SENATOR ANTONIO "SONNY" F. TRILLANES IV : My Thoughts on the Impeachment Process

My Thoughts on the Impeachment Process

A speech delivered by Senator Antonio F. Trillanes IV at a forum held at the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance, Diliman, Quezon City on 04 January 2012

For the past several weeks, numerous distinguished lawyers, political analysts and opinion columnists have given their take on the upcoming impeachment trial. Most have stressed that it is a judicial trial whose verdict shall be determined solely by evidence. However, during the impeachment trial of US Pres. Bill Clinton, all the evidence pointed to the fact that he committed perjury and obstruction of justice and yet he was acquitted by the US Senate in a vote where all Democrats sided with Pres. Clinton. Now, following the line of our local experts, was it merely coincidence that all the Democrats appreciated the evidence exactly the same way, or it was never treated as a judicial trial by the US Senators to begin with? Moreover, if an impeachment trial were meant to be solely evidence-based, then why didn’t our Constitutional framers just give that power to the Supreme Court whose members are supposed to be experienced judges? And whenever a SC justice committed an offense, the SC could just expel him through an ethics case similar to our current procedure in the Senate.

I researched on the true nature of impeachments to guide me on how I should eventually make a decision. To this, I focused on the US version of impeachment since it is a virtual copy of our own. True enough, what I found out was, there is not a single book or reference I encountered that says that impeachment is a judicial trial solely based on evidence. To the contrary, all of these references defined or referred to impeachment as a political process.  Matthew J. Franck, in his 1996 essay, The Supreme Court and the Politics of Impeachment, stated clearly and I quote, “And although the Senate sits as a court during impeachment trials, it is not a court, but a political body deliberating on what are properly considered political offenses.” The closest reference was when Alexander Hamilton described in the Federalist No. 65, the judicial character of the Senate in relation to its function of judging in impeachment trials. But the political nature of impeachment was immediately made clear by Hamilton when he stated that the Supreme Court could not be relied upon with this task because “it is still more to be doubted, whether they would possess the degree of credit and authority, which might, on certain occasions, be indispensable towards reconciling the people to a decision that may happen to clash with an accusation brought by their immediate representatives” which may be “dangerous to the public tranquility.”

In a 2010 paper written by Susan Navarro Smelcer commissioned by the Congressional Research Service of the US Congress to define the role of the Senate in impeachments, she states that, ”While the Judicial branch was designed by the Framers to be independent of political influence, the methods of appointment and removal were designed to be political.” Charles Gardner Geyh, the author of the 2006 book, When Courts and Congress Collide:The Struggle for Control of America’s justice System  stresses further that, ”The removal process is political in at least three respects: (1) it is political in its originalist sense of the term, in so far as it is a remedy for political crimes against a body politic; (2) it is political in the sense of being a process that is subject to resolution by popular or political majorities, through their representatives in one of the political branches; and (3) it can be political in the sense that it can be openly partisan.”

Having established that impeachment is a political process, therefore, my verdict should not be based solely on evidence as it now becomes a matter of public policy. And the over-arching policy issue in this whole impeachment episode is, whether the conviction or acquittal of Chief Justice Renato Corona would be good for our country? To resolve this, I intend to use political acceptability as the sole criterion to evaluate the projected outcomes of either policy alternative of conviction or acquittal. To determine political acceptability, I intend to use policy research tools such as quantitative and qualitative researches and stakeholder analysis. These, along with extensive consultations, could very well filter the noise of the mob and undue media influence from the true will of the people.

One might ask, if we were representatives of the people and, therefore, entrusted with the authority to decide on our own what is in the best interest of the public, then why wouldn’t we just decide, based on our own personal and ideological values? If the decision was merely for ordinary pieces of legislation, then I would not hesitate to use that prerogative. But an impeachment of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is not a daily occurrence and it has very serious short-term and long-term implications to our fragile Democracy. So, I believe, getting as many people involved in the decision-making process is very much warranted.

