An Unjustly Vexatious Law

If you are asked to avoid committing “unjust vexation” in the same way as you should avoid committing theft, murder, rape or any other crime, would you know what to avoid? Would you be in a position to know exactly what particular acts or omissions you should avoid? I guess you wouldn’t! Unlike the crimes of theft, murder and rape that are specifically defined in the Revised Penal Code, one may search for the definition of the crime of unjust vexation but it is conspicuously absent. How can you therefore expect a person to avoid something that is not even defined by our criminal statutes?

Unjust vexation is punished under the 2nd paragraph of Article 287 of the Revised Penal Code that says:

“Any other coercions or unjust vexations shall be punished by arresto menor or a fine ranging from 5 pesos to 200 pesos, or both.”

Professors of Criminal Law justify this apparent lack of definition saying that unjust vexation is a catch-all crime that applies whenever the act or omission complained of does not specifically fall under any other provision of the Revised Penal Code. But we do not even allow common-law crimes, so how could we countenance the existence of having catch-all crimes in the face of the due process guaranty?catch-all crime that applies whenever the act or omission complained of does not specifically fall under any other provision of the Revised Penal Code. But we do not even allow common-law crimes, so how could we countenance the existence of having catch-all crimes in the face of the due process guaranty?

An examination of the annals of our jurisprudence would show that Art. 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code has been used to punish a great variety of different acts:

  • In People v. Reyes, 60 Phil. 369, August 23, 1934, Art. 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code was used to punish the defendants for unjust vexation for the act of disturbing or interrupting a ceremony of a religious character;
  • In Lino v. Fugoso, 77 Phil. 983, January 30, 1947, it was used to prosecute the accused of unjust vexation committed by stopping the jeep driven by the complainant in a threatening attitude and without any just cause therefor and telling him to stop driving for the City of Manila while the strike of city laborers was still going on;
  • In People v. Reyes, 98 Phil. 646, March 23, 1956, it was held that the act of seizing, taking and holding possession of passenger jeep belonging to complainant, without the knowledge and consent of the latter, for the purpose of answering for the debt of the said owner, constitutes unjust vexation;
  • In People v. Yanga, 100 Phil. 385, November 28, 1956, accused was convicted of unjust vexation for the act of compelling the complainant to do something against his will, by holding the latter around the neck and dragging him from the latter’s residence to the police outpost;
  • In People v. Abuy, G.R. No. L-17616, May 30, 1962, the accused was prosecuted for unjust vexation for the act of embracing and taking hold of the wrist of the complainant;
  • In People v. Carreon, G.R. No. L-17920, May 30, 1962, accused was convicted of unjust vexation for the act of threatening the complainant by holding and pushing his shoulder and uttering to the latter in a threatening tone the following words: “What inspection did you make to my sister in the mountain when you are not connected with the Bureau of Education?”;
  • In People v. Gilo, G.R. No. L-18202, April 30, 1964, the Court held that the absence of an allegation of “lewd design” in a complaint for acts of lasciviousness converts the act into unjust vexation;
  • In Andal v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. L-29814, March 28, 1969, accused were found guilty of unjust vexation under an information charging them with the offense of offending religious feelings, by the performance of acts notoriously offensive to the feelings of the faithful;
  • In People v. Maravilla, G.R. No. L-47646, September 19, 1988, a accused was convicted of unjust vexation for the act of grabbing the left breast of the complainant against her will;
  • Kwan v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 113006, November 23, 2000, the act of abruptly cutting off the electric, water pipe and telephone lines of a business establishment causing interruption of its business operations during peak hours was held as unjust vexation.

The aforementioned cases decided by the Philippine Supreme Court readily show that Art. 287, Par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code has not been used to prosecute a well-defined or specific criminal act. Instead, it was used as a “catch-all” provision to prosecute acts which are not expressly made criminal by any other provision of the Revised Penal Code. Isn’t this anathema to criminal due process that requires notice of what specific act or omission is punished by law?

It will not burn too much brain cells to realize that Article 287, paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code that punishes “unjust vexation” suffers from congenital defects and should be declared unconstitutional for the following reasons:

  • Article 287, paragraph 2 of the Revised Penal Code condemns no specific or definite act or omission thus failing to define any crime or felony;
  • Said penal provision is so indefinite, vague and overbroad as not to enable it to be known what act is forbidden;
  • Such vagueness and overbreadth result to violation of the due process clause and the right to be informed of the nature of the offense charged; and
  • Such vagueness and overbreadth likewise amount to an invalid delegation by Congress of its legislative power to the courts to determine what acts should be held criminal and punishable.

