Hope, not cynicism

“Good faith” and “hypocrisy” are being bandied about as though the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona by the Senate impeachment court were a travesty of the highest order. His allies maintain that the nondisclosure of P80.7 million and $2.4 million in bank deposits in his annual statements of assets, liabilities and net worth is a minor matter that is hardly in the league of such impeachable offenses as treason and other high crimes. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago went so far as to suggest that public officials in the impeachment court and beyond could not claim clean hands and therefore had no right to pass judgment on Corona. Sen. Joker Arroyo described the impeachment proceedings as a show of “naked power” equal to that displayed when Ferdinand Marcos imposed martial law in 1972; he would find himself in the same camp as the dictator’s son and namesake who, in also voting for acquittal, pronounced Corona’s “omissions and misdeclarations in the SALN” mere “unintentional or involuntary violations, errors made in good faith and honest mistakes in judgment.”

The man himself said, though not unequivocally, that he had accepted the impeachment court’s verdict and called on the nation to move forward. In the statement issued from the hospital where he had sought refuge since he imperiously announced that he wished to be excused and strode out of the Senate session hall on May 22, he continued to maintain an aggrieved innocence, blamed “bad politics” for his conviction, and reiterated that he had faced the charges with undaunted courage and wisdom (“buong tapang at talino”). It was an obvious address to his family, including the distressed grandson that he cited in his second and last appearance at the impeachment court on May 25, when, in an apparent change of strategy, he dropped the combative stance and apologized to the court—but also managed to deliver broadsides at Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, whom he pegged, tellingly, as not his ally. Years hence when children shall have turned into adults, how will that grandson look back at this chapter in his family’s life? Who will he hold responsible for the family’s grief when the elders were shown to have not only engaged in “unjust enrichment” but also violated legal and ethical codes?

In her typically hysterical recitation on Tuesday, Santiago indicated that fudged SALNs being more the norm than the exception, it behooved her peers to desist from pronouncing Corona guilty. She would thus have government officials like herself in a state of happy paralysis, dallying with dark angels and incapable of even beginning to think of taking the first step toward slaying the scourge that has long debilitated society at large. Such a cynical and defeatist attitude is reprehensible in a former regional trial court judge (as she never fails to remind all and sundry) and a member of the International Criminal Court (for which position the government she so likes to scorn helped her campaign). Also in the course of her harangue—which Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile rather belatedly stopped—Santiago pronounced the impeachment proceedings as “kagaguhan”—stupidity—and repeated it for good measure. It is a continuing source of amazement that, again, neither the Senate president nor her peers have seen fit to take her to task for this insult—unless they view it as nothing more than an impertinence to be endured in a spoiled child or resident clown, in which case we submit that their sufferance is a screaming mistake. Why do they let her get away with murder—of the most fundamental norms of civility, if nothing else?

But what can the weary observer expect to result from the verdict of “imperfect and fallible mortals” (as Enrile described themselves) declaring the Chief Justice as having violated the Constitution and betrayed public trust? Perhaps the beginnings of public transparency and accountability, which a reform-minded administration has declared as a standard and which it is now obliged to consistently pursue? The pursuit will involve nothing less than a crusade that can reasonably be pinned on Sen. Manuel Villar’s simple formulation: “[T]he law applies equally to all, whether rich or poor, a member of the Supreme Court or an ordinary citizen.” It goes without saying that it requires, not cynicism, but a resurgence of hope, not hypocrisy, but strength of purpose.

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