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11:39 PM January 8th, 2012

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By: Conrado de Quiros, January 8th, 2012 11:39 PM

Frankly, I can’t understand why Niel Tupas and company had to hold a press conference and divulge Renato Corona’s ownership of a penthouse unit in The Bellagio Tower. Thereby giving the senators who are supportive of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo—or afraid of her, given what she might divulge about them if they are not so—an opening to get on their high horses and remind the world of impeachment rules.

If the point was to “condition the public mind,” as Gregorio Honasan and company allege, then the press conference might have been held by another group. There are lawyers’ organizations and civil society groups aplenty to do it. Or a newspaper or TV channel might have done a special report on it, quoting confidential sources or their own research.

The only reason I can think of is that Tupas and company couldn’t resist the temptation to go high-profile, or look good before the public, whichever came first or won more votes. Which reminds us that next year is election year.

Of course Honasan and company, if they were serious about impeachment rules, might also have warned Midas Marquez against lawyering for Corona. Harry Roque has a point: “Marquez has no business serving as the personal apologist of the embattled Chief Justice. Let his designated private lawyers speak for him, not someone who is paid his salary with taxpayers’ money.”

But no matter. The point is that the prosecutors could have gotten the public involved in other ways without giving Juan Ponce Enrile the opportunity to propose that if they cannot abide by the rules, “they can withdraw the case from the (impeachment court) and try him in public.” Or indeed without giving Honasan and company the opportunity to remind them that Corona is to be tried by the senators and not by the public, by impeachment and not by publicity.

It is vital to draw the public into the impeachment to the fullest extent possible, but you don’t have to do that by blatantly flouting the rules. You can always do that a lot more subtly. And you can always rely on the dynamics of the impeachment itself to do the trick. Once that impeachment starts grinding, or more importantly, once those television cameras start rolling, the people will be there. And they will be the real judges, not the senators.

The infinite danger to objectivity, or fairness, does not lie in Corona being tried in plain view of the public with Juan de la Cruz as chief arbiter, it lies in the senators trying him with the public kept at bay and with Enrile as presiding officer. It is not merely that the Senate is already drawn along partisan lines, and the senators are bound, as they were during Erap’s impeachment trial, to turn not into judges but into prosecutors and defense counsels. Though that is worrisome enough in itself: You saw just how objective Enrile, Honasan, Miriam Santiago, Tito Sotto, Edgardo Angara, the senators now loudest in excoriating “trial by publicity,” could be in that trial.

Though the same thing could be said for Raul Roco, Tito Guingona, Franklin Drilon and Loren Legarda. They might as well have been the prosecution there. Judges were the last thing they were, impartial judges even less.

But more than that, the infinite danger of excluding the public from the impeachment in the name of impeachment rules lies in that there is one rule, however unwritten, that has governed public affairs for some time now. A rule the new government is trying mightily to push back, or even abolish. That is the rule of pakapalan.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did not invent that rule, it had been in operation before she seized government. But she raised the bar on it in mind-boggling ways, infecting all her people with it, Corona chief of them. That rule says that you may safely disregard or ignore the public. So long as you can cite a law in your defense, you can raid the treasury (executive privilege), you can steal the vote (presumption of innocence), you can murder wholesale (national security). Indeed, so long as you have the courts on your side—which Arroyo’s minions had been saying smugly before she was taken in for her crimes: “We own the Supreme Court, we own the law”—you can be the most derided person on earth and who cares?

Who cares what the people think? They can’t touch you anyway. Who cares what the people feel? They get used to pain swiftly anyway and just make text jokes about it. Who cares if they call you names? You can always grow a hide and laugh in their faces. Pakapalan.

Elsewhere, that tack doesn’t work because the culture militates against it. Try pakapalan in the Western countries and Asian ones like Japan and Korea and see where it gets you. Try citing a law to justify stealing taxpayers’ money, never mind stealing the vote. In those countries, a chief justice who is a midnight appointee, who has shown an absolute bias for a former boss, who has put one obstacle after another in the path of righting wrongs, would never have been impeached at all. Public opinion would have shamed him into disemboweling himself long ago.

Impeachments take the place of that culture in this country. There are limits to how far you can be makapal with your scandalous doings paraded before the public every day, with every facet of your miserable existence scrutinized every day, with your wife and children made into objects of ridicule every day. That’s the reason Arroyo’s allies in Congress and other places have been at pains to exclude the public from Corona’s impeachment, first by objecting to it being televised and now by objecting to it presumably going the route of “trial by publicity.” Well, trial by publicity is better than trial by duplicity. Or trial by pakapalan.

Which, to the makapal, isn’t really trying at all.

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