The one-year bar rule of impeachment

The one-year bar rule

          Article XI, Section 3, paragraph (5) of the Constitution reads: “No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.”

          Petitioner reckons the start of the one-year bar from the filing of the first impeachment complaint against her on July 22, 2010 or four days before the opening on July 26, 2010 of the 15th Congress.  She posits that within one year from July 22, 2010, no second impeachment complaint may be accepted and referred to public respondent.

          On the other hand, public respondent, respondent Reyes group and respondent-intervenor submit that the initiation starts with the filing of the impeachment complaint and ends with the referral to the Committee, following Francisco, but venture to alternatively proffer that the initiation ends somewhere between the conclusion of the Committee Report and the transmittal of the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate.  Respondent Baraquel group, meanwhile, essentially maintains that under either the prevailing doctrine or the parties’ interpretation, its impeachment complaint could withstand constitutional scrutiny.

          Contrary to petitioner’s asseveration, Francisco[58] states that the term “initiate” means to file the complaint and take initial action on it.[59]  The initiation starts with the filing of the complaint which must be accompanied with an action to set the complaint moving.  It refers to the filing of the impeachment complaint coupled with Congress’ taking initial action of said complaint.  The initial action taken by the House on the complaint is the referral of the complaint to the Committee on Justice.

          Petitioner misreads the remark of Commissioner Joaquin Bernas, S.J. that “no second verified impeachment may be accepted and referred to the Committee on Justice for action”[60] which contemplates a situation where a first impeachment complaint had already been referred.  Bernas and Regalado, who both acted as amici curiae in Francisco, affirmed that the act of initiating includes the act of taking initial action on the complaint.

            From the records of the Constitutional Commission, to the amicus curiae briefs of two former Constitutional Commissioners, it is without a doubt that the term “to initiate” refers to the filing of the impeachment complaint coupled with Congress’ taking initial action of said complaint.

            Having concluded that the initiation takes place by the act of filing and referral or endorsement of the impeachment complaint to the House Committee on Justice or, by the filing by at least one-third[61] of the members of the House of Representatives with the Secretary General of the House, the meaning of Section 3 (5) of Article XI becomes clear. Once an impeachment complaint has been initiated, another impeachment complaint may not be filed against the same official within a one year period.[62] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

The Court, in Francisco, thus found that the assailed provisions of the 12th Congress’ Rules of Procedure in Impeachment Proceedings ─ Sections 16[63] and 17[64] of Rule V thereof ─ “clearly contravene Section 3(5) of Article XI since they g[a]ve the term ‘initiate’ a meaning different from filing and referral.”[65]

          Petitioner highlights certain portions of Francisco which delve on the relevant records of the Constitutional Commission, particularly Commissioner Maambong’s statements[66] that the initiation starts with the filing of the complaint.

          Petitioner fails to consider the verb “starts” as the operative word.  Commissioner Maambong was all too keen to stress that the filing of the complaint indeed starts the initiation and that the House’s action on the committee report/resolution is not part of that initiation phase.

          Commissioner Maambong saw the need “to be very technical about this,”[67] for certain exchanges in the Constitutional Commission deliberations loosely used the term, as shown in the following exchanges.

            MR. DAVIDE. That is for conviction, but not for initiation.  Initiation of impeachment proceedings still requires a vote of one-fifth of the membership of the House under the 1935 Constitution.

            MR. MONSOD.  A two-thirds vote of the membership of the House is required to initiate proceedings.

            MR. DAVIDE.  No. for initiation of impeachment proceedings, only one-fifth vote of the membership of the House is required; for conviction, a two-thirds vote of the membership is required.

x x x x

            MR. DAVIDE.  However, if we allow one-fifth of the membership of the legislature to overturn a report of the committee, we have here Section 3 (4) which reads:

       No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.

            So, necessarily, under this particular subsection, we will, in effect, disallow one-fifth of the members of the National Assembly to revive an impeachment move by an individual or an ordinary Member.

            MR. ROMULO.  Yes. May I say that Section 3 (4) is there to look towards the possibility of a very liberal impeachment proceeding.  Second, we were ourselves struggling with that problem where we are faced with just a verified complaint rather than the signatures of one-fifth, or whatever it is we decide, of the Members of the House.  So whether to put a period for the Committee to report, whether we should not allow the Committee to overrule a mere verified complaint, are some of the questions we would like to be discussed.

