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Government Employees and Officials Are not Above the Law
Government employees and/or officials are not allowed to break the law
No. Government employees and officials or both are not allowed to break the law.
In fact, they are in the forefront in enforcing the law. Not even the President of a republic or chief justice of the Supreme Court is above the law.
Former President Richard Nixon was allegedly involved in the Watergate scandal. An impeachment case was poised to be filed against him. For the president or any impeachable official, the procedure is more elaborate than the filing of a criminal or civil case in court.
First, a congressman or a group of congressmen in the House of Representatives file an impeachment case in the pertinent committee of the House. The committee can be bypassed if at least one-third of the House are in favor of impeachment. If a majority of the members of the committee is in favor of impeachment, the case goes to the whole House. If majority of the members of the House are in favor of impeachment, the president or the chief justice is considered impeached. The House files the case with the Senate for trial. The Senate sits as impeachment court. If the majority of the members of the Senate voted a verdict of guilty, the impeachment is confirmed and the president or chief justice is removed from office. In addition, he is prohibited from holding any public office.
Poised and tried impeachment in the US
An impeachment case was poised to be filed against Nxon. However, before a case could be filed in the House of Representative, Nixon resigned. In his place, Gerard Ford was appointed.
Spiro Agnew went through a similar case earlier. Already vice-president to Nixon, a tax evasion case was poised to be filed against Agnew. He resigned as vice-president. The Senate had to find and appoint a new vice-president. Nelson Rockefeller was among those considered. He went through a Congressional hearing. The staff of Nelson prepared questionnaires to be asked during this hearing. These questionnaires were surreptitiously mailed to someone in the Senate. During the hearing the questions so prepared were asked Nelson (Persico, J. Nelson Rockefeller). So it happened that both the president and vice-president (Ford and Rockefeller) of the United States were appointed not elected.
Joseph Persico's account was made public. In fact, I read it in his book. But no eyebrow was raised. Persico wrote that he used to be a speech writer of Nelson. This is no longer about the law but about power.
The impeachment case against President Bill Clinton was another. An impeachment case against him involving liaison with a woman while in his second term as president prospered in the House of Representatives. That is, he was impeached by the House that filed the case with the Senate for trial (The Starr Report).
US senate aquitted Bill Clinton because, in the first place, liaison with a women is not an impeachable act. I watched the replay in TV the testimony of Clinton. (Perjury on the liaison not liaison itself, according to a comment.)
Still earlier in 1860s, an impeachment case was filed against President Johnson who replaced the assassinated President Lincoln. Part of the complaint was that he implemented the reconciliation and reconstruction policies of Lincoln toward the defeated Confederate States of America (South) in the American Civil War. President Johnson was acquitted.
Impeachment in the Philippines
A celebrated case of impeachment unfofded in the Philippines in the past two years. In December 1211, an impeachment case was filed in the House of Representatives against Renato C. Corona, chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. The case did not go through the committee because 88 members of the House signed the petition; that was enough to bypass the committee. The case was filed with the Philippine Senate for trial.
In May 2012, the Senate of the Philippines found Renato C. Corona guilty. There were three complaints against him. One was: he filed a false statement of assets and liabilities and networth (SALN). The allegation was that this SALN did not reflect his true SALN. Another complaint was: he was partial to the former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in granting her permission to leave the country when the latter was facing cases of electoral fraud. (She was not allowed to leave; the SC later reneged on the permit.) There was a third complaint. I have a Hub on this topic.
Every employee of the Philippines is required to file SALN for the calendar year. An evidence was unearthed that Corona had a dollar account of over two million dollars that he did not include in his SALN. His defense, as he himself testified, was that he did that in good faith. There is an existing law in the Philippines that foreign investors are not required to reveal the dollar accounts unless they consent to it and upon orders from the court. In effect, he said he thought he was covered by the foreign investor dollar account law. The Senate, as impeachment court, said he is not so covered because in the first place he is not a foreign investor.
When he was pronounced guilty on SALN, a vote on the other complaints was unnecessary. The verdict on the SALN was enough to pronounce him guilty and to be removed as chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. A new justice of the Supreme Court has been appointed.
Earlier on, a similar case of the failure to include all in SALN was filed against an employee of the Supreme Court. She was a clerk in the court who also maintained a small stall in a public market. For failing to include that small market stall she was removed from government service. After Corona was impeached, she was interviewed. She expressed satisfaction that the law was applied equally on the chief justice.
