This has stirred another lively debate: Can the Supreme Court intervene in the impeachment trial? The pro-Corona side says Yes, it can intervene because of its power of review. The anti-Corona side says No, it cannot because the Constitution gave the Senate the sole power to try and decide impeachment cases. The senator-judges will decide in caucus Monday morning whether or not to obey the TRO.
As I see it, the pertinent provision of the Constitution is clear that the Supreme Court cannot meddle in impeachment proceedings. The Senate sits as an impeachment court pursuant to its exclusive constitutional mandate under Section 3(6), Article XI of the Constitution to hear and decide impeachment cases. This provision states: “The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment.”
Hence, when the Senate sits as an impeachment court, it is performing a constitutional check upon the members of the Supreme Court pursuant to the doctrine of checks and balances. An impeachment proceeding is a remedy for offenses against the people and results in the removal of impeachable officials from their positions for violating the mandate that public office is a public trust.
A constitutional expert gave me his views on the issue. I will quote his views here:
“Impeachment is the only check under the Constitution on the unelected justices by the people through their representatives in the Senate. The reason for this basic checks-and-balances is to prevent the abuse of the security of tenure granted by the Constitution to public officers who are required to be independent by the very nature of their office such as Supreme Court justices.
“More importantly, the Constitution does not merely treat impeachment as a method of checks and balances, but as an instrument of enforcing or ensuring public accountability. Thus, the Constitution places the provision on impeachment not in Articles VI, VII and VIII but in Articles XI on Accountability of Public Officers. This placement is clearly intentional and meant to signal the importance of accountability of public officers and the importance of impeachment in exacting that level of accountability.
“In view of the special purpose of an impeachment in the life of a nation, the impeachment court and the necessary powers it exercises cannot be treated as a mere switch that could simply be turned on or off, as Father Bernas seems to suggest. Rather, the impeachment court is sui generis (unique, or of its own kind), or unlike anything else in the Philippine constitutional and democratic government. It is a deeply sovereign function exercised by their Senate representatives.
“During Day 14 of the impeachment trial on Feb. 8, 2012, Senator-Judge Teofisto Guingona III explained the nuances of the impeachment process and the character of the impeachment trial in this wise: First, the Senate as an impeachment court is not co-equal with the other branches of government since the impeachment process is the people’s way of making public officials accountable, and this is reposed in Congress.
“Second, since the impeachment court is independent, the Supreme Court cannot and should not impose its will on said impeachment court considering that the Senate and the Supreme Court are co-equal only when the Senate is exercising its legislative powers.
“Third, the Senate as an impeachment court has the sole power to try and decide cases on impeachment.”
To summarize and to make simpler the special category of the impeachment court, Chief Justice Corona is being tried before and by the sovereign people. The members of Congress are only their representatives elected with millions of votes. None of the 15 justices has been elected, not even as barangay tanod. How can they tell the elected representatives of the people what to do?
Lastly, how can the Supreme Court act objectively on the impeachment case against Corona when he is a member of the Supreme Court, in fact, its chief? Even subconsciously, they will try to protect him, and themselves. The honorable and sensible thing it should have done was to keep away from the impeachment case.