            MR. DAVIDE.  We can probably overrule a rejection by the Committee by providing that it can be overturned by, say, one-half or a majority, or one-fifth of the members of the legislature, and that such overturning will not amount to a refiling which is prohibited under Section 3 (4).

            Another point, Madam President. x x x[68] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

          An apparent effort to clarify the term “initiate” was made by Commissioner Teodulo Natividad:

            MR. NATIVIDAD.  How many votes are needed to initiate?

            MR. BENGZON.  One-third.

            MR. NATIVIDAD.  To initiate is different from to impeach; to impeach is different from to convict.  To impeach means to file the case before the Senate.

            MR. REGALADO.  When we speak of “initiative,” we refer here to the Articles of Impeachment.

            MR. NATIVIDAD.  So, that is the impeachment itself, because when we impeach, we are charging him with the Articles of Impeachment.  That is my understanding.[69] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

          Capping these above-quoted discussions was the explanation of Commissioner Maambong delivered on at least two occasions:


          MR. MAAMBONG.  Mr. Presiding Officer, I am not moving for a reconsideration of the approval of the amendment submitted by Commissioner Regalado, but I will just make of record my thinking that we do not really initiate the filing of the Articles of Impeachment on the floor.  The procedure, as I have pointed out earlier, was that the initiation starts with the filing of the complaint.  And what is actually done on the floor is that the committee resolution containing the Articles of Impeachment is the one approved by the body.

            As the phraseology now runs, which may be corrected by the Committee on Style, it appears that the initiation starts on the floor.  If we only have time, I could cite examples in the case of the impeachment proceedings of President Richard Nixon wherein the Committee on the Judiciary submitted the recommendation, the resolution, and the Articles of Impeachment to the body, and it was the body who approved the resolution.  It is not the body which initiates it.  It only approves or disapproves the resolution.  So, on that score, probably the Committee on Style could help in rearranging the words because we have to be very technical about this.  I have been bringing with me The Rules of the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress.  The Senate Rules are with me.  The proceedings on the case of Richard Nixon are with me.  I have submitted my proposal, but the Committee has already decided.  Nevertheless, I just want to indicate this on record.

            Thank you, Mr. Presiding Officer.[70] (italics in the original; emphasis and underscoring supplied)


            MR. MAAMBONG.  I would just like to move for a reconsideration of the approval of Section 3 (3).  My reconsideration will not at all affect the substance, but it is only with keeping with the exact formulation of the Rules of the House of Representatives of theUnited Statesregarding impeachment.

            I am proposing, Madam President, without doing damage to any of its provision, that on page 2, Section 3 (3), from lines 17 to 18, we delete the words which read: “to initiate impeachment proceedings” and the comma (,) and insert on line 19 after the word “resolution” the phrase WITH THE ARTICLES, and then capitalize the letter “i” in “impeachment” and replace the word “by” with OF, so that the whole section will now read: “A vote of at least one-third of all the Members of the House shall be necessary either to affirm a resolution WITH THE ARTICLES of impeachment OF the committee or to override its contrary resolution.  The vote of each Member shall be recorded.”

            I already mentioned earlier yesterday that the initiation, as far as the House of Representatives of the United Statesis concerned, really starts from the filing of the verified complaint and every resolution to impeach always carries with it the Articles of Impeachment.  As a matter of fact, the words “Articles of Impeachment” are mentioned on line 25 in the case of the direct filing of a verified complaint of one-third of all the Members of the House.  I will mention again, Madam President, that my amendment will not vary the substance in any way.  It is only in keeping with the uniform procedure of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress.

            Thank you, Madam President.[71] (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

          To the next logical question of what ends or completes the initiation, Commissioners Bernas and Regalado lucidly explained that the filing of the complaint must be accompanied by the referral to the Committee on Justice, which is the action that sets the complaint moving.  Francisco cannot be any clearer in pointing out the material dates.

            Having concluded that the initiation takes place by the act of filing of the impeachment complaint and referral to the House Committee on Justice, the initial action taken thereon, the meaning of Section 3 (5) of Article XI becomes clear. Once an impeachment complaint has been initiated in the foregoing manner, another may not be filed against the same official within a one year period following Article XI, Section 3(5) of the Constitution.