Again, one might ask, as one of my colleagues did, why can’t we just conduct a referendum to resolve this dilemma? Well, the answer is quite simple – our country is not a direct democracy. We are, in fact, a representative democracy wherein the people indirectly govern their country through elected representatives. It is the representatives’ discretion whether to consult his constituents or assume that he is omniscient. More importantly, referendum is not the procedure stated in our Constitution.

This does not mean, however, that the evidence should be completely disregarded. Definitely not! Because the strength or weakness of the evidence, and how they are presented could very well affect the political acceptability of either policy alternative.  Having said this, it would help if the prosecutors and defense counsels would not to be too technical in their presentations. Ultimately, they would have to win the hearts and minds of the people.

As regards the appreciation of evidence, we have to bear in mind that the Constitution and the Senate Rules of Procedure on Impeachment Trials did not specify the quantum of evidence required to convict. Is it beyond reasonable doubt as what is used in criminal proceedings? Is it preponderance of evidence as what is used in civil cases? Or is it substantial evidence as what is used in administrative proceedings? Since it is not specified, therefore, a senator can just raise or lower the quantum of evidence required to suit his or her inclination.

In the end, regardless how the impeachment trial ends, it will be one of the defining moments in our nation’s history as we would have shown the whole world that our Democracy works.

With Due Respect
More political than legal
By: Artemio V. Panganiban
Philippine Daily Inquirer
11:03 pm | Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Many commentators and analysts believe and profess that impeachment is a legal and judicial matter decided mainly by strict legalisms. By its nature however, impeachment belongs more to the people than to lawyers; more to public wisdom than to legalisms. An impeachment proceeding is sui generis; has its own unique genre, and is equal to no other.

Non-judicial tribunals.

True, the Constitution lays down the parameters of impeachment in unmistakable legal language. True also, it limits impeachment only to the highest officials who cannot be reached by the ordinary methods of public discipline. In similarly unmistakable legalese, it provides the grounds for and the general procedure by which impeachment cases are to be initiated, tried and decided; thereby giving the false impression that impeachment is the lawyers’ domain.

Note, however, the Constitution lodged the power to initiate and to decide impeachment cases in non-judicial tribunals composed mostly of non-lawyers and non-jurists; impeachment is exclusively initiated by the House of Representatives, not by regular prosecution agencies, like the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman. It is solely tried and decided by the Senate, not by courts of justice.

If impeachment were mainly a legal matter, then the power to try and decide should have been granted to the Supreme Court. Or to some other body composed of jurists or lawyers who must not only be trained in the labyrinths of law for at least 15 years but also—to quote the Constitution—be “person(s) of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence,” qualities required of Supreme Court justices.

Litmus test.

To stress, the power to initiate impeachment cases has been given to the House of Representatives, while the power to try and to decide has been granted to the Senate. Both bodies are composed mostly of humans who—despite their varied education, calling and social status—had been chosen by our people to be their alter egos to enact laws and to oust high officials who have become unworthy of their trust.

Legislators are thus expected to discharge their duties as our people’s trustees, not as pseudo-lawyers. When they initiate or decide impeachment cases, they carry the public weal first and foremost. They look at impeachment cases not through the prism of strict legalism (which many of them do not and are not required to possess), but through democratic lenses that our people expect them to have.

In the end, the litmus test of an impeachment is policy-oriented: will the people and the nation be better served by retaining or by ousting impeached officials? Reason and logic, emotion and passion there will be, but the decision of the people’s alter egos will always be justified by their sense of what is advantageous and beneficial to the country. They bear the people’s aspirations and ambitions; their pains and frustrations; their sense of right and wrong. And they will act according to that innate sense of right and wrong.

In short, impeachment may be legal in its processes but it is political in its substance; it may show a veneer of technicalities but it has an imbedded core of public wisdom. It may be coached in hifalutin’ legalisms, but its essence is encapsulated in simple common sense.

Three examples.

Let me give three examples to show that impeachment belongs to the people, not to lawyers. First, unlike judicial trials, impeachment hearings are open to mass media, particularly to live television and radio coverage. The search for truth is wider and the rules in obtaining and appreciating evidence are more liberal.
Because of this openness, people inevitably become an integral part of an impeachment trial. The people’s evaluation of what they see and hear during the trial solidifies into public opinion that is caught by poll surveys.

