Surprisingly, the jurisprudence on impeachment proceedings appears to favor form rather than substance. In other words, once an impeachment case is officially initiated by the House against an impeachable official, and there are not enough votes in the House to sustain the filing of articles of impeachment, the official concerned may not be the subject of another impeachment complaint for a whole year thereafter—if a literal interpretation of Section 3(5), Article XI of the Constitution is entertained.
The one-year bar against impeachment found in Section 3(5), Article XI, if interpreted literally as current jurisprudence does, is vulnerable to abuse and circumvention.
For instance, an impeachable official who has good reason to believe that an impeachment complaint against him or her will be filed in the House any time soon, can easily pre-empt everything by having a friendly congressman immediately file an impeachment complaint against him or her, citing flimsy or hollow reasons of a nature that no person in his right mind will consider as sufficient to warrant further proceedings. Legally speaking, the dismissal may be invoked by the erring official as a ground to ward off the real, legitimate impeachment complaint that should have been filed against him or her. That would be very unfortunate, indeed.
Being so, the rational and logical interpretation should posit that the one-year bar recited in Section 3(5), Article XI should contemplate a bona fide or legitimate impeachment complaint
Last week, at the proceedings before the justice committee of the House, lawyers of Chief Justice Sereno insisted on subjecting the complainant and his witnesses to cross examination which, according to them, is a right recognized under Rule 115 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure applicable in courts. When their request was disallowed, the lawyers walked out and decried that the right of their client to due process was violated.
Sereno herself has branded the proceedings as an “attack against democracy” because House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has an ax to grind against her. When she was a private lawyer, she allegedly testified against an airport contract when Alvarez was still the airport chief.
Although the arguments raised by the camp of the chief justice have a legal nicety to them, they are completely misplaced in impeachment proceedings.
The right to due process of law is a constitutional right, but it may be invoked only when it is so allowed by the Constitution itself.
Due process of law is mentioned only twice in Article III or the Bill of Rights of the Constitution—in Section 1, which states that “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law,” and in Section 14(1), which provides that “no person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law.”
Under Section 1, due process may be invoked only when a person stands to lose his or her life, liberty, or property pursuant to an official act to be taken against him or her by the government. The converse is also true: due process has no place in proceedings where the person concerned does not stand to lose his or her life, liberty, or property.
In conducting the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice Sereno, the House has no power to sentence her to death, or to order her detention, or to make her pay a fine, or to confiscate any of her properties. In other words, since there is no threat to her life, liberty, or property in the impeachment proceedings, Sereno’s lawyers’ arguments regarding due process are misplaced.
Both Section 14(1), Article III of the Constitution and Rule 115 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure invoked by Sereno’s lawyers apply only to criminal cases. For obvious reasons, impeachment proceedings in the House are not synonymous to criminal proceedings where the accused stands to be either acquitted or convicted. Acquittal or conviction only takes place after the trial conducted by the Senate.
Due process of law may be invoked for Chief Justice Sereno, not in the impeachment stage of the proceedings, but in the trial before the Senate. Since it is the Senate, and not the House, which has the power to remove Sereno from office, due process of law may be invoked during the trial, and not during the impeachment proceedings.
Moreover, the impeachment proceedings in the House is like the preliminary investigation stage of a complaint filed with the Department of Justice. If the investigating prosecutor finds probable cause against the respondent, he files the corresponding criminal case against the respondent in court. During the preliminary investigation, however, the respondent and his lawyers are not allowed to subject the complainant or his witnesses to cross examination. The right to cross examine witnesses begins at the actual trial of the criminal case.
Putting it more succinctly, since the investigating prosecutor has no power to order the execution or the arrest of the respondent, or to order the respondent to pay a fine, the cross examination of the complainant and his witnesses under such circumstances is not mandated by the Constitution or by law. Due process is not violated.
Whether or not Speaker Alvarez has an ax to grind against Chief Justice Sereno is immaterial. Impeachment proceedings are undertaken by the House as a body, and not by Alvarez alone. Alvarez may be the head of the House, but that does not necessarily mean that the House will readily do his bidding. The fact that there are representatives who are against the impeachment complaint is an indication that Alvarez is not the House.
In the event that articles of impeachment are filed against Chief Justice Sereno in the Senate, she is better off defending herself there than in the media, as her spokesmen are currently doing. Since Sereno herself expressed her intention to defend herself in the Senate, then her lawyers should focus their attention to what many anticipate to be a very interesting trial there.