            In fine, considering that the first impeachment complaint was filed by former President Estrada against Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., along with seven associate justices of this Court, on June 2, 2003 and referred to the House Committee on Justice on August 5, 2003, the second impeachment complaint filed by Representatives Gilberto C. Teodoro, Jr. and Felix William Fuentebella against the Chief Justice on October 23, 2003 violates the constitutional prohibition against the initiation of impeachment proceedings against the same impeachable officer within a one-year period.[72] (emphasis, italics and underscoring supplied)

          These clear pronouncements notwithstanding, petitioner posits that the date of referral was considered irrelevant in Francisco.  She submits that referral could not be the reckoning point of initiation because “something prior to that had already been done,”[73] apparently citing Bernas’ discussion.

          The Court cannot countenance any attempt at obscurantism.

          What the cited discussion was rejecting was the view that the House’s action on the committee report initiates the impeachment proceedings.  It did not state that to determine the initiating step, absolutely nothing prior to it must be done.  Following petitioner’s line of reasoning, the verification of the complaint or the endorsement by a member of the House – steps done prior to the filing – would already initiate the impeachment proceedings.

          Contrary to petitioner’s emphasis on impeachment complaint, what the Constitution mentions is impeachment “proceedings.  Her reliance on the singular tense of the word “complaint”[74] to denote the limit prescribed by the Constitution goes against the basic rule of statutory construction that a word covers its enlarged and plural sense.[75]

          The Court, of course, does not downplay the importance of an impeachment complaint, for it is the matchstick that kindles the candle of impeachment proceedings.  The filing of an impeachment complaint is like the lighting of a matchstick.  Lighting the matchstick alone, however, cannot light up the candle, unless the lighted matchstick reaches or torches the candle wick.  Referring the complaint to the proper committee ignites the impeachment proceeding.  With a simultaneous referral of multiple complaints filed, more than one lighted matchsticks light the candle at the same timeWhat is important is that there should only be ONE CANDLE that is kindled in a year, such that once the candle starts burning, subsequent matchsticks can no longer rekindle the candle.

          A restrictive interpretation renders the impeachment mechanism both illusive and illusory.

          For one, it puts premium on senseless haste.  Petitioner’s stance suggests that whoever files the first impeachment complaint exclusively gets the attention of Congress which sets in motion an exceptional once-a-year mechanism wherein government resources are devoted.  A prospective complainant, regardless of ill motives or best intentions, can wittingly or unwittingly desecrate the entire process by the expediency of submitting a haphazard complaint out of sheer hope to be the first in line.  It also puts to naught the effort of other prospective complainants who, after diligently gathering evidence first to buttress the case, would be barred days or even hours later from filing an impeachment complaint.

          Placing an exceedingly narrow gateway to the avenue of impeachment proceedings turns its laudable purpose into a laughable matter.  One needs only to be an early bird even without seriously intending to catch the worm, when the process is precisely intended to effectively weed out “worms” in high offices which could otherwise be ably caught by other prompt birds within the ultra-limited season.

          Moreover, the first-to-file scheme places undue strain on the part of the actual complainants, injured party or principal witnesses who, by mere happenstance of an almost always unforeseeable filing of a first impeachment complaint, would be brushed aside and restricted from directly participating in the impeachment process.

          Further, prospective complainants, along with their counsel and members of the House of Representatives who sign, endorse and file subsequent impeachment complaints against the same impeachable officer run the risk of violating the Constitution since they would have already initiated a second impeachment proceeding within the same year.  Virtually anybody can initiate a second or third impeachment proceeding by the mere filing of endorsed impeachment complaints.  Without any public notice that could charge them with knowledge, even members of the House of Representatives could not readily ascertain whether no other impeachment complaint has been filed at the time of committing their endorsement.

          The question as to who should administer or pronounce that an impeachment proceeding has been initiated rests also on the body that administers the proceedings prior to the impeachment trial.  As gathered from Commissioner Bernas’ disquisition[76] in Francisco, a proceeding which “takes place not in the Senate but in the House[77] precedes the bringing of an impeachment case to the Senate.  In fact, petitioner concedes that the initiation of impeachment proceedings is within the sole and absolute control of the House of Representatives.[78]  Conscious of the legal import of each step, the House, in taking charge of its own proceedings, must deliberately decide to initiate an impeachment proceeding, subject to the time frame and other limitations imposed by the Constitution.  This chamber of Congress alone, not its officers or members or any private individual, should own up to its processes.

