The Concept of Impeachment

By Maceda, Ernesto M. | Manila Bulletin, November 7, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Concept of Impeachment


Maceda, Ernesto M., Manila Bulletin


THE fundamental laws of the Philippines on impeachment are found in Article XI of its Constitution. Since the provisions of Article XI on Impeachment are essentially patterned after the US Constitution, reference on the latter's text and practice would be helpful in the proper construction of the former.

In the American context, "impeachment" technically refers to the House of Representative's action of stating charges against a public official, and not the actual act of removal. A public official is "impeached", strictly speaking, once the House of Representatives approves an Article of Impeachment, thereby making him subject to Senate trial. In its broad sense, however, the term would refer to the entire process of impeachment, trial and removal. The process roughly resembles a grand jury inquest, conducted by the House, followed by a fullblown trial conducted by the Senate with the Chief Justice presiding.

Impeachment represents the most powerful check and balance constitutionally granted to the legislative branch.

The process of impeachment is different from civil and criminal proceedings. A criminal process involves personal misconduct and penalties are imposed to vindicate the interests of the society; while a civil process involves personal fault and liabilities are imposed to compensate individual victims. On the other hand, while impeachment process may involve certain elements of criminal proceedings, it is likewise a "political" process whereby the elected members of the Legislature functions as the prosecutors, jurors and judges of the accused public official.

This notwithstanding, the framers of the US Constitution did not intend the same to be treated as a partisan political weapon or a method by which Congress could remove a President because of their dislikes of his policies. Nor was it designed to be merely used by one political party to cast an official from another party out of office.

"The framers granted the remedy of impeachment because they were unwilling to rely solely on periodic elections as the method of removing the unworthy from office. 'Our system handles purely political differences primarily by the system of fixed and frequent elections, and also by the various checks and balances built into the ongoing relations among the three Branches.' Where however, serious elements of misconduct are involved, the Framers thought it necessary to provide a direct and immediate remedy."

Therefore, the framers of the US Constitution viewed the Process of Impeachment as a solemn, somber process, a serious activity with serious consequences.

Philippine & US constitutional texts

The provisions in Article XI of the Philippine Constitution on Impeachment are similar to those found in the US Constitution.

As to who may be impeached

RP Law. Section 2, Article XI of the Philippine Constitution defines the public officials who are subject to impeachment:

"The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office..."

US Law. On the other hand, Section 4, Article II of the US Constitution enumerates the following officials as subject to impeachment:

"The President, Vice-President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of..."

The term "all civil officers" includes such positions as federal Judgeships. However, it does not include the Members of the US House of Representatives or the Senate. …

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