A spectacle within a spectacle (Updated)

By Vergel O. Santos | Posted on 02-03-2012

APPARENTLY UNSURE about what exactly it is and how to go about its business, the impeachment court trying chief Justice Renato Corona has been a groping spectacle.

As the biggest court, with 23 members, and a unique and impromptu one yet, having been transformed suddenly from something a world apart from what it’s been, it may be allowed some excuse. On the other hand, enlisted for an urgent and all-important national purpose, it cannot dally in indecision and take its time working itself out, like, as its president is not seldom heard to say, “a work in progress.”

Time is not the court’s, but the nation’s, although, again, what it finally decides to be or do – indeed what it finally decides – will be as direly consequential to the nation as to itself: it will be judged in turn by the nation and in time by history.

All these long six weeks into the trial, fundamental questions remain unresolved, tackled only vaguely, even suspiciously sometimes: Whose bidding is the impeachment court supposed to be doing? Which, between itself and the Supreme Court, is supreme? How much manipulation of the legalities should be allowed if at all? What constitutes relevant, therefore extractable and exposable, truth? What weight of proof is enough to convict? If less proof than that beyond a doubt, how much less?

Quite obviously, impeachment is not strictly lawyers’ business. If the defense lawyers and some members of the court try, as in fact they do, to circumscribe it within legalities, they are out of order, because they’re shutting out the whole nation, which, for all its lay-mindedness, is still the sovereign.The reversal of roles,with senators judging a judge, alone signifies who’s boss.

In fact, impeachment is a political process. It is an emergency recourse set down in the Constitution for dealing with a powerful official whose continuation in power and office works against the people’s interest.In other words, an impeachment court is a surrogate people’s-court, a court that works through the senators by the people’s grace and therefore judges by their interest.

And, only naturally, an impeachment judge is expected to apply the same perspective, predisposition, and scale of justice he brings to his regular job as senator. In that sense necessarily, the impeachment court trying Corona will have to take into critical account the nine scandal-ridden years of Gloria Arroyo’s reign, during which, by her grace, he came to the Supreme Court and subsequently became the chief justice, an office he has kept to this day. After all, he is on trial for, among other crimes, betraying the public trust for rulings, made by his court,unfairly favoring Arroyo, his own patroness, and her family and partners. He is accused, in other words, of presiding over a process that reduced justice to a joke, and the rule of law to a rule of men.

Ironically, the impeachment court itself inspires the fear of a comparable corruption of justice, given that at least one of its members betrays a proprietary perspective on power.

She may only be only one of the 23 but, by sheer dint of character, Miriam Defensor-Santiago is able to hog the spotlight and make herself a spectacle within a spectacle. And on Wednesday she was at her most spectacular – and also at her most arrogant.

Two things got her goat. One was a university poll that pronounced Corona guilty, thus implying no need for further trial. Santiago wanted all who voted for conviction expelled and forthwith, with some dramatic breast-beating, let it be known that no one but no one had the power to convict but only she and her court alone – so help us, God! –thus not just shutting out the sovereign people to whom she and the rest of the court owe their merely reflected power, but effectively mounting a coup on them.

The other provocation, serving in fact as the trigger of the day’s spectacle, was the prosecution’s decision to no longer prosecute the rest of its allegations. That may seem unproblematic to normal minds, but not to Santiago’s. It launched her on another of her discourses on legalities, and in its course she expressly and emphatically, not just implicitly as she had charitably done before, called the prosecutors gago (stupid) and their decision all kagaguhan (stupidity).

Quaintness and other qualities that made her a huge curiosity now worn, Santiago has ceased to be a legitimate show. She tries harder and harder to be funny or fearsome, but fails more and more at both.

One prosecutor had definitely suffered her enough and didn’t mind showing it: he pressed his palms to his ears as Santiago discoursed, sparing himself hearing the aspersions cast on him and his fellows. In fact, he confessed contempt and declared his readiness to take the consequence.

Alan Cayetano, one of the subtler and legitimately funnier members of the impeachment court, suggested that the cited prosecutor, as punishment, be made to listen to Santiago’s taped discourse repeatedly.

