Editorial : Beyond numbers
BY THE POLITICAL opposition's own account, today is make-or-break day for the impeachment initiative against the President. In truth, opposition leaders have at least until tomorrow to muster the 79 signatures they need, before the House Committee on Justice reconvenes to conduct what may well be the make-or-break vote. And they have 10 session days to gather 79 votes in the plenary to override an unfavorable committee decision. But there is no question that in the impeachment numbers game, they are nearer break than make.
If one of the lawyers assisting the opposition told it straight in a cable news interview last Friday, the pro-impeachment camp started to focus on the pursuit of the necessary signatures only late in the day.
"Without the 79, it's over, and that's why in fact, I have allowed the congressmen to take the lead in this initiative. I have asked the legal to take a back seat because what we are witnessing now is a political play more than a legal play," lawyer Harry Roque told ANC's "Dateline Philippines."
Politics, of course, is addition, and the critical truth is that the opposition is behind in the fateful numbers game.
But is this all there is to the crisis of legitimacy enveloping the President? Does the mystery of the controversial and revelatory Hello Garci tapes clear up-is it explained away-with a party-line vote in Congress? Do the questions about the President's possible abuse of government resources to cover up alleged election fraud simply go unanswered, because fewer than one-third of all congressmen found any of the impeachment complaints deserving of support?
We find it hard to believe that a premature up-and-down vote in the justice committee is or can be in the country's best interests.
For one thing, it will deepen popular cynicism about the role of national institutions in public life. For another, it will not resolve the crisis confronting the President. On the contrary, a precipitate vote that leads to the junking of the impeachment complaints will only deepen the crisis. President Macapagal-Arroyo will end up presiding over the United Nations Security Council next week with the hounds of legitimacy baying more loudly, and snapping more aggressively at her heels.
A vote based merely on political arithmetic will also cheapen the language of the Constitution itself, and of the jurisprudence on impeachment that has arisen over the years. Surely, it is a matter of significance that, while the responsibility for the impeachment process is borne by the most political branch of government, the Constitution is careful to attach legal and judicial requisites. Impeachable offenses are delimited; verification and sufficiency in form and substance are required, and properly promulgated impeachment rules called for; the "sole power" to "try and decide" is vested in the Senate, with the presence of the head of the judicial branch of government mandated when it is the President "on trial." Not least, the outcome of the Senate trial itself is phrased in terms of acquittal or conviction.
(Also, the innovative provisions on the Ombudsman, the chief government lawyer in anti-graft cases, are also to be found in the same Article in the Constitution.)
What this all means is that, while remaining a primarily political process, impeachment must meet fundamental standards of reason and of law and justice. How, one may ask, can that be possible in an intensely partisan, almost poisoned atmosphere? Through a political compromise that is based on reason and the law. For instance: The committee can adopt the formula first put forward by administration Rep. Constantino Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro City. Allow the original impeachment complaint, which alleges betrayal of public trust, to be amended by the third complaint, but only by those parts that allege the same impeachable offense.
That compromise, or others like it, will allow the two sides to meet halfway. It will strengthen the impeachment case and thus add much-needed credibility to the process; at the same time, it will penalize the opposition for using the process as a last, rather than the first, resort. Not least, it will be a political arrangement based on reason and justice, acceptable to men and women of good will.
Beyond numbers is reason. Inside reason is conscience.