Thank goodness Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago is back, albeit temporarily. Fault her for everything else but the senator certainly knows her law. Since the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona started, speculations have abounded on whether the Supreme Court will intervene and order its halt since there are at least seven petitions pending before it to enjoin the impeachment trial. Also, debates abound in connection with Article 1 of the impeachment complaint on whether the Senate may review decisions of the Supreme Court, notably, that of De Castro v. Judicial and Bar Council that legitimized Corona’s midnight appointment.In one take at the podium, Santiago educated the bar, the bench and the public: “The Senate, as an impeachment court, is higher than the Supreme Court x x x (it) should be called the Presidential High Court of Impeachment, It is “not subordinate to the Supreme Court, given the constitutional phrase, “exclusive power to try and decide” on the impeachment of the chief justice. x x x You might be supreme but we are high.”I myself was a party in case that sought to restrain an earlier attempt to impeach a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Hilario Davide. While the case does not bear our name in its title, having been beaten in its filing by someone else who filed a six-page petition literally hours before we filed our 50-page opus, we were convinced then, as we still are today, that the expanded certiorari power of the Court, or the power to declare any act of any other branch or instrumentality of government as null and void when contrary to the Constitution and existing laws, vests in all citizens a standing to enforce a public right. We were sustained. Not only did the Court say that we had standing to question the impeachment of then CJ Davide as a matter of enforcement of a public right; we were also sustained on the merits of the case. That is, that initiation of an impeachment complaint for reckoning of the one year prohibition on the filing of more than one impeachment complaint was reckoned from date of filing and referral to the House Committee of Justice. The congressmen then insisted that it was from the date when the Justice Committee came up with its recommendation to the Plenary either to dismiss or proceed with the articles of impeachment.
During oral argumentation, my first time then, I argued simply that if we were to go by the House construction, what happens when the plenary rejects the findings of the Committee and refers the matter back to them? Even if the act of the plenary took more than one year, the impeachable officer may be liable to defend himself more than once in a year. I also argued that the rationale behind the bar was to discourage nuisance complaints as otherwise, our impeachable officers may end up just defending themselves from impeachment all the time.
But what the Supreme Court has not resolved until today is whether initiation is by mere filing alone of a complaint — such that a frivolous complaint ala Oliver Lozano’s against GMA- could preempt a more substantial impeachment complaint. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court dismissed two pending petitions in this regard, including one filed by then-Rep Noynoy Aquino. We would now have to wait for the opportune case for a resolution of this issue.
Meanwhile, despite the fact that the Supreme Court has not acted on any of the pending petitions to restrain the on-going trial, it could still do so. It would not look good and neither would it be constitutional. The difference between our petition then in the Davide impeachment and the petitions today is that the Senate now has already assumed jurisdiction over the impeachment complaint. In our case, we restrained the transmittal of the complaint to the Senate and succeeded. Hence, Senator Santiago was again correct — the Senate now is the sole and only judge of whether CJ Corona stays or goes.
She was also correct in arguing that the Senate as an impeachment court is higher than the Supreme Court. My law partner, Joel Butuyan, very early on argued: if it is true that the impeachment court cannot inquire into the constitutionality of decisions penned by impeachable officers, why did the Constitution vest it with the power to try officials for ”culpable violations of the Constitution?” This has prompted Deputy Speaker Raul Daza, the lead pubic prosecutor for Article 1, to argue as Senator Santiago has, that the Senate sitting as an impeachment court is akin to a Constitutional Court and is hence, above the Supreme Court on the issue of a public officer’s fitness tor remain in office.
Thank goodness for Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago. She will be missed when she goes to The Hague. Despots, mass murderers, criminals against humanity and genociders – beware. She’s coming for you.