How Aquino Admin Used Benjamin Franklin to Justify Impeachment
Did you know that our government creatively exploited the name of one of America’s famous founding fathers to justify and promote its
impeachment case against ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona?
Yes, this American intellectual and founding father, who was also a scientist, activist, inventor, musician, diplomat, and statesman, is none other than the guy who invented the lightning rod: Benjamin Franklin.
So, how did the Aquino regime use or take advantage of the good old man’s name to further legitimize its obviously anti-Corona impeachment campaign? Well, it’s all in the government website– http://www.gov.ph. In case you’re not informed, just click on this link.
In its obvious attempt to justify the impeachment complaint filed against the chief justice and to inform the public about the concept and nature of impeachment, the Aquino administration published an impeachment primer on the government website. This online primer titled ‘Impeachment: A Political and Historical Guide’ informs its reader on the nature of the Philippine government, being “a representative government, the officers being mere agents and not rulers of the people”, on important constitutional provisions stressing the accountability of public officers, on the basic facts about impeachment, and on basic historical facts and data.
The government primer is undoubtedly informative except one highly ridiculous claim, which is as follows:
”Benjamin Franklin felt that impeachment was for the benefit of the executive because the alternative to impeachment on the obnoxious chief magistrate was recourse to assassination.”
I suspect that such a pithy statement or declaration was deliberately included in that primer to serve as a ‘political imprimatur’ to perhaps show that the impeachment complaint against the chief justice was all justified, and perhaps to condition the people’s mind that this concept or process was primarily invented to benefit the executive branch. I suspect that some imaginative spinmeisters in the government intended to pass that political imprimatur off as a statement of fact for public consumption. The smuggled premise that I can honestly gather from that assertion is that the concept of impeachment was created to protect the executive branch or the president from “the obnoxious chief magistrate.”
My research told me that that particular information implicating Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s great founding fathers and intellectuals, came from President’s spokesman Edwin Lacierda.
According to Inquirer columnist Manuel L. Quezon III, “Edwin Lacierda, writing at the time of President Estrada’s impeachment, pointed out Benjamin Franklin’s view that impeachment (as Wilson also observed, a century and a half later, by way of the Westminster Review quoted above) could channel public passion along constitutional channels.”
However, I am not saying that that propaganda piece was personally suggested by Lacierda to be included in the government primer in order to influence people’s perception. The fact is, we have a source that links Lacierda to the Benjamin Franklin story. Where did the government or Lacierda obtain their source? It appears that their main source is the following passage from the journal of the debates in the U.S. Constitutional Convention on July 20, 1787:
Dr. Franklin was for retaining the clause [on impeachment], as favorable to the executive. History furnishes one example only of a first magistrate being formally brought to public justice. Every body cried out against this as unconstitutional. What was the practice before this, in cases where the chief magistrate rendered himself obnoxious? Why, recourse was had to assassination, in which he was not only deprived of his life, but of the opportunity of vindicating his character. It would be the best way, therefore, to provide in the Constitution for the regular punishment of the executive, where his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal, where he should be unjustly accused.
The problem with the distorted Benjamin Franklin story is that some government spinmeisters did not include the whole historical context of their assertion. Obviously, the government’s highly irresponsible claim that ”Benjamin Franklin felt that impeachment was for the benefit of the executive” was thoughtlessly taken from the Framers’ Debates on the Impeachment Provisions at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. If we are to insert some pertinent supplemental information and actual quotations into the government’s claim, I believe it would definitely lose all its patina of lies and distortions.
The following historical facts and quotations are what the government propagandists omitted from their distorted historical assertion that could paint Benjamin Franklin, to some gullible political analysts and observers, as pro-dictatorship or pro-statism:
- Mr. Dickenson moved “that the Executive be made removeable bv the National Legislature on the request of a majority of the Legislatures of individual States.” It was necessary he said to place the power of removing somewhere.
- Mr. Sherman contended that the National Legislature should have power to remove the Executive at pleasure.
