Bernas: Impeach rap sends 'chilling effect' on judiciary

By David Dizon,

Posted at Dec 13 2011 06:23 PM | Updated as of Dec 14 2011 04:08 PM

MANILA, Philippines -  Constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas warned Tuesday the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona is sending a "chilling effect" to justices since many view the case as an attack against the judiciary.

Bernas said he is disturbed by the Corona impeachment case because it is the entire court that is really the target, especially since the complaint questions the decisions of the Supreme Court.

"It is a war not against an individual but an institution. If it was made clear that he is the only target, I think it would be less strenuous. What is happening is that it can have a chilling effect on the entire judiciary. I don't think that's good because the judiciary should remain independent," he told ANC.

"Will the members of the judiciary cower in fear and just yield to what the President wants? We will have to wait," he added.

Bernas said the impeachment case puts the Court at a disadvantage since it can only defend itself through its decisions. He said the judiciary is referred to as "the least dangerous branch" since it has no army or arms.

He declined to say if Corona's impeachment would lead to a constitutional crisis, noting only that "the independence of the judiciary is very important for the proper functioning of our democracy."

He also noted that the impeachment process is usually a numbers game, pointing out that the voting on the impeachment of US President Bill Clinton was cut along party lines.

Bernas said there is no turning back for Malacañang now that the impeachment case has reached the Senate. "I think it's go for broke now," he said.

It remains to be seen, however, if there are enough votes to warrant a conviction of the Chief Justice.

Popularity surveys

Bernas, meanwhile, warned Malacañang against trusting too much in popularity surveys to push the impeachment forward.

He said that while survey results "give you an indication of what they're doesn't change the legal situations and you cannot always trust what the populace is supporting."

Bernas urged the Senate to decide on the impeachment case not on the basis of popularity but on the basis of merit.

He said senators should not do what some congressmen allegedly did, which was to sign the impeachment complaint without even reading the charges.

Corona didn't appoint his wife

Bernas refused to say if the impeachment articles would not prosper, saying it is up to the senators to decide.

He said that while Corona has been accused of being partial towards the cases of his former boss, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, he is not the only one deciding on the cases.

As for the charge that Corona should be impeached because his wife was appointed by Arroyo as director of John Hay Management Corporation, Bernas noted: "Corona did not appoint her. He is not the appointing authority. I don't know if he tried to convince her to accept. I don't know what happened in the household."

Bernas said the impeachment process against Corona can be discussed in a very orderly manner, "but it is very difficult to remove emotion."

"There is so much emotion in this just as there is so much emotion for instance in the case of Gloria. I just hope that the emotions die down to give way to reason," he concluded.