The Impeachment and Beyond: More Questions than Answers

The impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona is currently on a long break as Congress is in recess and will resume on 07 May 2012. Whether we get spared from commentary and references to this trial is another thing, as I seriously doubt parties of interest will allow the public to go focus on other more pressing concerns. Much of this trial was played out and fought outside the Senate courtroom as it was inside it. I do not see that dynamic changing while Congress is in recess.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the impeachment. I laid out then my position on this whole issue in that I would let justice and the process takes it course. I’m reserving judgment until everyone gets to say their piece, both the prosecution and defense. Following the proceedings after that article up to the time of the recess, my position has not changed. Besides, my judgment or opinion on the matter will not have any bearing anyway. It is the Senator-judges that will decide the fate of the Chief Justice when the time comes.

In that regard, I understand that the impeachment is as much a political exercise as it is a trial. The outcome of this trial will not solely rest on the merits of the case and the evidence presented, political calculations will definitely come into play no matter how much the senators profess otherwise. There is nothing wrong with that, it is part of our democratic and constitutional process. Let us just keep in mind that while members of the Senate sit in judgment over the Chief justice, we the people stand in judgment over the Senators and the House of Representatives with regard to their conduct during this impeachment trial. With the way the Executive has inserted itself into this process, and then their conduct during the impeachment should be judged by us as well. For me, this is how we should view the impeachment, not as partisans siding with one faction or the other, but as guardians of our institutions and democratic ideals.

That’s why in my previous article on the impeachment I took the prosecution to task for the haphazard and sloppy manner by which they seemed to approach their vital task. My beef is not so much because it jeopardizes the effort to impeach the Chief Justice, the process will take care of that if there is enough reason (evidentiary and/or political) to get enough Senators to vote guilty, rather how it reflects on the attitude of these Congressmen. I mean if this is how they approach their work; it is not surprising that our country is in the shape it is in right now.

The House prosecution team has rested its case and the defense has started with theirs, and from what I’ve seen, heard and read so far my opinion of the prosecution hasn’t changed. They dropped five out of the eight charges, couldn’t get witnesses to testify on their behalf and some of those that did somehow ended up derailing their effort. Have they done their homework? While some of the tongue-lashing they got from some of the Senators may have seemed quite harsh, it is hard to argue it was not warranted. With all the hoopla and bravado at the start of having a strong case against the Chief Justice, with 8 articles of impeachment that is sure to secure a guilty verdict, it didn’t take them much effort to chuck out 5 of those articles. Heck, we even get treated to the spectacle of a member of the prosecution accusing a fellow prosecutor of treason. Get your house (pun intended) in order, guys.

Just imagine, these are people that have been voted into political office and entrusted with crafting our laws and guiding our country’s progress and development. As a constituent of one of these types of politicians, will you be comfortable having someone like this taking charge of the well-being of the district you live in and the country in general? Are you comfortable with the thought that they approach their responsibilities and tasks as elected representatives with the same amount (or lack) of effort as they have in preparing for the historic event of impeaching the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? These are the questions we should be asking and these are the parameters by which we should judge the prosecutors. Whether they will succeed in convicting the Chief Justice or not is not as important as how they carried out their duties and responsibilities. If they screwed up this time around, then the House of Representatives has another chance a year after, and perhaps could put together a team that will do a much better job. The impeachment of the Chief Justice is allegedly based on the principle of accountability and the case was filed on behalf of us, the Filipino people. In that case, the prosecution team should also be held accountable for their conduct in the discharge of their duties and responsibilities. For us to ignore this matter would render the whole exercise futile and relegate the trial to a mere partisan activity among politicians.

The worse we could do is to allow the integrity and stability of our democratic institutions to get compromised to cover up the inadequacies of our politicians. Political reputations come and go, but rule of law and our democratic institutions are sacrosanct. Slowly strip that away and erode its foundations and we will find ourselves back to square one.

So where do things stand now? Well, the defense team of the Chief Justice has started to make the case for the acquittal of the Chief Justice. They will continue after this break when the trial resumes in the first week of May. Whether their effort will succeed or not remains to be seen. Regarding the Chief Justice, well, at least he is getting his day in court. Of course, he’s been attacked outside of the court and is being tried through public opinion. However, that is more a reflection on those who are attacking him than it is about him. His fate will be sealed in the trial. The Senators will decide on his fate, on his innocence or guilt. He will be either held accountable for the charges levied against him or he will be exonerated.

Question is, who will hold responsible and accountable those who sought to try the Chief Justice in the court of public opinion, or worse, violated the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty? Who will take to task those who took it upon themselves to shortcut or make short shrift of our institutions and the rule of law? Along with the fate of the Chief justice in this impeachment trial, these are the other issues and questions that I would like to see addressed and resolved. Unfortunately, I am not that confident that will happen.

One thing this impeachment trial has made me is to become more cynical than I already am about our political landscape and the players that proliferate in this playground. Just a few points that bare mention: the small lady issue; the LRA Administrator; the claims of 45 properties owned by the Chief Justice; the unrepentant attitude of the prosecution team over this issue; media’s complicity; and Pulse Asia’s survey about public perceptions on the guilt of the Chief Justice even before the defense has finished making its case.

What is going to happen here? Do we just leave it at that, especially if the Chief Justice will be found guilty? I hope not. As I would like to stress, there is a bigger picture to this impeachment trial than just the conviction or acquittal of the Chief Justice. That includes the points and issues I have raised, the concerns that bother me in connection with this impeachment process, particularly the conduct and attitudes of those involved, both directly and indirectly. I do hope that even after the Chief Justice’s fate has been decided by the Senate, we continue to ponder on the lessons to be learned and address the issues and concerns that have been raised or cropped up in relation to the impeachment process and the conduct of the trial.

This impeachment trial is a momentous and defining moment in the growth of our democracy. It is a significant opportunity on which we can build further on the gains we have made as a democracy, or squander it. Come to think of it, we are not the only ones watching and making judgments on the progress and possible outcomes of this trial. Let’s not also forget, the Chief Justice isn’t the only one on trial, we all are – the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Judiciary, media, the Filipino people and democracy in the Philippines. How we have been conducting ourselves so far and how we will conduct ourselves after will show the world and ourselves where we stand as a nation, a people and as a democracy. I just hope that for our sakes, we‘ll do much better than the prosecution has so far in trying to convict the Chief Justice.


2012 Moira G Gallaga©