If only the prosecutor knew, he’d have probably tried to be more imaginative, say: taken more of Santiago until he was brought to the point of becoming desperately sick to his stomach,risen on a point of emergency and asked for prompt leave, gone to the bathroom, and there done all the self-relieving he needed; and if denied leave, he’d still have had an excuse in case he discharged his mess right on his august table in the august hall and had reason even to take Santiago to court – for serving him bad food. That would have been all the worthier of this tragic impeachment court – an irresolute court that hides behind the skirt of a brassy member while it indulges the sound and fury of her maddened rampaging!

Vergel O. Santos has been a journalist for over four decades. He worked as a senior editor of the Business Day, consulting editor of the Journal publications, and executive editor of The Manila Times and The Manila Chronicle. He has written four books, all on his profession, one, “The Newswriting Formula”, a university text. Mr. Santos is today a member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and Chairman of the Editorial Board of BusinessWorld, Philippines.

  • Phil

    Dear Sir,
    Excellent article.
    I was rolling on the floor laughing at the vomiting scenario that you described, what if that would have happened instead? Many of us watching the proceedings are similarly feeling sick in the stomach instead at the sight and sound of this vile, dictatorial ill-mannered Senator in the twilight years of her profession.

    It is sad for the country, the ethical standards have the least advocates. The ones affected most have to resort to informal form of protest, and one would have to be polite first in an apologetic sublime tone interrupt those who are face-to-face calling them “GAGO”.

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  • Douglas Paterson MBE

    Vergel,

    I hope you can recall that we already met at The British Ambassador’s residence on the occassion of the Queen’s Birthday party three years ago – or was it four?

    Seeing you on TV last night prompts me to send you something I wrote for the British Community when Josef Estrada was impeached which I trust you will still find of interest …

    Impeachment

    [ The Simple Act of Accusation ]

    It is quite surprising to realise just how many people mistakenly believe that the term impeachment is an end result; namely … Dismissal from Office.

    On the other hand, considering the process has only taken place a few of times since it’s inception, perhaps the confusion, most particularly evident among Non-Native English speakers, is not too surprising!

    So, to explain, let’s start at the beginning …

    Since Heads of States and Presidents and Chief Justices are generally the individuals who sign bills into Law and thereby control the Law, they cannot be indicted, far less brought to trial, whilst in office – no matter how serious their crime against the State may be!

    To get around this stumbling block, the impeachment process, which originated in Medieval England, but has since largely fallen into disuse, is generally applied.

    To impeach simply means to accuse, therefore, the person accused, automatically becomes impeached from the outset.

    The next step is the Impeachment Trial where only the evidence against the accused is on trial – not the accused himself, since he, of course, is still in Office and cannot, therefore, be tried!

    The ” mock ” trial that ensues, is normally conducted by members of the Lower House in the presence of the Upper Chamber members whose involvement is principally to determine if the evidence laid before them would prosper, or not, in a Criminal Court – nothing more; nothing less!

    Since the accused is not on trial and under no obligation to defend himself or even attend such a hearing, there can be no pronouncements of Guilt or Innocence.

    If the deliberations of the Upper House indicate that the evidence will not prosper in court, that is the end of the matter and the accused remains in office.

    If, on the other hand, the deliberations of the Upper House show that the evidence could prosper in court, the accused will be invited to resign immediately; after which he can be properly ” indicted ” on criminal charges in the Courts of Justice.

    Should he, however, refuse to resign, he can still be indicted by the aggrieved parties for whatever offences he was originally accused of, at the end of his current term.

    Like defense counsel Cuevas, I too, am a student of English Law in my eighties!

    The whole purpose of the Impeachment process is to ensure that the government won’t suffer a complete shutdown, maybe for many months, during which time, no Bills could be signed into Law, whilst such individuals would be attending a Court of law as a result of any possible irresponsible accusations against them!

    Hence the need for a special Court!

    My questions, therefore, are these …

    Why are the Philippine media and the Filipino people being led to believe …

    1. That the person impeached is on trial and that he can be found guilty during the Impeachment trial, neither of which can happen until he is first indicted in a Court of Law.

    2. That the penalty will simply be dismissal from office; which would only result in the accussed laughing all the way to his Bank!

    Kindest regards

  • Chris

    I salute you Sir

    You have exposed the truth of the matter

    Being legalistic can not be an absolute solution. It is twistable depending on the side of the person using it

    Being legalistic is lesser important compared to the truth

    Truth first then legality come after. Legality should settle on the truth not the other way around

    Meriam needs leashing to control her damaging effect to the supposedly honorable people’s court – the Senate

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