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SALN and other issues in impeachment cases

THE impeachment process is a political, more than a judicial one.

Section 2 of Article XI, Accountability of Public Officers, of the Philippine Constitution provides: “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 on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust….”

A vote of one-third of the members of the House of Representatives is needed to send the complaint to the Senate, where a vote of two-thirds of the members is needed to convict.

President Joseph Estrada was impeached by the House in 2000, but his trial in the Senate was never completed as it was overtaken by People Power 2. Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez was impeached by the House in 2011, but she resigned before the Senate could begin the trial. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Renato Corona was impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate in 2012 for “betraying the public trust” and “culpable violation of the Constitution” – due to his failure to fully declare his assets in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth (SALN).

There was a move to impeach President Duterte but it was rejected by the House Committee on Justice for “lack of substance.” A complaint filed against Vice President Leni Roredo had no congressman endorser as required by the Constitution. That leaves Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of the Supreme Court and Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista whose cases are now awaiting action in the House.

Among the many articles in the complaints against Sereno and Bautista, there is a common charge – failure to report all assets in their Statements of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth (SALN), which happens to be the lone charge on which Chief Justice Corona was convicted in 2012. If these were judicial cases, the Corona conviction, it would appear, might be cited as a precedent.

But as has been pointed out, impeachment is essentially a political, rather than a judicial, process, with the decision in the hands not of judges but of politicians. The House majority today is composed of members of the President’s party, the PDP-Laban, while the Senate in the hands of a pro-administration super-majority.

When the impeachment proceedings begin against Sereno and Bautista, we will hear debates on issues related to the constitutional provisions. But ultimately, we must be prepared to accept that the decision, whatever it eventually is, will be a political decision.