Inevitably, the people ingest this public sense of an impeachment trial. When the search for truth is blocked by incomprehensible legalities or technicalities, our people feel shortchanged and tend to settle the dispute with the power of crowds. This was what happened when the Senate refused, on technical grounds, to open the second envelope during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada.

Second, because also of the public nature of impeachment, the private life of impeached officials is opened to searching public scrutiny. The scrutiny extends to their spouses, children, parents and siblings, whose lives are minutely combed for hidden faults, filth and grime. Internet, texts, tweets and other social media become purveyors of supposed wrongdoings.

To protect her loved ones, Merceditas Gutierrez—after repeatedly ruling out capitulation—resigned as ombudsman before her Senate trial began, to spare herself and her family of the infamy of media scrutiny.

Third, the impeachment of Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. was blocked by a Supreme Court decision barring the House of Representatives from transmitting its impeachment complaint to the Senate. The House, after some hesitancy, blinked and retreated. There was no public upheaval over this legal block because Chief Justice Davide—still glowing from his stellar performance in the Estrada impeachment trial—was perceived by our people as their most trusted official. Moreover, the Supreme Court enjoyed very high public approval ratings, much higher than the House.

This capitulation buttresses the thesis that impeachment is a political, more than a legal, exercise.

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Rene Saguisag comments on Trillanes’s speech:

Dear Senator Sonny:

I agree with your position, if I understood it correctly,  on how the people and their elected Representatives may not be excluded in the national inquest now going in the trial of unelected Chief Justice (CJ) Rene Corona  on issues involving the heart of government functions (not that cockamamie plagiarism charge).

You in the legislature are elected and can be rewarded or punished by the electorate in periodic elections. Your loyalty is to the people. Justices are unelected and amor-con-amor with the appointing power and there must a check to their abuse by the people, directly, or through their elected representatives. They hold office until 70.

The upcoming trial will enable our people to see how the system works, in terms of check and balance.  One issue has to do with Rene's acquisitions.

We now know that we had a Student Chief Justice pala who could do tough time-consuming doctoral work while helping decide litigated and administrative cases in the thousands and heading a bureaucracy of thousands. 24/7 yata. (The SC and UST have to review the relevant policy in the public interest. No more Justice in doctoral studies. Can one imagine U.S. CJ Roberts going back to Harvard for his doctorate?)

Hundreds of my students over the last few semesters I have sent out, in vain, for info on assets and the handling of the billions of the Judiciary Development Fund, which under Sec. 3 of P.D. No. 1949 of 1984, is the sole responsibility of the Chief Justice. On the other hand, under Sec. 8 of RA. No. 6713, we clearly stated that public servants "have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know [their] assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses. . . ." Uncle Jovy Salonga, Tito Guingona and Orly Mercado and I had co-authored the law which I sponsored on the floor and shepherded all the way to conference and approval of the bicameral report. ]

Since impeachment  is a method of national inquest into the conduct of public men involving offenses that strike at the very life or the orderly workings  of government, more speech, not less - J. Douglas - should be the norm. It is too important to leave only to Senators-Judges, who should hold their peace and not stop the sovereign people and their Representatives from talking.  Once we smoke out the Coronas' asset statements, which they are holding very close to their vests, then people can talk freely and comment, why is X item not included? Why is Y understated/valued. Why is Z, etc. etc.

R.A. No. 6713 is a sunshine law. Rene [Corona] cannot hide behind an illegal self-serving interpretation exempting the SC from a requirement the executive and legislative branches comply every year, following April 30 of each year. The SC complied only in 1989. Then the troglodytes came.

Best, and have a good weekend.


As Published in INTER/AKSYON – NEWS 5 :

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A cleansing process

A cleansing process

By: Ba Ipe

Last Friday, I chanced upon retired Brig. Gen. Tomas Diaz in our favorite coffee shop in Quezon City. “What’s happening to our country, General?” I playfully mused, as I sat beside him for our regular salutary mugs of brewed coffee.

