Get Real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 18 February 2012


If President Aquino actually believes that his campaign against corruption will stand or fall on the conviction or acquittal of Chief Justice Renato Corona by the impeachment court, then one can only conclude that P-Noy’s campaign plan must have been half-baked from the start, and/or that he wasn’t really serious about it.

Why do I say that? Please review the first of P-Noy’s 16-point “Social Contract with the Filipino People,” which vows “From a President who tolerates corruption to a President who is the nation’s first and most determined fighter of corruption.” The action plan accompanying this first point comprises 10 items—from “appointing officials based on their integrity, qualifications and performance record and hold them accountable to the highest ethical standards of public office” (performance so far: really mixed); to requiring the top officials of the executive department to have their SALNs “available and accessible to the public” (performance: poor); to upholding the people’s right to information and supporting the enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill in Congress (performance: lousy); implementation of the Prosecution Service Act (performance: lousy), the reader gets the drift.

Nowhere in that Social Contract did P-Noy say that its success would depend on getting rid of the incumbent Chief Justice. And if the reader will notice, if it was really that important, P-Noy should have not waited for almost 18 months to start the process. Nor, having decided to start it, should he have allowed (let’s face it, he was calling the shots) his minions in Congress to pass such a flawed, practically baseless set of impeachment charges without even the benefit of discussion.

No, the impeachment and trial of Corona seems less likely to have anything to do with the desire to clean up corruption than it has with the desire to wreak vengeance.

What is more disturbing is that the President (if the news reports are accurate) is not only practically inciting the people to take matters into their own hands, but is also showing a dismal ignorance about how the will of the people is to be served. As in “Would Juan de la Cruz allow himself to be left out of this process? Are we going to let only a few to decide for all of us?”  Good grief. Doesn’t he realize that he is one of those “few,” as are all legislators and local executives, and that they were chosen by the people precisely to carry out their will? Or does he want every decision to be subject to ratification by the people? Ridiculous, right? The implication is that we can ignore, with impunity, the rule of law, the absence of which in this country has held back our growth and development.

Demagoguery is a dangerous tool—and can boomerang on the persons using it.

The President has reportedly also articulated his impatience with the slowness of the impeachment process. Well, he touches a sympathetic chord in me. But he forgets that a major contributing factor has been the lack of preparedness of the prosecution, both before and after the impeachment. As has become painfully clear during the trial, which is turning out to be one fishing expedition after another. Which brings up the question: of practically all of the “evidence” brought out in the trial obtained only after the trial began, what were the bases of the impeachment charges (Number Two) in the first place?

But let us also face it. Grandstanding and the seemingly irresistible urge of some senator-judges (SJs) to get into the fray and help one side or the other along have contributed as well to the delays.

That would be acceptable, if only the negatively affected parties/counsel could interpose objections the way they can with an opposing counsel. But they have been effectively muzzled by the new Senate Impeachment Rules, thus giving the SJs carte blanche to ask leading or irrelevant or immaterial questions, or even badger the protagonists without fear of retribution.

Was this also the case during the first impeachment trial (Estrada’s)? No. Then, Section 17 of the impeachment rules read:  “……The parties or their counsel may interpose objections to witness answering questions propounded by any Senator and the merits of any such objections may be argued by the parties or their counsel…” In the current rules’ Section 17, that passage has been omitted.

It makes for a very unfair fight, don’t you agree? Moreover, it seems to have helped transform the procedure into a Senate investigation rather than a trial per se. I don’t care how sui generis (of its own kind) the process is.  A Senate impeachment court is a court—not an investigating committee. Any investigation should have been completed beforehand.

What a difference from the impeachment trial of US President Clinton (Jan. 7, 1999-Feb. 12, 1999) where the US Senate decided to give the prosecution and defense three days each to make their case with both sides required to limit their arguments to evidence already in the record (or be ruled out of order). Plus, the senators asked their questions only in writing, the questions all to be propounded and answered during the allotted time. Also, witnesses were deposed (videotaped) rather than required to appear at trial.

The idea behind all this, said a Washington Post analyst at the time, was that the senators would act more like jurors executing impartial justice rather than political speechmakers.

And that is exactly what happened.