Impeachment As A Rite Of Passage

by jun asuncion

Cleaning government  institutions of corrupt officials  through legal measure such as impeachment is like cremating old habits in our political culture that hinder the progress of the Philippines. Impeachment is only possible in a democracy since it is an inherent tool in a genuine democracy. During the time of Mrs. Arroyo, impeachment complains against her did not prosper because she was in control of everything, not only of elections. Hence, it’s stupid for Mr. Corona to accuse President Aquino of dictatorship. The  impeachment process against the Arroyo Ombudsman Mrs. Gutierrez  in the first year of the Aquino administration, though aborted through the issuance of TRO by her ally,- the Chief Justice Mr. Corona,- was still a success for it culminated  in her resignation.

Now, it really interests me whether the Supreme Court still has the power to issue a TRO on the ongoing impeachment trial against the Chief Justice himself, when, according to Senator Santiago, the SC had no  jurisdiction over the impeachment court. My observation is that some people in the judiciary have become very arrogant and have been misusing  their knowledge of law and rules for their own vested interests. This must have been the reason behind this corruption mess in the judiciary. Court administrator Midas claimed recently that the Sandiganbayan (People’s Advocate) court couldn’t touch him-   for he knows the rules. Again, he might be legally right but that doesn’t spare him the public’s suspicion of him being entangled  in the judiciary’s mess that’s now being revealed to the public and ultimately his knowledge of law doesn’t protect him from the higher principle of justice. It’s just a matter of time, I think, when the Sword of Damocles would fall and pierce through this arrogant head.

In this ongoing  impeachment, I expect a conviction not because I can prove it but because the figure of Mr. Corona is for me not beyond reasonable doubt. Public knowledge is not to be underestimated. The public knows in one way or another, sooner or later and it builds on this knowledge  its impressions about a certain public official.

So, ideally, only those who enjoy public trust are qualified to stay at their public posts. Those who do not should actually voluntarily resign and refrain from hiring an army of top lawyers for defense for it only proves their guilt and their lack of respect to the people. Just recently, after a week of controversy, the President of the Swiss National Bank resigned from his position voluntarily after being suspected of engaging in currency speculation equipped with insider’s knowledge. Though the details of his transactions happened within legal frames, he resigned because  he said he couldn’t prove his innocence before the people. This shows us that in a genuine democracy, public officials rely heavily on public perception. Impeachment (except for the Bundesrichter or Chief Justice) of a  public servant also doesn’t exist in Swiss constitution because in practice, a grossly erring public servant usually resigns when the pressure gets strong.

Democratization is a painful process and requires sacrifices. If the people are the victims of an undemocratic regime, the victims or sacrifices in real democracy are unclean public officials. Mr. Corona failed to see this  within a greater context, hence his suspicion of dictatorship and conspiracy against him and the judiciary. It’s indeed lamentable for a Chief Justice, a lawyer with a doctorate, not to use his education for a greater purpose and  to continue clinging  to a culture of impunity. Equally lamentable are his supporters – mostly lawyers themselves who follow blindly their Chief Justice and go to the streets like feral black cats. Before, maybe some of these lawyers were one of those street-and netcitizens decrying corruption and this culture of impunity. Now that for the first time a  President has vowed to end these two evils among many, they accuse him of dictatorship.

If Mr. Corona is really convinced that  he is fit for his post because he had done nothing unconstitutional, then he should actually help the prosecution arrive at the truth as quickly as possible. But by being aggressively defensive, the  message he is sending to the Filipino people is that of being guilty of the charges levied against him.  Why employ delaying tactics when there is nothing to be afraid of? Why block the presentation of BIR witnesses and issue- relevant body of  evidence when according to him he was not stupid enough to commit such charges as ill-gotten wealth and corruption? (Was his accepting of midnight-appointment not a sign of stupidity then?) Well, his chief defense counsel Mr. Cuevas argues that the “issue of ill-gotten wealth is not covered by Article 2 of the articles of impeachment on Corona”. But what if proven to be true basing on his income tax returns? Would this not be considered a criminal act and would this not lay any weight on the impeachment process or scratch Mr. Corona’s reputation as Chief Justice just because it’s not covered by article 2? With due respect to this seasoned litigator, Mr. Cueva’s argumentation and his lecturing on technicalities is not the truth but academic and philosophical attempts to evade the ultimate end of justice which is the truth. He should rather lecture Mr. Corona  to appreciate justice and to face the truth.

What makes it so hard to buy Mr. Corona’s defense arguments? I think it’s the tradition where he came from, – the Arroyo tradition which was famous the world over for its corruption. Within that administration, one could only survive and even win favors if one would only play by the rules consistently. And I think Mr. Corona was one of the major consistent  players in that  kleptomaniac Arroyo administration that’s why he survived well and even got awarded as Chief justice the night before Arroyo’s end.

An international study published last year known as ” The Puppet Masters: How the Corrupt Use Legal Structures To Hide Stolen Assets And What to do About it”  reported that “large-scale corruption through bribes, embezzled state assets and other “official” criminal proceeds is being kept under wraps via legal entities such as foundations, trust funds and others”… and how ” providers of legal, financial and administrative (management) services – including banks, financial institutions, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals known as trust and company service providers (TCSPs) – can be employed to facilitate corruption.” So the study.

The Supreme Court of any country is the highest court for it has the final decision on legal matters, hence, it embodies truth and justice. Supreme court justices, therefore, are expected to have the highest standards of moral integrity, sense of judgment, objectivity and impartiality. But experience shows that they are also corruptible. Midas’ adamant defense of “his judiciary and Chief Justice” became suspicious to me as this impeachment battle goes on. Is he afraid of something to come out more when his Chief Justice falls? This World Bank loan anomaly has robbed him of his sleep the last weeks, I guess. For this time, I think Justitia, the blindfolded Lady carrying scales and double-edged sword, should temporarily remove her blindfold for her to see for herself what’s really happening with our Supreme Court officials and if this study mentioned above applies to our Supreme Court.

This over-a -cup-of-coffee- argument of mine would have no chance before this impeachment court because I cannot give “hand carry”  evidence. But concerned citizens (or the public) are not obliged to prove whether they trust or don’t trust a certain public official. On the contrary, it is the public official that must prove to the public that he or she can be trusted. It is right that a senator-judge now hearing the impeachment trial with other senators is not obliged to explain why he or she is  for Mr. Corona’s conviction or acquittal for a senator is a people’s representative. If the senator has doubts on Mr. Corona’s person, he or she would convict him even if Mr. Coron’s team outwits the prosecution team for this is not about which team can deliver better arguments but whether the people’s representative can send back Mr. Corona to his post as Chief justice beyond reasonable doubt after this trial.

 Impeachment, as I see it, is one kind of rite of passage for a coming of age democracy. I don’t know how Mr. Corona sees it.