The supposed impeachment trial of Silliman University Student Government (SUSG) Assembly against nursing representative Ara Francine Tam was dismissed after being called “unconstitutional.”
Tam, from Students Union for Reforms (SURE) Party, was said to incur more than three consecutive absences.
These absences were considersed “unexcused” due to Tam’s failure to present excuse letters for each of the absences.
However, during the session last Sep. 8, Jayson Capundag, senior law student and judicial adviser of Tam, called that the proceedings be dismissed because there was no written complaint filed against Tam.
According to Article IX-D Sec. 2-1 of the SUSG Constitution, a written complaint signed by at least one-fourth of the total members of the Student Assembly or 12 percent of the total members of the SUSG is required before an impeachment trial can take place.
No such document was presented by the impeachment committee prior to the trial.
Only a notice of violation and a letter calling for Tam’s impeachment were the bases for the proceedings by the impeachment committee.
Capundag later described the session as “unconstitutional” because the committee’s act of conducting the trial contradicted the SUSG Constitution.
“It is very apparent in your rules that in the first place, wala man ju’y complaint. So how can we impeach a person if wala mo’y [written] complaint in the first place?” Capundag told the impeachment committee during the session.
Maria Theresa Belciña, who was also Tam’s judicial adviser, said she felt that the committee and the legislative body were going against Tam’s party and not Tam herself.
“It’s more of a party now. It’s not Ara herself,” said Belcina, referring to Tam’s membership in SURE party which has long been the rival of CAUSE party every SUSG election.
At present, Concerted Action for the Upliftment of Students’ Endeavors (CAUSE) party holds the majority, composing 75 percent (33 of 44 members) of the legislative body.
Capundag commented that committee should be fair regardless of political parties.
“They should decide the case based on the merits and not based on the party where Ara belongs,” he commented.
However, Committee on Impeachment Chairperson Leo Albert Maputi defended that the impeachment trial has nothing to do with the two political parties.
“Honestly, I would say that it depends on them actually. It depends on how they perceive it. As far as I am concerned, I’m just doing my job as committee on impeachment chair,” he said.
Halfway through the proceedings last Sep. 8, the committee announced their decision to reduce the impeachment trial into an investigation upon the assertion of Tam’s judicial advisers.
“We would like to contend, to consider this meeting merely as an investigation as to whether or not the reason for Ara’s absences in the last few sessions could be considered excused or not,” Belciña said.
Impeachment Committee member Julmar Misa clarified that the committee will push through with the filing of the written complaint so that a proper impeachment trial could occur in the future if deemed necessary.
Misa said, “After this investigation, the impeachment committee will put this on the SUSG assembly and we would ask for a vote whether or not an impeachment trial is to be held.
“And we are also going to [conduct] more investigations so that we will be able to give out more justification for the decisions that will come out later on for the impeachment committee,” he added.
Meanwhile, Maputi admitted they weren’t aware of their lapse prior to the proceedings. This is because they based their procedures mostly on the impeachment guidelines, and not on the constitution itself.
Maputi said the committee did not have an official legal adviser and they were unable to consult legal advice from professionals prior to their call for Tam’s impeachment.
According to him, there are SUSG representatives who are willing to file the impeachment complaint against Tam. The job of the impeachment committee is to process the complaint and to conduct the hearing.
The said hearing is expected to take place before the end of the first semester.
On the other hand, Capundag said he was very surprised when the committee declared that the proceedings were only an investigation and not an impeachment trial only after they, Tam’s advisers, pointed out the procedural lapse of the committee.
He added, “I believe that the decision was really very unfair for Ara. As I have said last Friday ‘you cannot bend the law to cure your lapses.’”