The impeachment trial started to unfold in a dramatic fashion, much like a telenovela. Day 16 of the impeachment trial proved to be exciting and quite a revelation. Fromfake bank documents, a mysterious small lady allegedly giving the Prosecution team evidence, a P100 million bribe to the Senator judges and extensive deliberation to determine whether or not they will uphold the Supreme Court’s Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), the public was witness to a number of developments unfold in one day. Of these, probably the most important is how the Senators voted regarding the Supreme Court TRO.
In a dramatic turn of events and after three hours of deliberation, the Senator Judges voted to uphold the TROissued by the Supreme Court barring the opening of the dollar bank deposit accounts of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Days prior to the voting, there was a threat that a constitutional crisis might happen. Senator Estrada discussed his concerns should a constitutional crisis occur because it could result in political instability. A clash between the Legislative and Judiciary would certainly lead to many political, social and economic repercussions.
If the TRO had not been followed, then it would have brought to question to separation of powers of the Executive, Legislative and Judiciary. Also, it would have been questioned which of the three is actually more powerful.
Corona’s camp feels that the Executive branch, headed by President Aquino is putting pressure on the Legislative branch to get what they want.
In response, the Senate said that it recognizes that they have the sole right to hold an impeachment court and that they respect the TRO issued by the Supreme Court with regards to the dollar deposits only. No one is disputing the Senate’s right to hold the impeachment trial, although people are being vigilant as to the extent of their powers with regards to what they can and cannot do in relation to the impeachment process.
Vote: Uphold the TRO
Those who voted to uphold the TRO of the Supreme Court are Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Santiago, Manny Villar, Ralph Recto, Francis Escudero, Koko Pimentel, Loren Legarda, Gringo Honasan, Bong Revilla, Bongbong Marcos, Vicente Sotto III, Jinggoy Estrada and the Senate President himself, Juan Ponce Enrile.
Lawmakers cannot be lawbreakers
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said that we have to respect the law of foreign deposits, which the Senate itself created. In her speech explaining her vote, the ever-feisty Senator said, “Lawmakers cannot be lawbreakers.”
Senator Loren Legarda said “If we will not follow the law that we ourselves crafted, how can we tell others to follow the laws if the Senate itself is disobeying them?”
Consider the banking repercussions
Senator Villar said that as much as possible, the impeachment proceedings should be handled in such as a way that the other branches of government are respected. At the same time, he was concerned about how not upholding the TRO would affect the banking industry of the country.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada feels that foreign currency accounts should have an absolute confidential nature. Also, based on his family’s personal experience, he strongly feels that there is an importance to uphold the rule of law. According to the Senator, “My family has been a victim of past administrations for not upholding the rule of law in various instances…But we’ve always respected and abided by the decision of the court, whether adverse or not.”
Vote: Against the TRO
The Senators who voted to ignore the TRO are Senators Franklin Drilon, Sergio Osmena, Edgardo Angara, Panfilo Lacson, Francis Pangilinan, Antonio Trillanes, Lito Lapid, Teofisto Guingona III, Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano.
A moral crisis, not constitutional
Senator Trillanes took the point of a solider with an uncomplicated mind. Trained not to follow unlawful orders, for the soldier Senator, the TRO is an unlawful order and must therefore not be upheld. Trillanes feels that it is the Supreme Court that is intervening in the affairs of the Senate acting as an impeachment court.
Senator Guingona has reiterated the same battlecry of President Aquino, saying that if there’s nothing to hide, then just show the records. He also said that this is a quest for truth therefore making the act justifiable. Guingona feels that the TRO may be another technicality of law being used to make it more difficult to find the truth and may result in the “bankruptcy of accountability, bankruptcy of accountability”.
In response, Senator Chiz Escudero, who voted to uphold the TRO said, “When we speak of morality and doing what is right, I am of the firm belief that in our search for the truth, this does not, in any way, give us any right to violate the law in our search for truth”.
100 million reasons
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano denied being offered P100 million in cash or in projects. He does say, “I did have a hundred million reasons to vote that way.” He said that there is no truth to the allegations that there was a P100 million Palace bribe for the Senators to vote to disobey the TRO.
Not a clear victory or defeat
It’s too soon to say whether the decision to uphold the TRO will benefit one side of the other, because the decision of the court will still be based on presentation of evidence. Also, given how the turn of events during a day can take a dramatic turn, who knows what will happen next?
For the Defense panel, Corona’s camp submitted a 48 page supplemental to his petition to dismiss the impeachment proceedings. He feels he isn’t getting a fair trial and that Senator judges sometimes tend to lawyer for the Prosecution. He is referring to Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Alan Peter Cayetano, Serge Osmena and Teofisto Guingona III.
These Senators all voted to defy the Supreme Court TRO.
According to Corona, they have lost their impartiality and in many cases, even aid the Prosecution.
Do not use subpoenas to gather evidence
The Senate President has warned the Prosecution team that they cannot use the Senate issued subpoenas to find evidence to support the impeachment complaint. What is needed is personal knowledge.
Respect all branches of government
Since the Senate decided to respect the TRO of the Supreme Court, a constitutional crisis has been averted.
At least the Senate respected the decision of the Judiciary branch of government. This is so unlike Malacanang, which blatantly defied the TRO of the Supreme Court issued in favor of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo last year to physically prevent Arroyo from leaving the country.
Since the trial isn’t over yet, no one can say if Corona deserves to be impeached or not, especially since the Defense hasn’t even had their day in court to answer the allegations. In the meantime, what is needed is that all branches of government respect procedures and the rule of law.
Citizens should continue to be vigilant and open minded . As stressed by Senator Santiago, we need to uphold due process, that there is presumption of innocence. Media should not cover the benefits on the trial or provide leads.
The Executive branch needs to keep mum and stop meddling in the proceedings on focus on the economic issues plaguing the country. At the same time, the Senate should follow the law and stick to being Senator judges and not act as lawyers for the Prosecution. The Supreme Court should remain unbiased and do an accurate translation of the law so that its judgment remains unquestionable when it comes to arbitration.
Photo from Philippine Senate Website. Some rights reserved.