A CRIMINAL OR PENAL LEGISLATION MUST CLEARLY DEFINE OR SPECIFY THE PARTICULAR ACT OR ACTS PUNISHED.

It is a well-established doctrine that a criminal or penal legislation must clearly define or specify the particular acts or omissions punished. As early as 1916, in the case of UNITED STATES VS. LULING, 34 Phil. 725, the Supreme Court had the occasion to hold that:

“In some of the States, as well as in England, there exist what are known as common law offenses. In the Philippine Islands no act is a crime unless it is made so by statute. The state having the right to declare what acts are criminal, within certain well defined limitations, has a right to specify what act or acts shall constitute a crime, as well as what act or acts shall constitute a crime, as well as what proof shall constitute prima facie evidence of guilt, and then to put upon the defendant the burden of showing that such act or acts are innocent and are not committed with any criminal intent or intention.” (cited in the fairly recent case of Dizon-Pamintuan v. People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 111426, July 11, 1994) (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Two years later, this was followed by a scholarly exposition by Justice Johnson in the case of In re: R. MCCULLOCH DICK, 38 Phil. 41, April 16, 1918, where he stated that:

In the Philippine Islands no act is a crime unless it is made so by law. The law must specify the particular act or acts constituting the crime. If that were not so, the inhabitants could not know when they would be liable to be arrested, tried and punished. Otherwise the mandatory provisions of the law, that all criminal laws shall be prescribed, would prove to be a pitfall and a snare. The inhabitants of the Philippine Islands, whether citizens, denizens or friendly aliens, have a right to know, in advance of arrest, trial and punishment, the particular acts for which they may be so tried. They cannot be arrested and tried, and then be informed for the first time that their acts have been subsequently made a crime, and be punished therefor. x x x” (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Justice (later Chief Justice) Fernando in his concurring opinion in PEOPLE v. CABURAL, G.R. No. L-34105, February 4, 1983, also made a similar observation, stating that:

“The maxim Nullum crimen nulla poena sine lege has its roots in history. It is in accordance with both centuries of civil law and common law tradition. Moreover, it is an indispensable corollary to a regime of liberty enshrined in our Constitution. It is of the essence then that while anti-social acts should be penalized, there must be a clear definition of the punishable offense as well as the penalty that may be imposed – a penalty, to repeat, that can be fixed by the legislative body, and the legislative body alone. So constitutionalism mandates, with its stress on jurisdictio rather than guvernaculum. The judiciary as the dispenser of justice through law must be aware of the limitation on its own power.” (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

The rationale of the doctrine that a criminal or penal legislation must clearly define or specify the particular act or acts punished is ably explained by the United Stated Supreme Court in the case of LANZETTA v. STATE OF NEW JERSEY, 306 U.S. 451, where it held that:

“It is the statute, not the accusation under it, that prescribes the rule to govern conduct and warns against transgression. x x x No one may be required at peril of life, liberty or property to speculate as to the meaning of penal statutes. All are entitled to be informed as to what the State commands or forbids. x x x” (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

ARTICLE 287, PAR. 2 OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE CONDEMNS NO SPECIFIC ACT OR OMISSION! THEREFORE, IT DOES NOT DEFINE ANY CRIME OR FELONY.

Paragraph 2 of Article 287 of the Revised Penal Code does not define, much less specify, the acts constituting or deemed included in the term “unjust vexations” resulting to making the said provision a sort of a catch-all” provision patently offensive to the due process clause.

The right to define and punish crimes is an attribute of sovereignty. Each State has the authority, under its police power, to define and punish crimes and to lay down the rules of criminal procedure. Pursuant to this power to define and punish crimes, the State may not punish an act as a crime unless it is first defined in a criminal statute so that the people will be forewarned as to what act is punishable. The people cannot be left guessing at the meaning of criminal statutes.

Article 3 of the Revised Penal Code defines FELONIES (delitos) as “acts or omissions” punishable by law. Article 287, Par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code condemns no specific act or omission! THEREFORE, IT DOES NOT DEFINE ANY CRIME OR FELONY! Instead, any and all kind of acts that are not specifically covered by any other provision of the Revised Penal Code and which may cause annoyance, irritation, vexation, torment, distress or disturbance to the mind of the person to whom it is directed may be punished as unjust vexation.

