Saturday, December 06, 2008

Impeaching a president

History is never kind to any impeachment of a sitting president.

There were only two U.S. presidents, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and William Jefferson Clinton in 1998, who were impeached by the U.S. Congress but later acquitted by the Senate. Almost everyone thought Richard Nixon was impeached because of his role in the Watergate scandal but he resigned from the presidency, thus avoiding the near certainty of impeachment which had already been approved by the House Judiciary Committee, and the apparent likelihood of conviction by the Senate.

Joseph Estrada was the only Philippine president impeached by the House of Representatives but a people power revolution, EDSA III, pre-empted his conviction and he was forced to resign.

While an invention by the British, impeachment has not been used for over two hundred years in the United Kingdom since the impeachment trial of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville in 1806. The Pakistani parliament tried to impeach President Pervez Musharraf in August 2008, and the Russian Duma made several attempts to impeach Boris Yeltsin but, in both instances, the initiative did not come into fruition.

Impeachment of the president entails two stages. The first stage is formally called impeachment, where the charges are presented, usually to the Lower House of Congress who then must vote to impeach or to dismiss the charges by a majority or by two-thirds vote of its membership. Impeachment during the first stage is comparable to an indictment by the regular courts. After the president is impeached, the process goes to the next stage where he is tried by the Senate who then must convict or acquit the president.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently has just weathered the fourth impeachment complaint made against her since 2005. The majority of the House of Representatives voted along party lines and ignored the merits of the case in dismissing the complaint against Arroyo. In the Philippines, two-thirds vote of the membership of the Lower House is needed to impeach the president while the U.S. Congress requires only a majority vote.

Arroyo was accused of betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, bribery, graft and corruption, and other high crimes. On paper, these charges appear sufficient to establish Arroyo as an enemy of the people, yet members of Congress who belong to her party or who are sympathetic to her and may have benefited either financially or in kind from their blind obedience and allegiance to the president, easily defeated the motion to impeach. A simple victory for Arroyo because she has the numbers in Congress to support her. In other words, the tyranny of majority rules.

It was not as if the impeachment complaint has no legs to stand on. The grounds cited against Arroyo are:

  • the overpriced NorthRail Project involving a $400 million loan from China's Export-Import Bank

  • the National Broadband Network (NBN) deal between the Philippine government and China’s ZTE Corporation

  • the ZTE-Mt. Diwalwal mining contract

  • bribery of members of Congress when she authorized cash gifts amounting to half a million pesos each to members of Congress in exchange for the dismissal of the genuine impeachment complaints in favour of the Pulido sham complaint

  • the so-called “Hello Garci” scandal wherein the President was caught on tape while tampering with the results of the 2004 elections

  • the fertilizer funds scandal which personally benefited Arroyo and some key officials of her government

  • human rights violations, particularly Arroyo’s culpability and responsibility for extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture of individuals opposed to her administration.

Not a bit surprised with the dismissal of the impeachment complaint against Arroyo, Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Cruz of Lingayen-Dagupan called the present impeachment process “a tyranny of numbers game...a flawed socio-political principle whereby the majority and minority are eventually the oppressor and oppressed, respectively.”

Archbishop Cruz further wrote in his blog: “Thinking that the validity of the impeachment complaint depends on a numerical count of those who vote on the veracity or falsity of the said content and spirit, merely on the ground of political alliances, simply in view of beneficial considerations is the avid shaping of perversion and the downright making of perverts.”

Harsh words from a man of the cloth.

When the purpose of government is debased by corruption, and when the law of the land is openly defiled, what then should we call those we elect as our leaders but depraved individuals who do not care about the havoc they inflict on the lives of the Filipino people? When the institutions of government are broken, and when you have a president who cares only about staying in power by whatever means necessary, what can we expect an impeachment complaint to bring about? Nothing.

The charges against Arroyo pale in comparison to the charges made against Clinton during his impeachment by the U.S. Congress. Clinton was charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power, arguably untenable to be categorized as other high crimes and misdemeanours, which in addition to treason and bribery are the only grounds for impeachment of a U.S. president. The charges against Clinton arose from two sex scandals in which he was the protagonist, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and Paula Jones suit.

Arroyo’s sin is betraying the people’s trust, a crime closer to treason.

For the following crimes and misdemeanours against the Filipino people, Arroyo stands out as the most corrupt, most oppressive, and most dictatorial of all Philippine presidents:

  • for pillaging the nation’s coffers through an aggressive implementation of policies of deregulation, liberalization, and privatization, by corrupting the country’s institutions and processes

  • by allowing the scandalous plunder of resources by foreign investors and contractors in exchange for millions of dollars as grease money for her family and friends

  • for bribing officials to cover up irregularities committed under her nose

  • for tampering with the results of a democratic election

  • for ordering the military to engage in a campaign of extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances and torture of those who oppose her

  • for censuring the media and threatening journalists with charges of sedition and libel

Move over Ferdinand Marcos.

So, what’s next after the fourth impeachment complaint against Arroyo? Another impeachment complaint, what else? What can the people expect?

Nothing really. A congressman from Cebu even compared Arroyo to Jesus Christ. How much more depraved can it be?

No comments: