Calling a spade
Business World, 25 January 2012


The pictures that come forcibly to mind when I observe the behavior of the Executive and the Lower House in the matter of the impeachment of CJ Renato Corona are of a pack of wolves circling their prey, or of a couple of bullies ganging up on someone half their size. And my natural instinct — or rather my sense of fair play — leads me to take the side of the underdog (pardon the horribly mixed metaphors). What is more, I have a feeling the Filipino people are getting just as uncomfortable as I am.

It is truly a horrific spectacle — members of the two more powerful branches of government using all the resources at their disposal to destroy the head of the third, weakest, branch. And in the process, destroying, albeit unintentionally, the branch itself. What makes it all the more unpalatable is that they themselves come with unclean hands.

Let’s start with the Executive, which at the outset pretended to be above the fray, but has finally removed the gloves and is coming in for the kill. What powers were unleashed by this branch in the endeavor? For one, we saw how the Department of Justice brazenly defied an order of the Supreme Court (how flawed that order was is beside the point at the moment). Then we saw how the Department of Finance released a raw report (in the sense that the report writers gave the caveat that it was still deliberative and to be confirmed) of the World Bank on a Supreme Court project, and blew it all out of proportion, with such holier-than-thou statements like “The leadership of the Supreme Court cannot simply dismiss these very serious observations,” and “the World Bank is very important development partner of the country.” Yukk.

Then the Executive’s media spinners went to town and by the time they finished, the $199 thousand worth of “ineligible” expenditures seemed to be wholly Corona’s fault. Never mind that the “ineligible” expenditures — which still had to be confirmed — comprise all of eight-tenths of 1% — 0.81% — of the total project cost; and never mind that the extent of Corona’s direct participation in these ineligible expenditures seems to have been, as far as I can tell, the cost of a trip he made to Cebu he made that was charged to the project.

Penultimately, and this is the most disturbing in terms of pulling out all the stops to “get” Corona, is that CoA seems to have also gotten into the picture — and of course CoA is supposed to be an independent constitutional commission. What did CoA do? It rendered an adverse opinion on the fairness of the presentation of the SC’s financial statements for 2010. I looked at the CoA audit reports for the SC for as far back as its Web site carried it (2001), and this is the only adverse opinion it has rendered on the SC over that period. It could be, of course, that the new CoA is more exacting than the old CoA, but as far as I could make out, there was not that much difference in the magnitudes involved from one year to the other. Calling the attention of Grace Tan and Heidi Mendoza. Please look into this.

And finally, there is the Executive’s directive to BIR Commissioner Kim Henares to present information not only to the income taxes and value of real estate purchases of Corona and his wife, but also of his children (which the impeachment tribunal forbade as evidence). As if that were not enough Henares was also directed by the Executive to give the list of the purchases made by all others who bought from the same locations that the Coronas made their purchases — trampling on the right to privacy of citizens who are not in any way connected to the trial. Thankfully, the impeachment tribunal is well on the way of forbidding such disclosures.

Apparently, these were all part of the information requested by the prosecution panel — which required presidential authority. And this was readily given, never mind whose rights were violated, as long as the objective to “get” Corona is achieved.

With respect to the Lower House, much has already been written and discussed about the speed with which it reached its decision to impeach CJ Corona — seven hours from the start of its caucus to its instructions for the signed impeachment complaint to be transmitted to the Senate. Which would have been fine if they were all superintellectuals close to omniscience. But alas, their performance in the impeachment trial has shown that to be very much NOT the case, particularly where legal expertise is required. Worse, it would seem that there has been no attempt to make up for the lack by being diligent with their homework — after all, genius is supposed to be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, at least as far as Thomas Alva Edison was concerned.

And so we have seen them, caught, any number of times on TV, unprepared.

As far as I am concerned, the impeachment tribunal and its Presiding Officer Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has leaned over backward, sometimes to the extent of giving priority to the need for courtesy to the Lower House over the need to observe due process, particularly with regard to the rights of Corona.

And yet, the House Prosecution Panel had the gall to ask for even more accommodation — complaining about the “inflexibility” of the Senate President, giving as examples the fact that he sustained many defense objections, ordering the prosecution to reform its questions. The fact that Niel Tupas, speaking for the prosecution, could not give specifics as to how the rules should be amended to provide more “flexibility” was another indictment of the prosecution’s inability to do its homework.

Even worse, the prosecution has been practicing another form of “creative defiance” to the tribunal’s orders, to wit: it has continued to discuss the case (through its spokespersons), arguing for the prosecution outside of the impeachment court, presenting “evidence” not yet even presented to the court. Ponce Enrile has been quoted as saying: “No other institution or body can try and decide this impeachment case. The people do not have the authority to try and decide this impeachment case so therefore, may I request some degree of caution on the part of everyone in exposing evidence that ought to be presented in this impeachment court, out in the public.” And again, “We are not litigating this case among the people. We are a representative democracy, not a direct participating democracy, we operate through representatives of the people.”

And they are getting away with it.