What is the meaning of initiate?

“I may not know much, but I know the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad.” – US President Lyndon B. Johnson

The SC stopped impeachment proceedings against Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez citing the Constitutional provision that says, “No impeachment proceedings shall be initiated against the same official more than once within a period of one year.” (Art.XI Sec.3 [5])

If we go by Court spokesman Midas Marquez – “The court would just like to make sure the provision of the Constitution, particularly the prohibition against two impeachment complaints being filed within the same year, is not violated,” – then the SC understands “initiate” as the act of filing a complaint. Recall Francisco vs. House of Representatives the decision that aborted the impeachment of then Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr.

Come now Atty. Alan Paguia, suspended by the SC for being its scourge, who questions the Court’s definition.

First, he cites the provision that says, “The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.” (Art.XI Sec.3[1)

He argues this provision is very clear: it is only the House as a whole, not any individual Member or any private citizen, that can initiate impeachment. Thus the act of filing and endorsement of a complaint by a Member is not initiation as contemplated in the above provision.

Why?

Art. XI not only enumerates the steps leading to the initiation of an impeachment complaint but also makes crystal clear the meaning of “initiate”:

Sec. 3 [2] “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. The Committee, after hearing, and by a majority vote of all its Members, shall submit its report to the House within sixty session days from such referral, together with the corresponding resolution. The resolution shall be calendared for consideration by the House within ten session days from receipt thereof.”

At this point, has the House of Representatives, as a whole, initiated the impeachment yet? No, the case is only in the committee level. It will still have to deliberate on the merits of the complaint, whether it meets the form and substance test, whether to move it forward to the next step or not.

Sec.3 [3] “A vote of at least one-third of all the Members of the House shall be necessary either to affirm a favorable resolution with the Articles of Impeachment of the Committee, or override its contrary resolution.”

At this point, has the House of Representatives, as a whole, initiated the impeachment yet? It’s almost there. The committee has brought the complaint to the Plenary.

Sec. 3 [4] “In case the verified complaint or resolution of impeachment is filed by at least one-third of all the Members of the House, the same shall constitute the Articles of Impeachment, and trial by the Senate shall forthwith proceed.”

At this point, has the House, as a whole, initiated the impeachment yet? Yes! The House has submitted the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate. That is the act that constitutes initiation; everything else was only leading up to it.

Of course one can go to any dictionary, cite the definition of “initiate”  as the “cause (a process or action) to begin.” and argue that filing and endorsement starts the process. That’s what the Supreme Court did when it threw out the so-called second impeachment against Hilario Davide Jr. who, as it happened, was Chief Justice at the time. I don’t want to say that decision was self-serving but I just did.

Atty. Paguia said that because of Francisco vs. House of Representatives, we now have people sleeping on the doorstep of the Batasan so they can be the first to file the one and only impeachment complaint allowed per year and, also, we now have the lawyers of impeachable officials filing weak complaints as bakuna or vaccine against real impeachment complaints.

Could the framers of the 1987 Constitution have been so stupid and short-sighted not to have foreseen the probability that cynics would interpret “initiate” to their own advantage? As constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas would say, “Let’s leave that question for another day.”

Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Uniffors.com. Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.

  • UP nn grad

    There should be a law against the filing of frivolous impeachment complaints, just like there should be law against media doing live broadcasts of events that result in death to tourists or citizens.

  • victor

    That status quo order ante is chicken shit and not chicken salad. That order is a deliberate misreading of the Constitution to favor the Ombudsman and not to render justice to the Filipino people.

  • Vishnu Palacio

    These are the early mistake of our President. Sharing the sentiments of those who would like to prosecute the former President and his appointments was a stumbling block to the present administration. Picking a fight as early as before taking an oath was not advisable to do. Impeachment may be the solution but there brew an axe to grind due to early confrontational statements that were already said. Of course, the respond would be to be hard-up and standby the appointment. Delikadeza can be swallowed, and the appointed officials can all the while enjoy using their supposed alternative to fight of the move to remove them. Ironic but its the truth.

  • Yes, the intent of the rule of one complaint a year (stop frivolous complaints) seems to have backfired, leading to the filing of specious complaints that are unlike chicken salad, thereby blocking serious complaints. I say let the complaints flow and when you get enough of them, unify them into one class-action log-roll that injects some dignity and honor into offices that are otherwise smarmy and curdled in favor.

  • GabbyD

    i agree that this impeachment business as is currently being done has been needlessly complex