Although I liberally used what the late Emmanuel Pelaez uttered to then Quezon City police chief Brig. Gen. Tomas Karingal, when the former was ambushed in 1982, it was enough to stimulate the venerable 85-year old warrior. I saw how his eyes sparkled, as he started to perorate – all about history and the reported corruption in Armed Forces.

“When something is wrong with your body, you don’t let somebody clean it. You clean it by yourself,” said the amiable old man, who was once the most powerful military man in Central Luzon during the martial law regime. “You do something to clean your body,” he said in reference on the ongoing probe on alleged military corruption.

I didn’t totally see the significance of Gen. Diaz’s statement until yesterday. Somehow, the reported suicide of ex-AFP chief of staff and
defense secretary Angelo Reyes could herald the start of a cleansing process, which Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the military
establishment should have when former state auditor Heidi Mendoza came out in the open to give her version of the military corruption.

Gen. Diaz could only shake his head at the deplorable extent of military corruption, which whistleblowers Mendoza and retired Lt. Col. George Rabusa narrated on those congressional inquiries “in aid of legislation.” “Those things were unthinkable during our time. Even at the height of martial law, you wouldn’t hear corruption of that magnitude,” the general said in total disbelief.

I could only provide a glimpse of the reasons behind his apparent suicide. Whether we like it or not, Angie belonged to the old school of warriors; he was a traditionalist of sort. He knew where he stood in our history. He had proper appreciation of his own unique role in shaping this nation.

Angie led the 2001 withdrawal of support of the entire AFP chain of command from its erstwhile commander-in-chief, Erap Estrada. It was unlike the first People Power revolt in 1986, when a handful of reformist soldiers initiated a breakaway from the chain of command. Indeed, it was the first ever act withdrawal of support by the chain of command.

By this single act he initiated ten years ago, Angie touched the nerve of history, ushering a new presidency that was reviled for being the “most corrupt” in our history.

Rabusa, who knew a lot, came forward and spilled the beans in  public. No one in the military likes a snitch, but Rabusa made sense. At this juncture in our history and in consonance with our evolving political culture, a snitch is defined as a whistleblower and a whistleblower is heralded as a truthteller. Angie was a loser in this game, as he could only file court charges against his accusers.

Angie had to atone for those accusations, true or false. Indeed, he was judged guilty before the court of public opinion. In contrast to the court of law, where the wheel of justice takes years or decades to conclude, the court of public opinion has a swift process. People pass judgments on the basis of those press reports and opinions.

Angie knew he was a disgraced official, who served under an unpopular president. Angie perfectly understood he had no choice but to initiate a cleansing process the way he started the withdrawal of support from an unpopular president. Angie appreciated the need for a catharsis to all those claims and counterclaims of military corruption – all for the single reason of saving an institution, which is the AFP.

In short, Angie had that sense of history to correct what was wronged. Proud and resolute to the end, Angie was no coward to the dynamics of power and history. He did not blink to use what he had on his hand, which was a handgun. That was the reason, why he chose to sacrifice himself to save an institution, which was so close to his heart.

We may not agree with what Angie Reyes did. We may not know whether he was right or wrong. But history would be kind to Angie, who knew his role in history until the very tragic end.

Note: This is an opinion piece that appeared on Philip Lustre Jr.'s regular daily column "Musings" in Commuter Express, a newspaper of which its copies are distributed to commuters of the three railway systems in Metro Manila (LRT-1, LRT-2 and MRT-3) and passengers of major provincial and Metro Manila bus stations. It appeared on the Feb. 9 issue. The author wrote it a few hours after Angelo Reyes's death. The opinion piece is under the byline of Ba Ipe, which is Lustre's nom de plume.
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 February 2011 08:32
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POLITICS, Philippine Style

Written by : JOSE FD BAUTISTA   
Wednesday, 24 February 2010 07:55
POLITICS in the Philippines is one interesting topic, especially now that the presidential election is drawing near.

