Impeachment trial at the crossroads
A lot has been said about the infirmities of the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Corona and the lack of preparation and competence of the Prosecution. But the most damaging blow that may have irreparably compromised the impeachment court's capacity to ferret out the truth and render a correct judgment has come from the senator judges themselves voting 13-10 to defer to the Supreme Court Temporary Restraining Order on the opening of Corona's US dollar accounts.
It cannot be over emphasized that the strength of the Senate sitting as an Impeachment Court, most specially now that no less than the Chief Justice is the accused, lies precisely in its supreme authority to rule on pertinent matters, regardless of the interpretation of the law by any other court, the SC included.
Many of the Senator Judges justified their vote as upholding the rule of law, respecting the judiciary and in particular the Supreme Court as a co-equal branch, thereby averting a Constitutional crisis, etc.
All these justifications miss, if not obfuscate, the central point that the paramount and primary function mandated upon the Senate as an Impeachment Court is to hold the highest officials of the land accountable. The Senate is precisely vested with extraordinary powers in order to perform this function and achieve this goal, because the accomplishment of this goal could not be possible in any other court, not even the Supreme Court.
It is Congress, composed of members who are elected to office, and theoretically can be held more politically accountable by the electorate than those merely appointed to their positions, that is empowered to impeach and to try impeached government officials.
The Senate's supreme authority as an Impeachment Court on these matters is mandated by the Constitution precisely to make the intervention or interference of any other court, including the Supreme Court, not only unnecessary but unconstitutional.
A vote not to defer to the Supreme Court order is not only lawful because it upholds the spirit and letter of the Constitution; it is also necessary to the accomplishment of the Impeachment Court's function of establishing the truth, rendering justice and exacting accountability. As a corollary, the vote to defer to the SC TRO opens the gates wide open to further intervention and interference by the Supreme Court which has now unabashedly shown its bias for Corona.
The threat of a so-called constitutional crisis stems from the SC intervening in the impeachment court's authority and functions and not from the Impeachment Court's exercise of its powers to subpoena documents that would shed light on the case before them.
Other facts and circumstances have conveniently been overlooked by the senator-judges who voted to be bound by the SC TRO. Corona has not stepped aside and continues to brazenly use his office to mount his defense both legally and politically. In fact, there is a pending petition by Corona to stop the impeachment trial in its tracks.
Another disturbing, but not surprising aspect of the Senate vote deferring to the SC TRO is the widely reported role of bank and real estate interests and various influence peddlers in securing the majority vote.
Has Big Business, whose stalwarts are known to have multimillion-peso stakes in various cases pending before the Supreme Court, mobilized their resources to at the least, prevent disclosure of damaging information against Corona, or at maximum have this impeachment trial end in acquittal?
The Defense can lob an accusation of a 100-million-per-senator lobby fund from Malacanang in a late-night press conference on the eve of the Senate vote and not be dismissed outright given the Aquino administration's high political and economic stakes and the Cojuangco-Aquino's and other big landlord interests that hinge on Corona's conviction.
Is there less likelihood that big business interests would roll out the dough to preserve their immediate and strategic interests that are inextricably wound up with Corona's in this trial?
The Senate vote to defer to the SC TRO capped the steadily increasing trend in the impeachment trial of the resort to legal technicalities to obscure and obstruct rather than seek and find the truth.
The ordinary layperson, not knowing the difference between the Rules of Court and the Senate Impeachment Court Rules much less their nuances and intricacies, is trapped, along with the search for truth and accountability, in a web of legalese and maneuvers that more knowledgeable lawyers could easily see through as dilatory, diversionary, or simply obstructionist and geared to suppress damaging evidence.
It does not help that the Presiding Officer, so far perceived to be fair and still sharp and alert despite his age, has often gone along with the rigmarole or allowed it, to the advantage of the Defense that has evidently been using the legalistic tactics to the hilt. This was clearly and excessively displayed on the day of the fateful vote when Senator Defensor-Santiago was allowed to indulge for a full twenty minutes in a useless harangue of the Chief Prosecutor in the form of a law classroom graded recitation.
The Corona impeachment trial could still be a golden opportunity to demonstrate how exceptions to the stringent application of procedural rules may be made to achieve the paramount aims of justice. For as anyone who has ever been involved in a courtroom trial knows without exception, what is legal is not necessarily what is just.
Having said this, there are basic principles that must be upheld by any court of justice, with regard to due process and fair proceedings, that should be followed. The Prosecution cannot invoke “liberality” in the application of the rules as a substitute for being able to marshall the evidence to substantiate the many charges they have filed against Corona.
Where and how does Juan and Juana de la Cruz weigh in on the Impeachment Trial proceedings under the current set-up? Is his/her role reduced to being a helpless or clueless spectator waiting to see how the courtroom drama would play out, while the outcome is being decided by factors beyond his ken and control?
Back to the main point, the Senator-Judges being first and foremost politicians, many seeking reelection, even the most corruptible (by either side) or the ones with the most vested interests, political and economic (on either side), have to be in tune with what the public says on the matter.
In other words, they have to show a modicum of being fair and answering to the demand for truth and accountability.
So the people have to speak up to be heard: We want the truth not legal gobbledegook! Conduct the trial so that our people - acting through the Impeachment Court - can determine whether Renato C. Corona is fit (has the requisite competence, integrity, independence and probity) to remain as the Chief Justice of the land!
The progressive movement, whose overriding agenda in this trial remains to be accountability with regard to the Arroyo regime's high crimes against the people (which the Corona Supreme Court has been a party to) must utilize its high moral and political vantage point, its available resources and ability to forge broad alliances to influence public opinion in this direction.
Moreover, it must galvanize the people to take action on the basis of their real interests, no matter the outcome of this impeachment trial. #
Published in Business World
17-18 February 2012