WHAT IS THE NATURE OF IMPEACHMENT?
First. The matter of impeachment is a political question that must rightfully be addressed to a political branch of government, which is the Congress of the Philippines. As enunciated in Integrated Bar of the Philippines v. Zamora, we do not automatically assume jurisdiction over actual constitutional cases brought before us even in instances that are ripe for resolution -
One class of cases wherein the Court hesitates to rule on are “political questions.” The reason is that political questions are concerned with issues dependent upon the wisdom, not the legality, of a particular act or measure being assailed. Moreover, the political question being the function of the separation of powers, the courts will not normally interfere with the workings of another co-equal branch unless the case shows a clear need for the courts to step in to uphold the law and the Constitution.
Clearly, the constitutional power of impeachment rightfully belongs to Congress in a two-fold character: (a) The power to initiate impeachment cases against impeachable officers is lodged in the House of Representatives; and, (b) The power to try and decide impeachment cases belongs solely to the Senate.
In Baker v. Carr repeatedly mentioned during the oral arguments, the United States Supreme Court held that political questions chiefly relate to separation of powers issues, the Judiciary being a co-equal branch of government together with the Legislature and the Executive branch, thus calling for judicial deference. A controversy is non-justiciable where there is a “textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department, or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it."
But perhaps it is Nixon v. United States which provides the authority on the “political question” doctrine as applied in impeachment cases. In that case the U.S. Supreme Court applied the Baker ruling to reinforce the “political question” doctrine in impeachment cases. Unless it can therefore be shown that the exercise of such discretion was gravely abused, the Congressional exercise of judgment must be recognized by this Court. The burden to show that the House or the Senate gravely abused its discretion in impeaching a public officer belongs exclusively to the impeachable officer concerned.
Second. At all times, the three (3) departments of government must accord mutual respect to each other under the principle of separation of powers. As a co-equal, coordinate and co-extensive branch, the Judiciary must defer to the wisdom of the Congress in the exercise of the latter’s power under the Impeachment Clause of the Constitution as a measure of judicial comity on issues properly within the sphere of the Legislature.
Third. It is incumbent upon the Court to exercise judicial restraint in rendering a ruling in this particular case to preserve the principle of separation of powers and restore faith and stability in our system of government. Dred Scott v. Sandford is a grim illustration of how catastrophic improvident judicial incursions into the legislative domain could be. It is one of the most denounced cases in the history of U.S. Supreme Court decision-making. Penned by Chief Justice Taney, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a vote of 7-2, denied that a Negro was a citizen of the United States even though he happened to live in a “free” state. The U.S. High Court likewise declared unconstitutional the law forbidding slavery in certain federal territories. Dred Scott undermined the integrity of the U.S. High Court at a moment in history when it should have been a powerful stabilizing force. More significantly, it inflamed the passions of the Northern and Southern states over the slavery issue thus precipitating the American Civil War. This we do not wish to happen in the Philippines!
It must be clarified, lest I be misconstrued, this is not to say that this Court is absolutely precluded from inquiring into the constitutionality of the impeachment process. The present Constitution, specifically under Art. VIII, Sec. 1, introduced the expanded concept of the power of judicial review that now explicitly allows the determination of whether there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the government. This is evidently in response to the unedifying experience of the past in frequently resorting to the “political question” doctrine that in no mean measure has emasculated the Court’s authority to strike down abuses of power by the government or any of its instrumentalities.
CAN THERE BE JUDICIAL INTERFERENCE IN AN IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDINGS?
While the impeachment mechanism is by constitutional design a sui generis political process, it is not impervious to judicial interference in case of arbitrary or capricious exercise of the power to impeach by Congress. It becomes the duty of the Court to step in, not for the purpose of questioning the wisdom or motive behind the legislative exercise of impeachment powers, but merely to check against infringement of constitutional standards. In such circumstance, legislative actions “might be so far beyond the scope of its constitutional authority, and the consequent impact on the Republic so great, as to merit a judicial response despite prudential concerns that would ordinarily counsel silence.” I must, of course, hasten to add by way of a finale the nature of the power of judicial review as elucidated in Angara v. Electoral Commission –
WHAT IS A CONSTITUTION? WHAT IS JUDICIAL SUPREMACY?
The Constitution is a definition of the powers of government. Who is to determine the nature, scope and extent of such powers? The Constitution itself has provided for the instrumentality of the judiciary as the rational way. And when the judiciary mediates to allocate constitutional boundaries, it does not assert any superiority over the other departments; it does not in reality nullify or invalidate an act of the legislature, but only asserts the solemn and sacred obligation assigned to it by the Constitution to determine conflicting claims of authority under the Constitution and to establish for the parties in an actual controversy the rights which that instrument secures and guarantees to them. This is in truth all that is involved in what is termed “judicial supremacy” which properly is the power of judicial review under the Constitution (underscoring supplied).