This thing called accountability

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos June 27,2019 - 07:39 AM

It is relevant and compelling at this time, perhaps more than any challenging era in our history,  that public officials entering their new post and those in their office to be conscious at all times of their oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution, follow our laws and discharge the duties of his or her position. 

The highest law of the land, our Constitution has an entire Article focused on Public Accountability. Article XI, section 1 declares that  “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

Mechanisms are established to make public officers accountable and responsible for their deeds and misdeeds. Constitutional offices are created such as the Ombudsman and the Supreme Court to make them independent and removed from the clutches of the political authorities, with the power to hear and decide cases involving public officials. 

Our public officials can be held liable through administrative, civil and criminal actions as provided by law, and can be suspended or removed from office, as a consequence. Some conviction carries with it the perpetual disqualification from holding public office and we are familiar with this as this has involved some of our officials.

There are certain public officers which may be removed only through impeachment. We stood witness several times of this dramatic process and one even triggered EDSA2 Revolution. I am referring to the impeachment of former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed through impeachment on any of the following grounds: culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. 

Citizens can and do initiate cases for investigation and accountability of public officers. Through courts and administrative agencies, we can elevate complaints to the Ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights, the courts, Civil Service Commission, the Commission of Elections, among others. 

We can also initiate petition for recall to remove local officials midterm.

For environmental cases, three national laws and the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases affirm the right of citizens to fight for their rights, including the right to health and a healthful and balanced ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature. The citizen suit is anchored on our constitutional right to participate in decision-making at all levels- whether social, economic or political.

Our legal framework for environmental protection is one of the most progressive in the world. We have a liberalized standing to sue – no need for direct injury to prove that we have the personality to sue and assert our rights. Even a threat of destruction of our natural world is already a ground for action. 

What we need are more assertive citizens in our midst.

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