Malilong: Impeachment is not a rusting gun anymore

IMPEACHMENT was once described a “rusted blunderbuss” because it is seldom used. It is not so anymore, not in the Philippine setting.

Last week, a group headed by Negros politician Jacinto Paras brandished it again, this time against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. Similar complaints have earlier been filed during the last 18 or so months against Vice President Leni Robredo, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and even President Duterte himself. However, only the complaint against Sereno remains pending; the rest were dismissed for being insufficient in form.

The complaint against Morales is likely headed to the trash bin, too because no congressman has endorsed it until now. I find that rather odd because while Morales is a relative of Duterte’s son-in-law, she is hardly a darling to the administration.

Maybe, the congressmen, an overwhelming majority of whom are Duterte’s allies, believe that it is wiser to just wait for Morales’ term to end than to drag her into a contentious process that could only further lend credence to accusations that they’re persecuting those whom they consider to be thorns to the Duterte government.

A retired associate justice of the Supreme Court, Morales was appointed Ombudsman by President Benigno Aquino III and assumed office on July 28, 2011. Since under the Constitution the Ombudsman has a fixed term of seven years and cannot be reappointed, Morales will be bowing out of office in a little more than seven months. It’s too early to tell, of course, but who knows if the congressmen are willing to allow her to make a graceful exit?

That--a graceful exit--does not appear to be what the congressmen have in store for Sereno. The chief justice--the youngest in the history of the Court--is not due to retire until 2030. They probably cannot wait that long to watch her go. A number of them may even be dead by then.

They’ve put her through the wringer during the last many weeks, summoning witnesses including her colleagues in the High Tribunal, ostensibly in their search for probable clause to impeach her. The complainant had failed to establish it; their justice committee chairman had loudly observed that the former did not have personal knowledge of the facts allegedly constituting impeachable offenses. They have to look elsewhere for help.

It has come to a point where an obviously exasperated Sereno has asked Congress to “get on with it” and just impeach her. Meaning, stop the vaudeville, prepare the articles of impeachment and transmit it to the Senate for trial.

I doubt if the congressmen will oblige her. One of them was quoted as saying that they’re still trying to build the case against her since they’re the ones who are going to prosecute her in the impeachment trial. It was the clearest indication yet that they have already decided her case but are not certain if they have sufficient evidence to secure a conviction in the Senate.

Impeachment as a concept and as a process has really evolved.
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