ART. 287, PAR. 2 OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE SUFFERS FROM A CONGENITAL DEFECT OF VAGUENESS AND MUST BE STRUCK DOWN AS UNCONSTITUTIONAL.

The term “unjust vexation” is a highly imprecise and relative term that has no common law meaning or settled definition by prior judicial or administrative precedents. Thus, for its vagueness and overbreadth, said provision violates due process in that it does not give fair warning or sufficient notice of what it seeks to penalize.

This kind of challenge to the constitutionality of a penal statute on ground of vagueness and overbreadth is not entirely novel in our jurisdiction. In an en banc decision in the case of GONZALES v. COMELEC, G.R. No. L-27833, April 18, 1969, re: Constitutionality of Republic Act No. 4880, the Supreme Court ruled that the terms “election campaign” and “partisan political activity” which are punished in R.A. 4880 would have been void for their vagueness were it not for the express enumeration of the acts deemed included in the said terms. The Supreme Court held:

“The limitation on the period of “election campaign” or “partisan political activity” calls for a more intensive scrutiny. According to Republic Act No. 4880: “It is unlawful for any person whether or not a voter or candidate, or for any group or association of persons, whether or not a political party or political committee, to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity except during the period of one hundred twenty days immediately preceding an election involving a public office voted for at large and ninety days immediately preceding an election for any other elective public office. The term ‘candidate’ refers to any person aspiring for or seeking an elective public office regardless of whether or not said person has already filed his certificate of candidacy or has been nominated by any political party as its candidate. The term ‘election campaign’ of ‘partisan political activity’ refers to acts designed to have a candidate elected or not or promote the candidacy of a person or persons to a public office . . .

If that is all there is to that provision, it suffers from the fatal constitutional infirmity of vagueness and may be stricken down. x x x”

x x x x x x x x x

“There are still constitutional questions of a serious character then to be faced. The practices which the act identifies with “election campaign” or “partisan political activity” must be such that they are free from the taint of being violative of free speech, free press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association. What removes the sting from constitutional objection of vagueness is the enumeration of the acts deemed included in the terms “election campaign” or “partisan political activity.” (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Article 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code punishes “unjust vexations” and that is all there is to it! As such, applying the incontestable logic of the Supreme Court in said case of GONZALES v. COMELEC would lead us to the inescapable conclusion that said penal provision suffers from the fatal constitutional infirmity of vagueness and must be struck down as unconstitutional.

In the case of CONNALLY V. GENERAL CONSTRUCTION CO., 269 U.S. 385, cited by our own Supreme Court en banc in the case of Ermita-Malate Hotel and Motel Operators Assn., Inc. v. City Mayor of Manila, G.R. No. L-24693, July 31, 1967), the United States Supreme Court ruled:

“That the terms of a penal statute creating a new offense must be sufficiently explicit to inform those who are subject to it what conduct on their part will render them liable to its penalties is a well-recognized requirement, consonant alike with ordinary notions of fair play and the settled rules of law; and a statute which either forbids or requires the doing of an act in terms so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application violates the first essential of due process of law.” (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

In fact, it is worst in the case of the 2nd Paragraph of Article 287 of the Revised Penal Code because it punishes “unjust vexations” without even defining or enumerating the acts constituting the said crime thus leaving men of common intelligence necessarily guessing at its meaning and differing as to its application in complete disregard of constitutional due process.

Our Supreme Court in the case of U.S. v. NAG TANG HO, 43 Phil. 1, held that one cannot be convicted of a violation of a law that fails to set up an ascertainable standard of guilt. Said ruling cites the landmark case of U.S. v. L. COHEN GROCERY CO., 255 U.S. 81, where the United States Supreme Court in striking down Section 4 of the Federal Food Control Act of August 10, 1917, as amended, as unconstitutional, declared that:

