Monday, November 24, 2008

The Impeachment Complaint - The Standard of Sufficiency in Form and Substance

The House Committee has already ruled that the impeachment complaint is sufficient in form. It must now determine whether or not it is sufficient in substance, to comply with the requirement that it be sufficient in form and substance. But what exactly does the phrase “sufficient in form and substance” mean?

Construing this phrase in a criminal case, the Supreme Court, through the venerable Justice JBL Reyes held that “This means that the complaint or information must aver all the elements of the offense charged..” (Pua Yi Kun v. People of the Philippines G.R. No. L-26256, June 26, 1968). That is all that is required – allegations, which, if proven true, will support a conviction of the offense charged. Evidentiary sufficiency only becomes the issue at the trial.

That interpretation is in agreement with the American interpretation. In the case of US v. Norris (281 US 619), Norris and one Kerper were indicted (information in the Philippines) by the federal grand jury (Fiscal in the Philippines) for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, charged in two counts with conspiring unlawfully to transport, and cause to be transported, from Philadelphia to New York, certain shipments of intoxicating liquor, in violation of the National Prohibition Act of October 28, 1919. The indictment was deemed sufficient in form and substance.

The phrase “sufficient in form and substance” also has been used in the context of non-criminal cases.

In case of “In Re: Petition For Correction Of Entry In The Birth Record Of Cindy Grace Z. Tomes” before the RTC (Branch 42) of Virac, Catanduanes (Order, April 28, 2008) “A Petition was filed on March 27, 2008, praying that after due notice, publication and hearing, this Court orders (sic) the correction of petitioner’s gender in her birth certificate, from male to female.” That petition was deemed sufficient in form and substance.

In the case of El Gobierno De Las IslaS Filipinas v. Tomas Abadilla et. al. (Court of Appeals, CA-G.R. CV No. 76140), a Motion for the Issuance of a Decree Number of Registration, in connection with a land titling case was filed. Finding the motion sufficient in form and substance, the RTC of Lucena City set the case for hearing.

In the case of SesbreƱo v. Court of Appeals, Province of Cebu et. al. (G.R. No. 161390), the Supreme Court, in sustaining an appeal to the Court of Appeals, held: “However, despite its deficiencies, respondent's appellant's brief is sufficient in form and substance as to apprise the appellate court of the essential facts and nature of the case, as well as the issues raised and the laws necessary for the disposition of the same.”

In the case of People of the State of Illinois v. Joseph Marino, the Appellate Court of the State of Illinois held that: “In any civil action, if the court finds the complaint "insufficient in substance or form" or that it does "not sufficiently define the issues," it may sua sponte strike the complaint, notify the plaintiff that it has done so, and then order the plaintiff to either file a "fuller or more particular statement" or prepare other pleadings” (quoting Shelstrom 345 Ill. App. 3d at 177)

From the foregoing cases, involving (1) a criminal offense, (2) a request for a change of entry in the Civil Registry, (3) a request for the issuance of a land title, (4) the filing of an appeal, and (5) the filing of a petition for mandamus, it is clear that the phrase “sufficient in form and substance” refers to the sufficiency of the allegations for purposes of invoking the jurisdiction of the court, or reviewing body. If (1) a criminal indictment alleges the elements of the offense, (2) if a request for a change of entry in the civil registry alleges the entry sought to be changed, (3) if a request for the issuance of a land title alleges the subject piece of property and the basis for the claim to a title, (4) if the appeal alleges the errors sought to be corrected by the appellate court, and (5) if the petition for mandamus alleges matters on which the court may exercise jurisdiction (the word is “cognizable”), then the complaint is said to be “sufficient in form and substance”.

The question to be asked, therefore, is: Does the impeachment complaint allege matters cognizable by the House, for purposes of invoking its power to conduct an investigation? Does the complaint allege impeachable offenses?

In the impeachment proceedings against Richard Milhous Nixon, the following were some of the charges made against President Nixon:

  1. Negligently failing to supervise the collection, and permitting illegal use of campaign funds in his 1972 campaign (Bolante and the fertilizer scam?);
  2. Illegally impounding $40 million in funds appropriated by Congress for various domestic programs (Not releasing pork barrel to the opposition legislators? Distribution of 500,000 to Governor Panlilio et al?);
  3. Usurping the war-making and appropriation powers of Congress by authorizing the secret bombing of neutral Cambodia and falsification of military reports (MOA-AD? Usurpation of the power of the People and Congress to amend the Constitution?).

The above charges were deemed sufficient to trigger the exercise of the authority of the House to conduct an inquiry into whether or not some basis exists, to impeach President Nixon. Evidentiary substance was never an issue in invoking the authority of the US House of Representatives, for as representatives of the People, the House conducted a full investigation to determine if there is evidence to proceed to a trial by the Senate. The US House, in effect, aided the people in preparing to present its case before the Senate. Compare this to the prejudgment of the Philippine House, and the incessant chanting of the mantra that it is a numbers game.

The authority of the House needs to be invoked, for the House has the authority to subpoena witnesses and documents. That power is not available to the complainants, who are filing in behalf of the people. It is the duty of the House, as representative of the People, to ascertain the truth, not to defend an incumbent. It is for that reason that there were bipartisan efforts from the Republicans and Democrats in the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, and in the impeachment inquiry of Richard Milhous Nixon (cut short by his resignation).

It is clear from American precedents, that the preferment of an impeachment complaint, sufficient in form and substance, should trigger a full investigation, with House exercising its full authority to subpoena witnesses and documents. That investigation should yield a more informed basis for deciding whether or not to present Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for trial.

It may be argued, that the American practice is not binding, nor should it guide the Philippine legislature. That much was stated by the Supreme Court in the case of Francisco v. the House of Representatives, where it held that:

Said American jurisprudence and authorities, much less the American Constitution, are of dubious application for these are no longer controlling within our jurisdiction and have only limited persuasive merit insofar as Philippine constitutional law is concerned.

Curiously, in justifying its ruling that the word “initiate” means the filing of the complaint before the House, and not the filing of the Articles of Impeachment before the Senate, the decision quoted liberally from the statements of Commissioner Maambong, to indicate the “intent” of the Framers of the Constitution. The decision conveniently ignored the following statements:

I already mentioned earlier yesterday that the initiation, as far as the House of Representatives of the United States is 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 compliant 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 (bold and underscoring by the Supreme Court; blue font, mine).

If we follow the reasoning of the Supreme Court, that the intent of the Framers of the Constitution is revealed by the statements of Commissioner Maambong, then we must conclude that the procedure to be followed must be “in keeping with the uniform procedure of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress.” The sufficiency in form and substance, therefore, of the Impeachment Complaint, requires that the House throw its entire weight and authority into the conduct of a full investigation to determine the truth regarding the allegations of the Impeachment Complaint.

Not only does this require that the House listen to the evidence, the House itself, in the course of its investigation, must use its subpoena power to gather the evidence (documents and testimony). Thereafter, it must evaluate said evidence, to determine whether or not to prefer Articles of Impeachment before the Senate. To do less is to shirk from its responsibility, and invite the suspicion that it is a mere old boys’ network; that it exists to protect a party-mate against the people, instead of protecting the people from the misconduct of one of its servants.