President Aquino has opened a new arena to barrel his campaign to oust Chief Justice Renato Corona—parallel to and outside of the Senate impeachment tribunal trying the impeachment case against Corona.
The President hijacked the case and shifted its venue to the volatile streets when he spoke at a so-called “town hall” meeting on Thursday at La Consolacion College near Malacañang attended by hundreds of college students.
This came as the latest Palace intervention in the trial now running into its fifth week. In his speech, the President expressed frustration over the lengthy legal procedural debates in the trial that were derailing the prosecution effort.
He said the tight defense scrutiny appeared to be aimed at confusing the public, causing it to lose interest in the televised proceedings.
The President made the speech into a tutorial with the aid of hi-tech PowerPoint devices that were manipulated deftly as in Nintendo, a gadget that Mr. Aquino is reported to be addicted to.
This intervention was disguised as the first in a series of events to mark the 26th anniversary of the Edsa People Power Revolution of Feb. 22-25, 1986.
As a result, there are now two competing venues of the impeachment trial: the first, the constitutionally mandated Senate tribunal following the orderly trial procedures of courts of law; and the other, the tumultuous streets driven by the lynch mob clamoring for the resignation and/or the dismissal of Corona.
In the latter venue, the President has now taken the role of prosecutor and judge—an action that has been criticized in legal circles as unwarranted, unfairly throwing the weight of the vast powers of the presidency behind the effort to oust Corona by hook or by crook and to browbeat the Senate tribunal to convict the Chief Justice, let alone skin him alive and even crush his bones.
The presidential intervention took place in defiance and disrespect of the pleas of the presiding officer of the tribunal, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, for restraint by the public, partisan groups and even the media in making comments on the merits of the case which is being adjudicated in order to enable the tribunal to conduct a fair and just trial.
Mr. Aquino appeared to have considered himself above the injunctions of the impeachment trial as he hammered at Corona, making pronouncements on the merits, although he is not a direct litigant accredited to the impeachment court.
After setting up his own parallel and rump court, the President is actually an extralegal kibitzer, interloper and an outsider, the weight of whose opinions and comments is of dubious value.
For instance, the President said:
Corona’s failure to fully declare his multimillion-peso bank deposits was “sufficient basis” to remove him from his post. This is a conclusion he made before the defense had been able to present the side of Corona on the evidence submitted by the prosecution.
He wondered why there was still disbelief that Corona had committed an impeachable offense when he declared bank accounts worth only P3.5 million in his 2010 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth despite evidence showing his peso deposits then at P31.5 million. The President merely echoed what the prosecutors alleged in the trial at the Senate tribunal. This is only the side of the prosecutors.
Shielded from civics
Have we not been taught in civics class in school that one has to hear the side of the accused before he can judge and condemn? This is elementary justice.
Maybe the President, who was brought up insulated by the wealth and privilege of Hacienda Luisita, has not been exposed to this civic virtue. No wonder there is still disbelief that Corona has committed an impeachable offense.
This may be a symptom the administration’s case against Corona has not been persuasive enough for the public to support it, in which case the Palace has a serious problem in mobilizing people power to protest against a possible acquittal of Corona. That’s why Mr. Aquino is taking the battle to the streets.
According to Palace officials, the President has made the presentation to “enlighten the academic sector” on the confusion that the administration blames on the defense panel’s tight scrutiny.
These officials said that with this confusion from “too many legal technicalities,” the President felt he needed “to simplify the issues for the rest of the people who are watching the trial.”
If this is the objective, then the intervention didn’t serve the purpose. Mr. Aquino introduced no new evidence that had not been already presented by the prosecution and he echoed only their arguments.
Instead, he made summary pronouncements on the guilt of Corona. This means the President has not aided the prosecution’s effort with his interventions.
Mr. Aquino asked his audience: “Would Juan de la Cruz allow himself to be left out of this process? Are we going to allow only a few to decide for all of us?”
Is this not a contemptuous swipe at the impeachment court and senator-judges and their rigorous rules on procedure?
The President then simplistically reduced the trial to the following issue. “The question in this trial is rather simple: Can we still trust Mr. Corona? We can answer that with the truth coming out during the trial.”
Whose truth? How can truth be determined by hearing only the side of the accuser? Is this truth based only on the half-truth alleged by the prosecution before Corona has been given his day in court?
In the question-and-answer portion, the President said he would have a hard time implementing reforms in the judiciary should the impeachment court acquit Corona. He said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible.” What happens next?
Palace officials said the President’s speech to the students made clear that the spirit of Edsa was people empowerment and the public to be part of change.
The Palace view is that the lengthy process of trial is making people lose interest in it, and consequently it makes them feel excluded.
If they continue to lose interest, there would be only a few people who would be incited by the administration to rally behind its propaganda campaign to demonize Corona through trial by publicity.
“In essence, the President was asking people to stake a claim,” a Palace spokesperson said. “We cannot just be on the sidelines. We should participate in his important event.”
No one is safe
The important questions are: Can the administration harness a large people power lynch mob to protest against a decision acquitting Corona? Against whom will the mob be unleashed? Against the Supreme Court? Against the Senate tribunal? Against those who vote to acquit?
Remember that lynch mobs can turn around to devour their own instigators. When the mobs are guided by hate, they can sweep anyone on their path. No one is safe—not even President Aquino.