The first time Miriam Defensor-Santiago appeared at the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, she immediately grabbed the spotlight by offering, with trademark aplomb, her two cents’ worth on a number of legal issues.
One, she said, the trial is both quasi-judicial and quasi-political, hence sui generis—a class of its own. Two, it being a political process, “the public should understand what’s going on,” because the issue at the heart of Corona’s trial is good governance. Three, the impeachment court is not strictly bound by the rules of evidence, hence, it should be liberal in accepting them or else “baka isipin na naman ng mga tao na may tinatago tayo dito” (alluding to her vilified role in the suppression of the “second envelope” during the impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada). And, fourth, the trial should be conducted in a way that should not turn it into “a triumph of technicalities.”
Someone should furnish the woman a copy of her inaugural remarks to the court, if only to refresh her memory. Because, as has become obvious to anyone watching the trial on TV, Santiago’s conduct pretty much throws mud at all the lofty insights she had proffered and to which she is presumably bound—especially the reminder that the political nature of the trial required the citizenry’s active involvement in it.
How, for instance, did she treat Harvey Keh, an ordinary citizen who came under withering fire for supposedly trying to “influence the court” when he sent Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile an envelope containing the alleged transaction records of Corona’s foreign and peso accounts? Keh was perhaps misguided in terms of protocol, but his action appeared to be motivated by the same search for truth and transparency that the trial is purportedly all about. Also, who else should have the most interest in—and the power to look into—Corona’s records at this time if not the body precisely tasked to weigh his fitness for his high office?
But the way Santiago browbeat Keh on the witness stand was an act of petulance and extreme arrogance. Only the most rabid Corona supporters would have taken delight at the spectacle of an ordinary taxpayer—whose fault perhaps was to passionately engage in a process supposedly being conducted in his name and those of the rest of his countrymen—being at the receiving end of the senator’s spleen and spittle.
Voters are forewarned: This is the way elected officials like Santiago treat members of the public with a sincere desire to do their share for a better government. Expect to be harangued, upbraided, verbally abused—not because they deserve it, but only because the vainglorious inquisitor before them feels like doing it.
After all, how different is Keh’s case from the reported lobbying by the Iglesia ni Cristo for Corona’s acquittal? To a report that names names, the Senate has reacted with a collective nonchalance. “In a political exercise such as this … lobbying for or against any particular issue is normal,” said Sen. Tito Sotto. But of course. The INC has millions of votes, while the likes of Keh and his civil-society pals have none. Where, then, is Santiago’s fire-breathing rebuke of this attempt to “influence the court?”
Recall, too, the defense panel’s earlier bombshell of a charge that Malacañang was buying off the senator-judges. That one involved anonymous sources—Santiago’s vein-popping beef against Keh (“You’re acting on anonymous sources! You didn’t even bother to examine whether the complaints are fair or not?”)—and was aimed directly at the senators’ much-vaunted integrity. Did the nation hear a peep of protest from Santiago, vociferous or otherwise? No.
How about when the defense also began stuffing the trial with witnesses that Enrile himself decried as “irrelevant, immaterial and impertinent”—a tack for which Santiago had repeatedly attacked the prosecution? The senator’s lips were primly pursed.
Long after this trial is over, the nation should credit Keh’s suit, along with several other citizens’ complaints against Corona at the Office of the Ombudsman, for having prodded Conchita Carpio Morales to investigate and bring into the light of public scrutiny the Chief Justice’s dollar deposits. But that such participation by the citizenry was also so shabbily treated in this trial should give voters much to ponder in the next elections. Those who held them in contempt, like the sui generis Santiago, deserve to reap the same.