“The sole remaining inquiry, therefore, is the certainty or uncertainty of the text in question, that is, whether the words ‘that it is hereby made unlawful for any person willfully … to make any unjust or unreasonable rate or charge in handling or dealing in or with any necessaries,’ constituted a fixing by Congress of an ascertainable standard of guilt and are adequate to inform persons accused of violation thereof of the nature and cause of the accusation against them. That they are not, we are of opinion, so clearly results from their mere statement as to render elaboration on the subject wholly unnecessary. OBSERVE THAT THE SECTION FORBIDS NO SPECIFIC OR DEFINITE ACT. It confines the subject matter of the investigation which it authorizes to no element essentially inhering in the transaction as to which it provides. It leaves open, therefore, the widest conceivable inquiry, the scope of which no one can foresee and the result of which no one can foreshadow or adequately guard against. In fact, we see no reason to doubt the soundness of the observation of the court below in its opinion to the effect that, to attempt to enforce the section would be the exact equivalent of an effort to carry out a statute which in terms merely penalized and punished all acts detrimental to the public interest when unjust and unreasonable in the estimation of the court x x x” (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

In COATES v. CITY OF CINCINNATI, 402 U.S. 611, the United States Supreme Court passed upon the issue of constitutionality of a Cincinnati, Ohio, ordinance that provides that:

“It shall be unlawful for three or more persons to assemble, except at a public meeting of citizens, on any of the sidewalks, street corners, vacant lots, or mouths of alleys, and there conduct themselves in a manner annoying to persons passing by, or occupants of adjacent buildings. Whoever violates any of the provisions of this section shall be fined not exceeding fifty dollars ($50.00), or be imprisoned not less than one (1) nor more than thirty (30) days or both.” Section 901-L6, Code of Ordinances of the City of Cincinnati. (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

In hammering down the constitutionality of the above-cited Cincinnati, Ohio ordinance in its landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court held that:

Conduct that annoys some people does not annoy others. Thus, the ordinance is vague, not in the sense that it requires a person to conform his conduct to an imprecise but comprehensible normative standard, but rather in the sense that no standard of conduct is specified at all. As a result, “men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning.” Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391

“It is said that the ordinance is broad enough to encompass many types of conduct clearly within the city’s constitutional power to prohibit. And so, indeed, it is. The city is free to prevent people from blocking sidewalks, obstructing traffic, littering streets, committing assaults, or engaging in countless other forms of antisocial conduct. It can do so through the enactment and enforcement of ordinances directed with reasonable specificity toward the conduct to be prohibited. It cannot constitutionally do so through the enactment and enforcement of an ordinance whose violation may entirely depend upon whether or not a policeman is annoyed. “ (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Same thing can be said of Art. 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code that punishes “unjust vexation.” As previously shown, the term “unjust vexation” is broad enough to encompass many types of acts or conduct. But while these acts of types of conduct are within the State’s police power to prohibit and punish, it cannot however constitutionally do so when its violation may entirely depend upon whether or not another is vexed or annoyed by said act or conduct and whether or not said act or conduct is unjust is the estimation of the court.

ARTICLE 287, PAR. 2 OF THE REVISED PENAL CODE IS AN INVALID DELEGATION OF THE LEGISLATIVE POWER TO DEFINE WHAT ACTS SHOULD BE HELD BE CRIMINAL AND PUNISHABLE

The failure of Art. 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code to define or specify the act or omission that it punishes likewise amounts to an invalid delegation by Congress of its legislative power to the courts to determine what acts should be held criminal and punishable. Potestas delegata non delegare potest. What has been delegated cannot be delegated. This doctrine is based on the ethical principle that such delegated power constitutes not only a right but a duty to be performed by the delegate through the instrumentality of his own judgment and not through the intervening mind of another (United States v. Barrias, 11 Phil. 327, 330).

Congress alone has power to define crimes. This power as an attribute of sovereignty may not be delegated to the courts. When a criminal legislation leaves the halls of Congress, it must be complete in itself in that it must clearly define and specify the acts or omissions deemed punishable; and when it reaches the courts, there must be nothing left for the latter to do, except to determine whether person or persons indicted are guilty of committing the said acts or omissions defined and made punishable by Congress. Otherwise, borrowing the immortal words of Justice Isagani Cruz in Ynot v. Intermediate Appellate Court (148 SCRA 659), the law becomes a “roving commission,” a wide and sweeping authority that is not “canalized within banks that keep it from overflowing,” in short a clearly profligate and therefore invalid delegation of legislative powers.

