Saturday, September 11, 2010

Muslims & Muslims &Understanding Impeachment

There are two controversies raging in the United States involving attitude towards Muslims. One is the opposition to the erection of a mosque near Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 tragedy. The other is the threat of a small Christian minority to have a Koran burning event. Both controversies involve an assessment of Muslims as enemies of the United States.

In our own country, it is difficult to exclude anti-Muslim sentiment from the opposition to the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain which the Supreme Court declared to be unconstitutional. This is a sentiment which can have an influence on the revived effort to seek a solution to the Mindanao problem.

I know very little about the Muslim world. Hence, I must rely on what little I have read on the subject. Recently, I came across an article subtitled “Not All Muslims Think Alike.” The author introduced his article with this cautionary note: “In the face of this antipathy [in the US], it is important to acknowledge that just as the West today is more religiously diverse than was Europe when Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade almost a thousand years ago, so too is the Muslim world. Too many talking heads in the American media want to reduce the Islamic tradition to its most politicized and militant version. Such a simplification insults the richness of that religious tradition.”

Sunni Muslims comprise ninety percent of the Muslim world. The rest are Shiite, and one percent who are neither Sunni nor Shiite. What is noteworthy, however, is that the Sunni Muslims are divided into three strands. There is first the “fundamentalist” strand consisting of a small minority said to be influenced by the conservative understanding of Islam propagated by Saudi Arabia. There is a tendency to generalize Muslims under this category.

A second group, larger than the first, is culturally secularized and influenced more by socio-economic and political forces than by the Koran. They are mostly found in Turkey, the Balkans, the former Soviet Asian republics and Africa.

The third and largest “are people of faith participating in a centrist tradition whose understanding of Islam engages with the many nonreligious factors in their world; they can best be described as inculturating their faith in a world that is only partly Islamic. These are Muslims for whom faith and culture are not completely coextensive. Most Arabs (Saudis excepted) and most South Asian Muslims fit into this category.”

I believe it is safe to say that the vast majority of the Muslims in the Philippines belong to this third category. The few Muslims I have known in the Ateneo Law School have had no difficulty fitting into and making friends in a heavily Christian community. Many Muslims also fit into Christian schools in the South. This fact makes me hopeful that the effort to achieve peace and prosperity in Muslim Mindanao will succeed.

Impeaching the Ombudswoman

As in the case of the impeachment of President Joseph Estrada, I am sometimes asked what the outcome would be of the impeachment of Ombudsman Mercy Gutierrez. My usual answer is that it is hard to predict what the outcome will be.

The reason for my cautious answer is not that I am prepared to declare the Ombudsman innocent. Rather, it is because of the peculiar nature of the impeachment process. The impeachment process is not a judicial process characterized by the cold neutrality expected of judges. Rather it is a political process more often than not characterized by bias. If the bias is for the accused, whether guilty or not, the impeachment process will not prosper.

In Philippine history the only impeachment process that reached trial stage was the impeachment of Estrada. Even then it did not succeed.

In the case of the impeachment attempts against Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, none could go forward because of the insurmountable bias in her favor in the House of Representatives.

Of course, Mercy Gutierrez does not find herself in the same secure position that Gloria Arroyo found herself in. In fact, considering the fluidity of political alignments in the Philippines one might say that she is now in a precarious position. But she can find protection in another aspect of the political nature of impeachment.

Impeachment involves not just a legal decision but also a policy decision. When members of the House deliberate on whether to impeach or not, and when senators deliberate on whether to vote Guilty or Not Guilty, they consider not only whether there is evidence to support impeachment but also whether, under existing circumstances, the preferred policy should be to go easy on impeachment.

I seem to sense the “go easy” approach in President Aquino’s hands off attitude towards the impeachment of Gutierrez. This may be because of his desire to achieve national unity.

Such attitude, it must be said, has foundation in the text of the Constitution itself. The text says that the impeachable officers “may be removed.” The language is permissive and not mandatory. For this reason, the debate about the needed weight of evidence in impeachment, -- whether proof beyond reasonable doubt, or preponderance of evidence, or substantial evidence -- is not of paramount importance. What is decisive is the gut feel of politician’s of what should be the preferred policy under the circumstances.

It is also noteworthy that while a minority of the House (one third) can send an official to trial by the Senate, a minority of the Senate (also one third) is enough to acquit. Clearly the process is tilted in favor of security of tenure.

13 September 2010

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