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.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Impeachment As A Rite Of Passage

  1. chris asuncion

    Jun Asuncion’s piece on Impeachment as a Rite of Passage is well-written. However, please see Solita Collas-Monsod’s piece (Inquirer, 4 Feb 2012) on the way the whole Impeachment process against CJ Corona is being carried out….There are serious Constitutional issues being raised on the questions of rights and fairness. Does the Senate, when seating as The Impeachment Court, have the sole right and privilege in deciding on all impeachment matters? Or Does the Supreme Court, as the highest legal tribunal of the land, have the right to arrogate unto itself superiority over the Impeachment Court?

    • Thank you Chris Asuncion for your comment. The Constitution is very clear about this that the Senate has the sole power to decide cases of impeachment. To decide, which probably means removal from office or not. I guess, two courts cannot try a case at the same time that’s why the Constitution is clear about which court has the jurisdiction over impeachment cases.But since the Supreme Court is the highest court, there is always a tendency for us to believe that it is above the senate acting as a court, but it has (Supreme court)- as we have seen in this impeachment trial- interlocutory powers. It can intervene (by way of decisions) on some legal issues arising during the impeachment trial (like the issue concerning Republic Act 6426). But the final decision- of conviction or aquittal- should rest on the impeachment court as the Constitution provides for.

      I’ve followed this impeachment trial since day one and I must say I have learned some legal terminologies, in fact, too much of them that I think the whole thing is losing its focus, which is only to prove in this impeachment article 2 if Mr. Corona declared his SALN- and if truthfully or not. If the public were the senate, Mr. Corona would already get a conviction today or tomorrow – at the latest, for underdeclaration of assets under oath- and all that in his capacity as Chief Justice,- the Truth nothing but the Truth! Well, he’s entitled as anyone else to due process but they should go straight to the points and finish it next month. It’s funny how Mr. Corona and his team of lawyers and the IBP were telling the public on the 19th day of trial not to prejudge Mr. Corona after all his undeclared millions of pesos have already been made public. I mean, don’t use complex logical argumentation to manipulate simple perception of facts. An impeachment court is not a magical stage where illusions are made but a court to show the facts.

      With all the facts that have been established by now by the prosecution, I think Mr. Corona already violated Section 1 of Article XI: ACCOUNTABILITY OF PUBLIC OFFICERS

      Section 1. Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.

      Mr. Corona said two weeks ago: “To the Prosecution Team, I do know my law. I have not broken any law. I have no liability to the people and to the government,”

      You mean Filipinos are that foolish to believe him? What’s your intention when you evade taxes, when you declare PH3 million instead of PH30 million pesos, when you use Republic Act 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposit Act, to deposit more money? It is to enrich yourself at the cost of the public by way of cheating. Is this worthy of Public trust, is cheating and hiding your assets – and trying to stop the impeachment – an act of accountability, of responsibility, integrity, loyalty, patriotism and justice? Is owning several condominium units and countless bank accounts leading a modest life for a Chief Justice who has no other source of income but his salary? All his millions as product of 40 years of saving, of hard work? But why is he hiding them? Gloria Arroyo must be giggling in her hospital room as she listened to Corona’s harangue days ago. A brighter student than P-Noy?

      In Switzerland they say that criminals who happen to be lawyers are the worst. Since the time of Marcos and now of Mr. Corona, I guess this was true also in the Philippines. You may have heard that a couple of weeks ago, the German president Christian Wullf resigned due to corruption scandals and the increasing public pressure. He realized then that the people don’t buy his arguments anymore and so he resigned. But for Mr. Corona, he has ” no liability to the people and to the government” after his act of deceit. Well, ” I do know my law”, he said and “have not broken any law.” Is moral law not a law for a Chief Justice? Is cheating not a violation of moral and legal laws? Well, for those who came from a tradition of cheating, cheating is no longer perceived as such, in short, it has no more “effect” on the person cheating. This person feels ” I have not broken any law”. It follows that he views the impeachment as persecution, as a groundless attack of the President. This explains why he even challenged P-Noy to show also his SALN and his psychological records.

      Mr. Corona appears to be losing his nerves already. But he knows that it’s only a mind game and he walks on eggshell. Well, putting things in their right perspective: Mr. Corona was not elected by the people and doesn’t have the powers of the president even when it says that the executive and the judiciary are co-equal institutions. Mr. P-noy is not a liar. Unlike Mr. Corona, he has no ambition of hiding public money behind Republic Act 6426 and has declared his SALN honestly and P-Noy has a noble goal of getting rid of corruption in our public institutions; he has the mandate of the people and enjoys special powers. And- not to forget – he is the commander-in- chief of the armed forces of the Philippines! Who’ll be backing Corona in worst-case scenario?Mr. Midas? So, I don’t see any legitimate reason for Mr. Corona to keep on challenging the President. He is not morally fit to do so. His only power was his TROs but he gambled it away. If convicted, his political ambition is out.

  2. Anonymous

    I am not pro Corona or Prosecution, but I am not convinced of your points of view, we all know that all the Politicians in our country are corrupt, as a matter of fact, even the Prosecution side have an undeniable assets, considering their earnings are not enough to accumulate those assets stated in their SALN. What I believe is, all of them should be charged of corruption. I am sorry, but I don’t trust our government, they are only there to steal.

  3. I know that’s it’s not black and white, sinners and saints in our country since we have a long history of kleptocracy and some thieves before may just happen to be on the administration’s or prosecution’s side now. It’ doesn’t mean though that they’re already off the hook. There is a time for everything. But this impeachment trial is an important part of this rite of passage as it will determine the strength of our will to improve our government. I don’t know Mr. P-Noy personally but I somehow trust him that he is not up there to steal and that he doesn’t encourage public officials in his administration to steal. I also grew up in the Philippines and have my share of our national trauma which made us distrust our government officials. But now there is this chance for each of us to work for positive thinking since healing and progress come with it.

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