to be discussed, one question raised in the Blogs of the Round Table was whether the senators were judges or jurors. This will be discussed in the next episode. In the meantime, feel free to propound questions. I will try to avoid answering them. He he he

(Next - GMA WARS: Episode III - Revenge of the Truth)

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