- Mr. Mason. Some mode of displacing an unfit magistrate is rendered indispensable by the fallibility of those who choose, as well as by the corruptibility of the man chosen . He opposed decidedly the making the Executive the mere creature of the Legislature as a violation of the fundamental principle of good Government.
- Mr. Davie. If he [Executive] be not impeachable whilst in office, he will spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself re-elected. He considered this as an essential security for the good behaviour of the Executive.
- Mr. Wilson concurred in the necessity of making the Executive impeachable whilst in office.
- Col. Mason. No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injusfice? When great crimes were committed he was for punishing the principal as well as the Coadjutors. There had been much debate & difficulty as to the mode of chusing the Executive. He approved of that which had been adopted at first, namely of referring the appointment to the Natl. Legislature. One objection agst. Electors was the danger of their being corrupted by the Candidates; & this furnished a peculiar reason in favor of impeachments whilst in office. Shall the man who has practised corruption & by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment, by repeating his guilt?
With the above-mentioned quotations, I strongly disagree with the government propagandists’ or spinmeisters’ interpretation that ”Benjamin Franklin felt that impeachment was for the benefit of the executive.” What is clear is that Franklin was speaking about a “clause favorable to the Executive.” That clause pertains to presidential impeachment, which was the subject of the US delegates’ debates more than 200 years ago. Thus, he never said that impeachment per se intended benefit of the executive branch.
Contrary to the distorted interpretation of some government propagandists, the American founding fathers, which included Franklin, during the 1787 convention tackled a major controversy involving the impeachability of the president. This issue raised concerns that impeachment could serve as a check on the president. For instance, Morris, who opposed presidential impeachment, explained that the possibility of impeachment “would render the Executive dependent on those who are to impeach.” However, a number of delegates, namely, Franklin, William Davie, Elbridge Gerry, James Wilson and George Mason, argued in favor of presidential impeachment. For example, Davie argued it was “an essential security for the good behavior of the Executive.”
The result of that controversy or debate was that the delegates finally agreed on the impeachability of the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States for Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. Thus, the self-serving Aquino government claim is not supported by historical facts. Such a ridiculous assertion was simply based on some people’s wishful thinking and dishonest political agenda.
Another problem is that that government claim, which actually came from the presidential spokesman Atty. Lacierda, is incomplete. In his article ‘Impeachment: A Primer and Commentary’ published in The Philippine Star on Nov. 14, 2000, Lacierda wrote:
“The framers of the US Constitution were not satisfied with periodic elections. They were concerned that an executive, after ascending to office, would somehow be corrupted or become incompetent that a speedy and immediate remedy was necessary. Benjamin Franklin felt that impeachment was for the benefit of the executive because the alternative to impeachment on the obnoxious chief magistrate was recourse to assassination.”
I believe it is important to closely examine the historical and logical accuracy of Lacierda’s interpretation.
First, Lacierda simply misinterpreted the framers’ arguments on the controversy concerning the impeachability of the president. As stated above, some delegates were concerned that impeachment would operate as a check on the president, and this would render him “dependent on those who are to impeach.”
Second, the executive benefit Benjamin Franklin was talking about was based on historical events wherein history showed “the practice before this in cases where the Chief Magistrate rendered himself obnoxious [was to make] recourse to assassination [in] which he was not only deprived of his life but the opportunity of vindicating his character. It [would] be the best way therefore to provide for regular punishment of the Executive when his misconduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused.” That argument gained the agreement of Madison who also believed it was “indispensable” to provide a clause for presidential impeachment. Madison further argued that the president “might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation and oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers.”
My suggestion is that whoever wrote or formulated that government primer should include the full historical account of Benjamin Franklin’s ‘feeling’ about impeachment to avoid public confusion. In my own opinion, that was tantamount to an attempt to rewrite the real history of impeachment in the United States. I find it alarming that NO ONE in the academic circle or in the legal profession ever dared to question or refute that government propaganda as well as Lacierda’s misinterpretation of the framers’ arguments regarding presidential impeachment.
This article is part of a previous blog titled Corona Impeachment: An Extra-Constitutional Executive Power Grab.