Drawing the line in the impeachment trial

by JM Ragaza

Neri Colmenares can arrest the attention of the crowd by pouncing the opponent not with empty rhetoric and histrionic argumentation but with carefully crafted polemic. His voice echoes through the impeachment courtroom with an astute calmness and integrity, yet he nonetheless delivers the vital blows. Not a few have commented that the solon representing Bayan Muna Partylist in the Lower House is a strong team player for the prosecution. Some have even expressed hope that Article VII of the impeachment complaint primarily handled by the progressive legislator can turn things around for the prosecution panel whose lack of preparation and display of incompetence seem to frustrate not only the spectators but lady justice herself.

People can’t help but notice, however, that because of his political and ideological leanings, Colmenares appears to be an odd man out in the team of public prosecutors out to oust the highest judicial officer in the land.

The leftist solon, public knowledge would tell us, belongs to the progressive bloc of legislators in the Lower House who are known to be some of Aquino’s staunchest and most consistent critics, unflinching in assailing the president for upholding and implementing policies and programs that do not resolve the basic problems of our country. But when you are fighting alongside the likes of Niel Tupas and the pro-Aquino party-list group Akbayan in an impeachment spearheaded by Aquino’s party-mates, you might easily be misconstrued by a feeble observer of politics as someone who simply wages Aquino’s wars.

What then is Colmenares doing in the “right” corner? Why did his colleagues in the progressive bloc in Congress sign the impeachment resolution? What is the Left’s stake in this legal procedure aiming to remove Corona from office?

These seemingly puzzling questions warrant a discussion of the nature of the impeachment proceedings which have become today’s biggest political event and which have, to some extent, successfully diverted public attention from more pressing gut issues like poverty and oil price hikes. As political pundits and taxi drivers have validly pointed out, the trial of Corona simply appears to be a by-product of the longstanding antagonism between the supposedly two co-equal branches of government that started immediately after Aquino assumed the presidency, or some three presidential girlfriends ago. Even before the heated and almost childish word wars between the two powerful leaders, the President had made it clear that Corona is an unwanted fixture in his administration.

The professed motive of the Aquino administration in impeaching Corona is to rid of the government roadblocks to the trite “Daang Matuwid.” Aquino declared that the success of his anti-corruption crusade hinges heavily on the ouster of Corona, as if systemic problems such as corruption can be attributed to a single individual notorious for being Arroyo’s last minute appointee in the Supreme Court. But there is greater merit in the claim of the Corona camp that the impeachment is all about Hacienda Luisita, except that it sounds awkward when someone who’s friends with Arroyo and who has millions of unexplained wealth talks about social justice.

Let me then cite a more credible source on the issue of land reform, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), which, like Bayan Muna, belongs to the progressive national democratic movement and has been advocating land reform longer than Corona. According to KMP: “President Aquino’s main political motive behind Corona’s impeachment is to take control of the Supreme Court and overturn the recent high court’s ruling to distribute Hacienda Luisita.” The peasant group, however, recognizes the need to unseat Corona as he is “one of the stumbling blocks in holding former President Arroyo accountable for her crimes against the people.”

The point cited by KMP best summarizes the engagement and position of the Left on the impeachment of Corona: It supports the impeachment case on the principle of holding accountable Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her cohorts for their high crimes such as electoral fraud and human rights violations. They recognize that Corona became instrumental in Arroyo’s quest for power and privilege at the expense of the majority.

The struggle against inequity, as novelist Milan Kundera said, is the struggle of memory against forgetting. And certainly, the Left doesn’t want to forget the people’s suffering under the administration of Gloria Arroyo. In fact, the Left was even more insistent in calling for Arroyo’s prosecution. Aquino, on the other hand, lacks serious commitment to prosecute Arroyo, who is presently enjoying political accommodations in the form of hospital arrest, slow prosecution and weak charges.

It thus makes perfect sense that Colmenares is prosecuting the Chief Justice based on the seventh article of impeachment which alleges that Corona “betrayed the public trust through his partiality in granting a temporary restraining order in favor of [Arroyo] and her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo in order to give them an opportunity to escape prosecution and to frustrate the ends of justice.” It is this specific allegation in the impeachment case that details the close association of Corona and Arroyo and which best argues for his removal, for any attempt to prosecute Arroyo would be rendered futile if a Corona-led High Court would later overturn decisions against her. It is the strongest among the eight articles of impeachment in the sense that the allegations contained in other parts such as unexplained wealth, non-disclosure of properties, and incompetence are accusations that cannot be hurled against Corona alone. These acts are inherent in a political system that is dominated by feudal and landed interests. It almost looks too hypocritical when Aquino’s colleagues get enraged by revelations of Corona’s multimillion bank accounts as if he alone in the entire civil service is guilty of such.

But the Left knew that in this impeachment process, it had to draw the line to separate them from the Aquino regime, a powerful faction of the ruling elite which they condemn for perpetuating the same social system that Arroyo upheld and that which breeds the suffering of many. When they signed the impeachment case, they registered their support with a caveat—that in the process of holding Corona accountable the people should be wary and guard against obvious motives by the ruling Aquino regime to transform the judiciary into a subservient institution and create a Supreme Court that sides with the interest of the present Aquino rule. The movement’s battle against Corona will not end on the day of his conviction. While Aquino and his cohorts will be in a celebratory mood upon Corona’s conviction, the national democratic movement is rather expected to take a vigilant stance and assertively guard against maneuverings to create an “Aquino court.”

The position taken by the Left in the impeachment of Corona actually gives credence to its longstanding criticism of the country’s political system—an elite democracy that works best in the interest of only a privileged view. It is a system dominated by oligarchs and opportunists who distort the meaning of words such as democracy, public accountability and social justice in order to protect their political and economic class interests. The Left, thus, will neither side with Corona nor Aquino in this ongoing debate for it views the conflict between the two as an actual and concrete manifestation of the rottenness of the political system which they have been battling for so long. It assumes an independent and a critical stance for it sees that both the Aquino and Corona camps are merely vying for self-preservation. After all, there is no defining and stark difference between Corona and Aquino aside from their political allegiances. At the end of the day, they are both of the same mold.

The ongoing conflict between members of the ruling class is an opportune moment for the people to take a second look at the political and economic alternatives being forwarded by mass movements. Despite being demonized by the state and largely discriminated against, they remain relevant in the struggle for genuine social change so long as social inequity and injustice are the order of the day. In these times when we bear witness to the decrepitude of our institutions, we should learn to actualize these progressive alternatives through collective action and assertion for it remains to be the true driving force of history. If there is anything good that can be taken out of the political spectacle that is the impeachment, then it is the chance to rethink and reassess.


Photos from Philippine Senate website. Some rights reserved.

Originally posted at Blog Watch