Atty. Theodore Te

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The administration must show that the impeachment processes is not simply an exercise in substitution of faces but a decisive step toward addressing impunity and bringing about closure

Prof. Theodore TeAttorney Renato C. Corona’s conviction before the Senate, sitting in impeachment, and his removal as Chief Justice of the Philippines completes the impeachment process for the first time in the country’s history only because a verdict was rendered and judgment was pronounced.

Whether it addresses impunity and brings closure is a totally different story—one that we, as a people, have yet to experience as a result of the impeachment experience.

As everyone already knows by now, the impeachment trial was not a criminal or civil proceeding but simply an administrative one, albeit impressed with great constitutional significance. The only issue presented was fitness to remain in high office and the only express consequences of conviction are the removal of the office holder, the prohibition against holding any other public office and de-immunization from criminal, civil and administrative suits (which may include disciplinary sanctions under the Code of Professional Responsibility).

The nature of the impeachment trial, by itself, does not and cannot address the issues that have led to impunity and the removal of Corona cannot, by itself, result in closure. 

The only successful impeachment complaint against a president did not result in a completed trial because Edsa 2 intervened. 

Joseph Estrada’s impeachment trial became moot because Edsa 2 caused a vacancy in the Office of the President, which Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo happily filled. This was a political fact that the Supreme Court would later confirm as judicial reality. While Estrada was never removed from office as a result of the impeachment process, he experienced only part of the logical consequences of a verdict of conviction, i.e., de-immunization from criminal, civil and administrative suits.

Convicted felon

However, even after being tried, convicted and sentenced by the court, closure was never attained and impunity was never addressed simply because Estrada would receive a full pardon, albeit one with certain political restrictions. None of these restrictions prevented Estrada from running again for president in 2010 and coming in second to the eventual winner. At no point during the elections did the fact that Estrada was a convicted felon matter. 

The first successful impeachment complaint against an Ombudsman to pass the House of Representatives did not result in a trial at the Senate because Merceditas Gutierrez resigned, thus rendering  the issues leading to her impeachment moot.

Curiously, unlike Estrada, none of the issues have led to criminal, civil or administrative charges against her. The Aquino administration, for all its pronouncements about taking the “straight and narrow road” and its insistence on official accountability, has been absolutely silent on why not a single case against Gutierrez has been filed before the appropriate tribunals.

Today, in the aftermath of the protracted melodrama that was the Corona impeachment process, hardly anyone remembers why Estrada was tried in the Senate and why Gutierrez was impeached. 

The underlying themes of the Estrada and Gutierrez impeachment processes have been repeated and that is the surest sign that impunity still reigns and closure has not been achieved. “Jose Velarde” would become “Jose Pidal” and the gatekeeper to the Queen’s chambers that was Merceditas Gutierrez would be recast in Renato Corona.

Without the closure that comes out of seriously taking stock of the causes that led to the impeachment processes against these public officials and taking the necessary steps to place accountability where they lie, there is no reason to celebrate the supposed maturity of our constitutional processes and no reason to say that impunity has been addressed.  

The conviction of Corona and his removal as chief justice must mean something, and that meaning, to me, may be found only if it results in accountability being ensured, faith and confidence in institutional independence being restored, closure on the impeachment issues achieved and impunity addressed.

The grounds that the House Prosecution panel in the Corona impeachment trial alleged in the Articles of Impeachment are cognizable by the courts and quasi-judicial bodies.  For the conviction of Corona to mean something, these must be pursued to their logical conclusion and not simply conveniently set aside in the afterglow of an inadvertent victory.

Charge Corona

Closure is a word that President Aquino has frequently mentioned or referred to. The Corona conviction represents a second chance, after the Gutierrez resignation, for the administration to show that it means what is says—that more important than removing the officeholder and replacing him or her with another of their choice is the notion that the impeachment process is not simply an exercise in substitution of faces but a decisive step towards addressing impunity and bringing about closure.

Corona’s revelations during the impeachment trial will soon be forgotten in the dizzying aftermath of his removal from office. Even now, focus has already shifted to the search for his replacement; even now, calls have been made not to forget Gloria Arroyo. 

After he is discharged from the hospital, Corona will become just a historical footnote—the first Chief Justice to be removed from office through the impeachment process—unless the impeachment process that led to his removal is given true meaning and true closure, and is brought about by decisive steps such as the filing of of appropriate criminal, civil and administrative cases against him.  

I have been among those who have insisted that the House should not have railroaded the filing of the impeachment complaint against Corona, not because I did not believe that there are grounds to hold him accountable but because I believe that the impeachment process is but part of a continuum that should address not only accountability but also impunity.

While there is reason to say that the impeachment process was successful because Corona was removed from office, it is no reason to celebrate—not yet. 

Triumph is not measured by a conviction and a removal, it is measured by how much truth has been brought to light and how much light has led to revelation and how much revelation has led to actual change. Then, and only then, may we close this book. –

Click the links below for more opinion pieces in Rappler’s Thought Leaders:

More key Rappler stories related to the impeachment case against Chief Justice Renato Corona:

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