Art. 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code fails to set an immutable and ascertainable standard of guilt, but leaves such standard to the variant and changing views and notions of different judges or courts which are called upon to enforce it. Instead of defining the specific acts or omissions punished, it leaves to the courts the power to determine what acts or types of conduct constitute “unjust vexation.” Moreover, liability under the said provision is also made dependent upon the varying degrees of sensibility and emotions of people. It depends upon whether or not another is vexed or annoyed by said act or conduct. As previously intimated, one cannot be convicted of a violation of a law that fails to set up an immutable and an ascertainable standard of guilt.

CONCLUSION

From the foregoing, it appears that the law that was intended to punish unjust vexation turns out to be an unjustly vexatious law. Art. 287, par. 2 of the Revised Penal Code that punishes “unjust vexations” is unconstitutional on its face for its fatal failure to forbid a specific or definite act or conduct. It suffers from congenital vagueness and overbreadth which are anathema to constitutional due process and the right of the accused to be informed of the nature of the offense charged.

Moreover, by leaving it to the judiciary to determine the “justness” or “unjustness” of an act or conduct that is not clearly defined or specified by law constitutes a fixing by Congress of an unascertainable standard of guilt and therefore an invalid delegation, if not an abdication, of legislative power.

As such, it is now high time that this unjustly vexatious law be declared unconstitutional and be wiped out from our statute books. Lawyers defending a client for “unjust vexation” should raise this constitutional challenge against this unjustly vexatious law and they are free to cite the arguments articulated herein.

Art. 287, par. 2 cannot be a basis of any criminal prosecution, much less conviction. An unspeakable injustice was therefore done to all those who were convicted under this unjustly vexatious law. If this law is not declared unconstitutional by our Supreme Court or is not immediately repealed by Congress, many persons would still fall prey to its snare unaware.

Jettison ERAP!

While the French Revolution is seen as the model of people’s revolt against oppressive government in the 18th century, the EDSA Revolution is considered as the model peaceful revolt against despotism and tyranny in the modern era. The EDSA revolution placed our country again in the map of the world; it gave us Filipinos a place in history that is worth remembering and emulating; and, it left an imprint, a powerful stimulus in the heart and soul of all freedom-loving people. Once again, it made us proud to proclaim, without fear or shame, that we are Filipinos.

Then came Eraption… and the entire nation came out laughing. It’s harmless… It’s only a joke! But now Eraption is no longer funny! It’s a horrendous nightmare! The simultaneous eruption of all of our country’s volcanoes would pale in comparison. It made us the laughing stock of the world! He is the Millennium Bug and he must be deleted, expelled, removed, impeached before it’s too late and while there is still some iota of dignity in being a Filipino. We owe it to the world and to posterity to cure the Philippines from this dreadful virus.

Last Friday, it was the virus let loose once again. The scene – the FOCAP Annual Luncheon Meeting with the President which was televised live. FOCAP stands for “Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.” Dramatis personae – no less than the Millennium Bug himself and a troop of foreign correspondents. It was the first time the President had been interrogated, interpellated and cross-examined about the Juetenggate Scandal.

Act I: Correspondent: “Mr. President, since you already knew during your mahjong sessions that Gov. Singson is connected with jueteng operations, why did you not prosecute him?” Erap: “That’s not my job! That’s the job of the police!”

Act II: Correspondent: “Mr. President, do you consider resigning?” Erap: “That is against the Constitution.”

Act III: Correspondent: “Mr. President, can you tell us how much have you won in your mahjong games with Gov. Singson, et al.?” Erap: “I leave it to you to guess.”

While watching the President answer questions from the media, I felt great shame for being a Filipino. Was this the guy whom the Filipino people had voted in ‘98. Was this the guy, who promised to free the poor from the chain of life’s miseries?

The boat is sinking indeed and it is pulling us down. And worse, it is not only the boat of the Erap administration that is sinking but the entire nation! At least, we know what makes the boat heavy, what is making it sink – it is the Millennium bug itself. Of course, as in all cases of shipwreck, before thinking of abandoning the ship, the first remedy is to cast off overboard the useless and heavy loads. As such, let’s jettison the President!! Anyway, as texters say, he is only half-Filipino because the other half is alcohol!