Before the Corona impeachment case, an impeachment case was poised to be filed against the chief commissioner of the Philippines Ombudsman, an impeachable position. Before a case could be filed against this commissioner, she resigned.
There was an abortive impeachment trial in the Philippines involving former president Joseph Estrada. He was impeached by the House of Representatives for economic plunder, a high crime. His case was tried by the Senate. One piece of evidence presented was sealed in an envelop. The Senate, sitting as trial court, went into a vote whether to open that envelop or not. The vote count was 11-10 in favor of keeping the envelop sealed. The trial went into an impasse at the end of the day. In the night anti-Estrada forces gathered in EDSA, site of People Power that ousted the dictator Marcos. Towards morning, they marched to Malacanang, the residence and office of the President, like White House of the US. They demanded that Estrada resign as president. During this stand off, the secretary of national defense and the chief of staff of the Philippine armed forces abandoned Estrada. Estrada resigned. He was not ousted by impeachment but by a coup.
Overwhelming power over the law
It is different when power comes into play. Take the case of Ferdinand Marcos, dictator of the Philippines for two decades. It has been proven that he stole billions of pesos from the government and stashed them away in foreign banks, used then to buy prize properties in the United States. He had economic cronies who put up businesses without collateral or investing anything. They used the money of government banks like the Philippine National Bank and Development Bank of the Philippines.
A Filipino economist who took his doctorate degree in Harvard University of the US was asked by Harvard to write about the economic scenario of the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship. This economist wrote a book "Zero EquitY" for the economists of Harvard, not in general circulation but he was kind enough to show me the dummy of the book. That confirms the fact that Marcos's cronies did not invest anything in the business that they put up or cornered for themselves. For example, one grabbed the TV station ABS-CBN. After Marcos was gone, all of them admitted to the conspiracy. The TV station was returned to the former owner.
For his cronies, Marcos scribled a note in his presidential stationery directing the chairman or president of a bank to give money to this crony. That crony was given bank money with just that scribbled note by Marcos. Up to now, all those give-away money (behest loans) has neither been paid back nor accounted for.
Crony capitalism in the Philippines could not be stopped unless Marcos himself were ousted. He was driven out to Hawaii in 1986; Corazon C. Aquino took over as president. She was cheated by Marcos in a snap election in 1985. People Power at EDSA installed her as president with blessings by foreign investors. People Power showed that Marcos could no longer govern and foreign investors wanted a government that could repay loans that Marcos took.
The powerful may not break the law but make a law that favors themselves. Take the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States. This is a private bank that makes decisions on monetary policies of the United States, like minting dollar coins and manipulating interest rates. Such policies were formerly in the turf of the president of the US. Now, a lot of US citizens howl and most of them put the blame on the president for a lot of economic snafus. A few put the blame on the Fed. But they are powerless against the Fed. The reason is that the power of the Fed came from US congress in 1913 yet. Its centennial will be celebrated this year.
It is an interesting story how US congress was cajoled to give that power to the Fed. Where is the law that takes away that power from the Fed? Will Congress itself abrogate that law of 1913?
Self-serving pork barrel in the Philippines
In the Philippines, Congress had enacted some 10 years ago pork barrel for congressmen and senators: 200 million pesos for a senator in a year, 170 million pesos for a congressman in a year. They can spend these amounts for their constituents without producing any receipt of expenditure. Caveat: an ordinary employee must produce a receipt for any official expenditure of, say, 20 pesos. These pork barrels can be used for election campaigns. That is, these can be used in campaigns for reelection or election of any relative or friend. These pork barrels guarantee political dynasties at the expense of the taxpayers.
Pork barrel in the US is different. A pork barrel for a senator or congressman is to be allocated for projects in his district incorporated in the budget for the district not for the senator or congressman to control personally. The department of public works uses that pork barrel for projects, say, bridge in the district.
In the case of the Philippines, the senator or congressman controls his pork barrel personally. He may spend some for public work projects, say, covered auditorium. The rest he can spend without any accounting whatsoever, without any receipt of expenditure.
This law for unaccounted-for pork barrel was passed when one party controlled congress. Today, no senator or congressman is questioning its propriety.
The cases of the Federal Reserve Bank of the US and the unaccounted-for pork barrel of the Philippines are examples of the powerful making laws that favor themselves. No law is broken, only morals. No crime is committed, only injustice.