Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ, presents an interesting view on impeachment that I never thought about before. Okay, fine: I did. Every person with a modicum of political training and exposure understands that impeachment is a political process.
What I guess most people, even pol ops, don’t or vaguely know, is just how political the process is. Fr. Bernas emphasizes this when he said, “the impeachment process is not a judicial process but a political process. Its purpose is not to punish a malefactor but to protect the public from harm.”
This has all been drilled into our minds during the impeachment of Erap in 2000-2001. Political, not Judicial. The way I understood this before, it meant that the processes of the judiciary would be utilized, but several principles don’t apply. For one, if I remember my Erap Impeachment right, the principle of guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt that courts use for giving verdicts does not necessarily apply. All was needed, as I remember it, was enough information that would convict the accused.
Fr. Bernas further emphasizes the political nature of impeachment with two points: that it is partisan, and that “impeachment is political in the sense that what is involved is not just a legal decision but also a policy decision.”
That’s the new part for me. Impeachment as a policy decision. Quoting Fr. Bernas:
For that reason, the responsibility for impeachment has been given to a political (read: “policy-making”) body. When congressmen and congresswomen deliberate on whether to raise the complaint to the Senate, or when the senators deliberate on what verdict to support, the question they answer is not only whether there is evidence to support a “guilty” verdict, but also whether under the circumstances the preferred policy should be to remove the official on trial to allow someone else in. In other words, a verdict of “not guilty” does not necessarily mean “innocent.” It can also mean “guilty,” but keeping the person in is the wiser option now. What is often decisive is the legitimate gut feel or illegitimate interest of individual legislators.
Like I said, this is interesting. In the sense that the whole thing has been pursued under what is essentially the Black and White Movement’s take on the whole issue: that there are no gray areas to the issue. It’s either the President did wrong, or she didn’t.
When Black and White came up with this kind of thinking, I thought they were missing the point. We would all love to have the utmost morality and integrity in governance. That is the ideal situation. But if anything my years in political operations has taught me, the world we all move in is far from being ideal. The same politicians who fight on either side of this issue were the ones who bandied around the term pragmatism as a justification to many (if not all) acts they have done in the political sphere.
I think that, given this way of looking at the whole impeachment process that Fr. Bernas illustrated, the anti-Gloria movement should think about revising their strategies and get down to the most fundamental of questions: if not Gloria, then who?
I would like to think that outrage isn’t dead among us Filipinos, but because our political leaders have made pragmatism a byword in the public sphere, the public themselves have incorporated it into their psyche. So the president did wrong? Big deal: all you politicians cheat in the elections. It’s like politician = cheater in this country. It’s like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.
If they look closely enough, the anti-Gloria people should have noticed that there is a shift in thinking in the public, that it is not anymore a question of impropriety and immorality, but whether a regime change would benefit the country more at this stage or not. The people are tired of regime change. They may not like Gloria, but the opposition to her has not even given clear alternatives to her. These are nearly the same people who ousted Erap and installed Gloria as an alternative. Now they want to oust her? To the rest of the public, this may sound weird.
Impeachment is not a contest of purely good vs. evil, moral vs. immoral, proper vs. improper, black vs. white. The most celebrated impeachment of the 20th century – that of Bill Clinton – should have taught everyone that. It is a question of whether, given the reasons for the impeachment, a president is fit to govern or not, or whether the removal of the current occupant of the Palace will make things better for the public.
Unless the opposition can fully appreciate this fact – they believe she should go, even to making her guilty in their minds sans proper, unbiased investigations, but have they been able to translate this belief into information that can convince the majority? – or the nature of impeachment change, then perhaps the opposition should just stop subjecting the Republic to more instability and just gird themselves to the electoral battle of 2007, where they have a better chance to change the dynamics of the situation to their favor.