          The Constitution did not place the power of the “final say” on the lips of the House Secretary General who would otherwise be calling the shots in forwarding or freezing any impeachment complaint.  Referral of the complaint to the proper committee is not done by the House Speaker alone either, which explains why there is a need to include it in the Order of Business of the House.  It is the House of Representatives, in public plenary session, which has the power to set its own chamber into special operation by referring the complaint or to otherwise guard against the initiation of a second impeachment proceeding by rejecting a patently unconstitutional complaint.

          Under the Rules of the House, a motion to refer is not among those motions that shall be decided without debate, but any debate thereon is only made subject to the five-minute rule.[79]  Moreover, it is common parliamentary practice that a motion to refer a matter or question to a committee may be debated upon, not as to the merits thereof, but only as to the propriety of the referral.[80]  With respect to complaints for impeachment, the House has the discretion not to refer a subsequent impeachment complaint to the Committee on Justice where official records and further debate show that an impeachment complaint filed against the same impeachable officer has already been referred to the said committee and the one year period has not yet expired, lest it becomes instrumental in perpetrating a constitutionally prohibited second impeachment proceeding.  Far from being mechanical, before the referral stage, a period of deliberation is afforded the House, as the Constitution, in fact, grants a maximum of three session days within which to make the proper referral.

          As mentioned, one limitation imposed on the House in initiating an impeachment proceeding deals with deadlines.  The Constitution states that “[a] verified complaint for impeachment may be filed by any Member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution or endorsement by any Member thereof, which shall be included in the Order of Business within ten session days, and referred to the proper Committee within three session days thereafter.”

In the present case, petitioner failed to establish grave abuse of discretion on the allegedly “belated” referral of the first impeachment complaint filed by the Baraquel group.  For while the said complaint was filed on July 22, 2010, there was yet then no session in Congress.  It was only four days later or on July 26, 2010 that the 15th Congress opened from which date the 10-day session period started to run.  When, by Memorandum of August 2, 2010, Speaker Belmonte directed the Committee on Rules to include the complaint in its Order of Business, it was well within the said 10-day session period.[81]

          There is no evident point in rushing at closing the door the moment an impeachment complaint is filed.  Depriving the people (recall that impeachment is primarily for the protection of the people as a body politic) of reasonable access to the limited political vent simply prolongs the agony and frustrates the collective rage of an entire citizenry whose trust has been betrayed by an impeachable officer.  It shortchanges the promise of reasonable opportunity to remove an impeachable officer through the mechanism enshrined in the Constitution.

          But neither does the Court find merit in respondents’ alternative contention that the initiation of the impeachment proceedings, which sets into motion the one-year bar, should include or await, at the earliest, the Committee on Justice report.  To public respondent, the reckoning point of initiation should refer to the disposition of the complaint by the vote of at least one-third (1/3) of all the members of the House.[82]  To the Reyes group, initiation means the act of transmitting the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate.[83]  To respondent-intervenor, it should last until the Committee on Justice’s recommendation to the House plenary.[84]

          The Court, in Francisco, rejected a parallel thesis in which a related proposition was inputed in the therein assailed provisions of the Impeachment Rules of the 12th Congress.  The present case involving an impeachment proceeding against the Ombudsman offers no cogent reason for the Court to deviate from what was settled in Francisco that dealt with the impeachment proceeding against the then Chief Justice.  To change the reckoning point of initiation on no other basis but to accommodate the socio-political considerations of respondents does not sit well in a court of law.

            x x x We ought to be guided by the doctrine of stare decisis et non quieta movere.  This doctrine, which is really “adherence to precedents,” mandates that once a case has been decided one way, then another case involving exactly the same point at issue should be decided in the same manner.  This doctrine is one of policy grounded on the necessity for securing certainty and stability of judicial decisions.  As the renowned jurist Benjamin Cardozo stated in his treatise The Nature of the Judicial Process:

            It will not do to decide the same question one way between one set of litigants and the opposite way between another.  “If a group of cases involves the same point, the parties expect the same decision.  It would be a gross injustice to decide alternate cases on opposite principles.  If a case was decided against me yesterday when I was a defendant, I shall look for the same judgment today if I am plaintiff.  To decide differently would raise a feeling of resentment and wrong in my breast; it would be an infringement, material and moral, of my rights.”  Adherence to precedent must then be the rule rather than the exception if litigants are to have faith in the even-handed administration of justice in the courts.[85]