Impeachment and Reasonable Doubt

When we convened the NO-ERAP (Negros Occidental – Expel Remove Actor-President) Movement several weeks back, most people were pessimistic about the chances of an impeachment move against our actor President. They were saying that the same was hopeless, as it would not even pass the first base, which is the House of Representatives. Of course, such pessimism was not without any basis because our history books show that all previous attempts to impeach the President –Elpidio Quirino in 1949, Diosdado Macapagal in 1963, and Ferdinand Marcos in 1985– had failed to muster the required number of votes even just to place the President on trial in the Senate. Such pessimism was further reinforced by the fact that only a little over 40 Representatives signed the Complaint for Impeachment at the time of its filing in the House of Representatives which was way below the required one-third of all the members of the House.

Then came storm after storm… Yolanda Ricaforte gave testimony that collaborated that of Singson in many of its material points, the peso kept on falling, all economic indicators signaled the downfall of the economy, more and more people trooped in the streets calling for Erap’s ouster, and recently we witnessed the so-called LAMP Exodus. Now, what seemed to be hopeless a couple of weeks ago is almost within grasp. But this is no time for jubilation or passivity! The war is far from over albeit now in its next level – the Senate Trial!

Our Constitution provides that the President 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. It also provides that no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate. Ultimately therefore, it will be a numbers game! The President can be removed from office upon the concurrence of 2/3 of all the members of the Senate.

But should the President be proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in order to be convicted and removed from office? In this question, I would say no because an impeachment case is not a criminal proceeding. It does not result in the imposition of criminal punishment like imprisonment or fine. Its purpose is not punishment but the removal of an unfit President. Impeachment is an inquest into the conduct of public men. As such, to be convicted, guilt beyond peradventure of doubt is not necessary!

In fact, it can be said that as long as a prima facie case is made against the President, he has the burden of proving his innocence, failure in which he shall be convicted. Any doubt must be resolved strictly against the President! If there is some reasonable basis in the charges against the President but the same cannot be proved beyond reasonable doubt, does it make sense that he remains in office just because of some reasonable doubt? Acquittal on reasonable doubt is predicated on the classic principle that it is better to free a thousand criminals than to punish one innocent person. But when at stake is the salvation of a country from a President in whom the people have already lost confidence, acquittal on reasonable doubt in the impeachment case appears too rigid.

Ultimately, as I have previously intimated, it will be a numbers game, like the jueteng which started it all. Two-thirds of all the members of the Senate is the people’s lucky number. However, unlike jueteng which is left to chance, the people should not leave anything to chance if they want to strike a jackpot in the impeachment case. People should get involved and should closely follow every step and every movement in the impending impeachment trial.
Lastly, to our Senators, do not forget that you are acting as representatives of the people. When you vote in the impeachment trial, do not forget that it is not your personal decision that must prevail, but that of the people you are representing. Through you, the highest official of the land can be removed and through you the will of the people can be affirmed.

Impeachment: Democracy at its Best


The ability to remove from office our highest official reflects the depth of our commitment to a government of laws, not men.

When 48 people sat down in 1986 to formulate our Fundamental Law, one of their primary goals was to institute a system of government that would prevent the rise of another Marcos. They took pains not to give the President too much power. They adopted measures to prevent him from becoming too powerful. The result was the weakening of the specific powers which were abused by dictator Marcos. The Commander-in-Chief powers that include the power to declare a state of martial law and to suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus have been considerably reduced and put under the check of the other great branches.

However, they realized that all of the measures to keep the President within the constitutional bounds of his powers might not be enough. The framers felt that a constitutional mechanism for the peaceful removal of an oppressive or unfit President must be put in place. As such, we have this process called impeachment.

Impeachment is the process by which charges are brought against high government officials, which can result in their removal. It has been described as an inquiry into the conduct of public men. The word “impeach” is derived from the Middle English word “empechen,” meaning to impede or accuse, and the Latin “impedicare” which means to entangle or put in fetters.

Our Constitution provides that the President 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. Therefore, to remove the President, there are two processes involved, he must be impeached and then convicted of the grounds aforementioned.

Impeachment is done by the House of Representatives upon the support of at least one-third of all its members, though this means only that the House brings the charges or indicts the President. It does not conduct the trial or vote to determine whether the President will be removed from office. Thus, we say that Pres. Clinton has been impeached although not removed from office because he was acquitted on both Articles of Impeachment against him. The same is true of Richard Nixon who was also impeached but who opted to resign instead of being convicted in the Senate. In the Philippines, however, no President has ever been impeached though there had been previous attempts against three: Elpidio Quirino in 1949, Diosdado Macapagal in 1963, and Ferdinand Marcos in 1985. All three attempts failed to muster the required number of votes to place the President on trial in the Senate.

