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Impeachment

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feb7editorial

EACH House is the master of its own rules and procedures. The House of Representatives is not under the Senate. The House has to devise its own rules. This is consonant with the rulings of the Supreme Court. As long as those pre-arranged rules of procedures are followed — just because some people think it was done in too much of a hurry — it will not necessarily affect the validity of their proceedings. Apparently, these rules were followed, and so the transmittal to the Senate is proper.

In the case of the Senate, I believe we are already prepared. We have hit the books already when there was a proposal to conduct an impeachment trial against former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. We already had our caucuses and closed-door sessions about the procedures to be followed. Once these procedures are agreed upon, they will bind all the members of the Senate.

I have only two concerns. The first is: how we can keep a proceeding in both natures: the nature of a political proceeding, and the nature of a criminal proceeding. It is very difficult to decide on legal bases a political question. Every senator has his own political biases, and it will take a very high degree of strength of character to rise above personal political biases and adhere instead to the rules approximating the Rules of Court, which we already have. So that is for every senator to decide on his own conscience.

My second concern is: many of the members of the Senate are not lawyers, or if they are lawyers they have not had any trial experience and had no professional experience with the Rules of Court. Basically, many of them will be depending on their legal consultants. My fear is, if these senators do not study in depth the legal problems involved, or just find it too incomprehensible, it will be their legal assistants who will, in effect, decide the case.

I hope that we will adopt a rule that will prohibit the senators from receiving text messages or other types of messages during the trial. You don’t want to see a trial judge in any regular trial court consulting his text messenger or any device to see the advice of his consultant. In the last impeachment proceedings this was done by certain senators. It was very unseemly that they should receive guidelines from their consultants even on questions to propose to the witnesses or litigants.

Chief Justice Corona will start just like any litigant -- with a presumption of innocence. And as in any criminal case, the burden of proof is in the prosecution – the House of Representatives acting as prosecution or fiscal.

My other concern is: there are different levels of evidence or proof required to certain cases. In a civil case, the level of proof is substantial evidence. In a criminal case, the level of proof required is proof beyond reasonable doubt. What will be the level of proof in an impeachment trial? Will it be substantial evidence? Proof beyond reasonable doubt? Clear and convincing evidence? Satisfactory evidence?

In other countries, sometimes the senators or whoever performs the role of judges cannot agree with just one level of proof and therefore would just throw it back to the senators or judges to decide on their own which level of proof will be. One senator might apply the level of proof of substantial evidence and therefore convict or redeem on small evidence or insignificant amount of evidence. Another may apply another standard — proof beyond reasonable doubt — and therefore acquit because it is very hard to prove. In a criminal case, even one or just one-half of a reasonable doubt is already sufficient to acquit. So the chief justice standing trial will be limited to all the rights extended to other citizens in his place.