For those who do not know the Philippines, it is an archipelago of more than 7,000 islands located on the Pacific Rim of Continental Asia. It belongs to the regional configuration called Southeast Asia, which includes countries like Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. It was a colony of Spain for more than 300 years and was ceded to the United States after the Treaty of Paris towards the turn of the 19th Century.

Today, this tropical country, with one of the longest coastlines and finest beaches in the world, continues to have one of the highest incidents of poverty in the region and probably in the world.


In the Philippines, elections are a different exercise. Normally, it is one of the more salient features of a democracy. But in the Philippines, elections get a lot of attention, and also participation. Moreover, it has a unique and distinctive character that is truly Filipino, in both essence and practice.

In terms of attention, Filipinos are literally flooded with information from candidates running for various elective positions. This year, the election is classified as presidential and candidates run the entire gamut of elective positions – from councilors of cities and municipalities to the president of the Philippines. In between are positions for senators, congressmen, governors, and mayors. Of course, there are the vices – vice governors and vice mayors.

The candidates, of course, try their best to get the attention, and also the interest of voters. And they use a cornucopia of strategies, using a whole range of media – from television to the internet, and from ground advertising to home-to-home campaigns.

Thus, most Filipinos, including those who are too young to vote, get an overdose of information – information about candidates that all proffer a wide range of formulas for improving the lives of Filipinos.

Likewise, elections in the Philippines adopt the traditional fiesta spirit. Caravans of candidates conduct motorcades, riding colorfully decorated vans and trucks, teeming with colorful posters and streamers. Sometimes, the more affluent candidates, in a bid to attract more crowd, throw candies, shirts and other cheap giveaways, all marked with the candidate’s name and the position he is after.

But that is not all, political rallies are held in densely populated cities and towns. Of late, however, this form of campaigning had taken a dramatic re-packaging – from a program of speeches by the candidates in the past, the present rally now includes entertainment numbers, oftentimes by well-known celebrities.


Elections in the Philippines also provide opportunities to various sectors of the economy. The printing presses run non-stop, producing all types and kinds of leaflets, flyers, and other printed promotional materials. Also, makers of streamers and banners have to add up on their manpower to cope with the unusually high demand for their products.

Advertising companies also make heaps and mountains of income, with candidates tapping their talent people in image building, aggressive multi-media campaigns, even demolition jobs, or what is generally called muckraking and mudslinging. To the latter, however, advertising agencies, or even their discreetly set up black-ops sections, would hardly admit.

On the other hand, a lot of people are engaged to form caravans and motorcades that join a candidate in his or her campaign sorties. Some get an allowance, others just hand-ons and cash straight from the pocket. While others, those who organize big groups, get paid handsomely.

There are other odd-and-end jobs that are created during the election season in the Philippines, from the mundane and cheap jobs to the more complicated and highly-paid ones, like surveys and black operations or demolition jobs against opposing candidates.

It is estimated that the economy gets a significant cash pump during the election season in the Philippines. Just imagine how much money change hands and the buying power of those who make money from elections significantly boosted.


Elections in the Philippines also provide an added bonus. Entertainment goes to a high gear. Politicians employ the services of entertainment personalities to bring more crowds during their campaign sorties. Also, popular personalities are paid to endorse candidates. But that is the literal entertainment.

On the side, a different kind of entertainment comes from the candidates themselves. They sing, dance and do American Idol-like performances to get crowd attention. Also, they commit boo-boos on air and on-trail, which get remembered and become the subject of jokes. Puns are also poked on them for the incongruous ads they air or publish.

AH, AN ELECTION in the Philippines is one that is interesting and worth watching, even participating into. But the festivities and extra cash aside, election can also become deadly fatal.

Only recently, the Philippines became one of the worst places where one can practice journalism. A total of 32 media practitioners were massacred in Maguindanao, together with a group of women and children, in what was classified as election-related violence.

As there are still some 90 days before the actual voting, expect a lot of things to happen. And most of these things happen only in the Philippines during elections.

But that’s how politics in the Philippines is. And election is just one of its many aspects.

February 24, 2009

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 February 2010 05:08