Our Constitutional gives the Senate the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment and when the President is the one on trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside, but shall not vote. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate. Incidentally, the Senate votes separately on each charge or alleged ground for impeachment. If there is two-thirds vote to convict on any ground, the President is convicted and removed from office, even if he is acquitted of all other charges.

Impeachment is an expression and means of protecting our hard-earned and ever-precious liberty. It reminds the President of the elementary principle that a public office is a public trust; that the Presidency is not a license to commit wrongdoing; that the fixed term of six years does not give him security of tenure; and that he can be brought to heel if he abuses the trust the people place in him.

The removal of a President through the impeachment process will surely be a national tragedy and a national crisis, but nevertheless, it will be a display of democracy at its best. A president will be lost but a quintessential principle will be affirmed, that is “No man is above the law.” And the beauty in this is that this principle will be affirmed without bloodshed.

Federalism as the Key to Peace

In their desire to find the ultimate solution to the Mindanao problem, some policy makers have accidentally chanced upon the idea of federalism. Senators Pimentel, Osmeña, Tatad and Santiago are saying that the “adoption of the federal form of government may be the ultimate solution to the centuries-old Bangsamoro uprising in Mindanao.” As Senator Pimentel said “Federalism would respond positively to their demands, prevent the dismemberment and keep the republic intact, and establish just and lasting peace in Mindanao.”

The Mindanao problem did not come by mere chance or by accident; and to say that the problem is only about a group of bandits or terrorists or that it is a mere hostage drama are big understatements. The Bangsamoro struggle has been with us for the last 4 centuries, and it drives to me to think that our political system has something to do with it.

Total war would not solve the problem because in war there are no victors. It is like the improper administration of antibiotics, which would only lead to the mutation of the virus and the development of new strains. First, we had the MNLF, then the MILF, now the ASG and there would be no end to it.

Now is the time for us to reexamine the ties that bind us as a nation. Is it a tie founded on genuine equality for all its component elements or just a sheer demographic arrangement supposedly based on some historical accidents? Why do many people in Muslim Mindanao feel neglected by the so-called imperialist Manila? There would be no end to the Bangsa Moro uprising until our Muslim brothers feel that they are being treated as equals and until they are ridded off of this feeling of being neglected. Under the federal set-up, our Muslim brothers would no longer have the reason to ask whether or not they are being neglected by Manila because all that will be left to ask is one and only one question, true of every federal component and that is “Are we neglecting ourselves?”

Federalism will give local communities the ability and power to chart their own destinies, to realize their own aspirations, and to determine their own laws, according to their own unique culture and traditions. Federalism will promote political and economic dynamism of the regions or the different nations that make up the Philippine Republic. It will bring power back to where it really belongs – the people.

It is only through federalism where we will realize the true concept of autonomy characterized by decentralization both of power and administration, unlike in our present structure where there is only decentralization of administration and not of power with the result that our cities and provinces become the mere administrative agents of our country’s capital.

Let us throw away the myth that only through a centralized, unitary government, with concentration of powers in a single center, could the republic be maintained. Coerced or forced unity, instead of keeping the nation intact, will divide it in the long run. Experience of other countries as well as ours would bear me out if I say that the unitary system is not appropriate for a heterogeneous country like ours. After all, whether the Manila admits it or not, we are still a country of many nations, many cultures, many languages, and many religions. Shall we therefore allow our provinces or regions to be the mere peripheries of the center? Shall we continue to allow our cities to be miserably dependent on Manila, or as others put it, “mere colonies of Manila”?

In 1986, 48 persons from different sectors and persuasions convened to draft a Constitution that would prevent the rise of another dictator or the concentration of power or authority in one man. Today, I believe the time has come to elevate that Constitution further to greater heights so that it will not only prevent the concentration of power in one man but will also put a stop to the centralization of power or authority in only one city or province.

It is not differences that break up nations. It is not differences that divide republics. It is not differences that lead people to war. But it is indifference, intolerance, and failure to accommodate and understand differences. Federalism with its characteristic tolerance and accommodation for cultural, lingual, and religious diversity will ultimately be the key to peace not just to Muslim Mindanao but also and more importantly to the entire republic.