          As pointed out in Francisco, the impeachment proceeding is not initiated “when the House deliberates on the resolution passed on to it by the Committee, because something prior to that has already been done.  The action of the House is already a further step in the proceeding, not its initiation or beginning.  Rather, the proceeding is initiated or begins, when a verified complaint is filed and referred to the Committee on Justice for action.  This is the initiating step which triggers the series of steps that follow.”[86]

          Allowing an expansive construction of the term “initiate” beyond the act of referral allows the unmitigated influx of successive complaints, each having their own respective 60-session-day period of disposition from referral.  Worse, the Committee shall conduct overlapping hearings until and unless the disposition of one of the complaints ends with the affirmance of a resolution for impeachment or the overriding[87] of a contrary resolution (as espoused by public respondent), or the House transmits the Articles of Impeachment (as advocated by the Reyes group),[88] or the Committee on Justice concludes its first report to the House plenary regardless of the recommendation (as posited by respondent-intervenor).  Each of these scenarios runs roughshod the very purpose behind the constitutionally imposed one-year bar.  Opening the floodgates too loosely would disrupt the series of steps operating in unison under one proceeding.

          The Court does not lose sight of the salutary reason of confining only one impeachment proceeding in a year.  Petitioner concededly cites Justice Adolfo Azcuna’s separate opinion that concurred with the Francisco ruling.[89]  Justice Azcuna stated that the purpose of the one-year bar is two-fold: “to prevent undue or too frequent harassment; and 2) to allow the legislature to do its principal task [of] legislation,” with main reference to the records of the Constitutional Commission, that reads:

            MR. ROMULO.  Yes, the intention here really is to limit.  This is not only to protect public officials who, in this case, are of the highest category from harassment but also to allow the legislative body to do its work which is lawmaking.  Impeachment proceedings take a lot of time.  And if we allow multiple impeachment charges on the same individual to take place, the legislature will do nothing else but that.[90] (underscoring supplied)

It becomes clear that the consideration behind the intended limitation refers to the element of time, and not the number of complaints.  The impeachable officer should defend himself in only one impeachment proceeding, so that he will not be precluded from performing his official functions and duties.  Similarly, Congress should run only one impeachment proceeding so as not to leave it with little time to attend to its main work of law-making.  The doctrine laid down in Francisco that initiation means filing and referral remains congruent to the rationale of the constitutional provision.

          Petitioner complains that an impeachable officer may be subjected to harassment by the filing of multiple impeachment complaints during the intervening period of a maximum of 13 session days between the date of the filing of the first impeachment complaint to the date of referral.

          As pointed out during the oral arguments[91] by the counsel for respondent-intervenor, the framework of privilege and layers of protection for an impeachable officer abound.  The requirements or restrictions of a one-year bar, a single proceeding, verification of complaint, endorsement by a House member, and a finding of sufficiency of form and substance – all these must be met before bothering a respondent to answer – already weigh heavily in favor of an impeachable officer.

          Aside from the probability of an early referral and the improbability of inclusion in the agenda of a complaint filed on the 11th hour (owing to pre-agenda standard operating procedure), the number of complaints may still be filtered or reduced to nil after the Committee decides once and for all on the sufficiency of form and substance.  Besides, if only to douse petitioner’s fear, a complaint will not last the primary stage if it does not have the stated preliminary requisites.

          To petitioner, disturbance of her performance of official duties and the deleterious effects of bad publicity are enough oppression.

          Petitioner’s claim is based on the premise that the exertion of time, energy and other resources runs directly proportional to the number of complaints filed.  This is non sequitur.  What the Constitution assures an impeachable officer is not freedom from arduous effort to defend oneself, which depends on the qualitative assessment of the charges and evidence and not on the quantitative aspect of complaints or offenses.  In considering the side of the impeachable officers, the Constitution does not promise an absolutely smooth ride for them, especially if the charges entail genuine and grave issues.  The framers of the Constitution did not concern themselves with the media tolerance level or internal disposition of an impeachable officer when they deliberated on the impairment of performance of official functions.  The measure of protection afforded by the Constitution is that if the impeachable officer is made to undergo such ride, he or she should be made to traverse it just once.  Similarly, if Congress is called upon to operate itself as a vehicle, it should do so just once.  There is no repeat ride for one full year.  This is the whole import of the constitutional safeguard of one-year bar rule.

About Erineus

Born on December 28, 1965, Surallah, South Cotabato, Southern Mindanao, Philippines.
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