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Analysis

Rule of stampede in Corona trial

/ 03:47 AM December 19, 2011

All eyes are on the Senate in the run-up to the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona on Jan. 16.

The focus of public attention—and concern—started to shift to the Senate after the House of Representatives approved in a record-smashing time of less than three hours a move to impeach Corona.

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The breath-taking and summary manner in which the House majority, composed of pro-Aquino administration parties, rammed the articles of impeachment through the chamber in one day and transmitted it to the Senate the following day for trial left in its wake a trail of devastation of the constitutional system, severely damaging two independent institutions of Philippine democracy—the Supreme Court and the legislature.

In the heat of the hot rod passage of the articles of impeachment, the balance of power among the theoretically coequal branches of government tilted drastically in favor of the executive department without a declaration of national emergency.

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On Tuesday, the people woke up to the shocking reality that their representatives in Congress had decided to impeach the Chief Justice at the instigation of, and in conspiracy with, the Chief Executive.

Balance of power shifts

President Aquino was bridling at a series of court decisions he had denounced as blocking his reforms to root out corruption in government and biased in favor of his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who had packed the court with her appointees during her nine years in office.

These appointments and offending decisions are now central topics of the articles of impeachment which the Senate impeachment tribunal will adjudicate and which I’m not competent to examine authoritatively. Such matters are better left in the hands of legal experts, who abound in our litigious society.

The main purpose of this article is to examine the implications of the radical shift of the balance of power in the tripartite system of government into a winner-take-all jungle warfare between the Judiciary and the Executive. It would be trivializing the conflict if we reduced it to the category of a running vendetta between the President and the Chief Justice.

Presidential interference

I have read carefully every line of the 57-page articles of impeachment, as well as media reports on the process involved in the passage of the impeachment resolution in the House. I spent more time reading the complaint than was allowed members of Congress, some of whom admitted they had not read it before signing the impeachment resolution.

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The most notable aspects of this process are:

First, extensive presidential interference with legislative functions, through party cohorts, to push the impeachment case, and a campaign to build a hostile public opinion against Corona and gain public support for the President’s campaign to get rid of Corona and, henceforth, gain control of the court.

Second, the process was full of shortcuts of due process and a rush to judgment on the part of the government in the conflict over the issuance by the court of a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the government move to stop Arroyo from traveling to seek medical treatment abroad, topped by the haste of the justice department in disobeying the TRO.

Arroyo and her cohorts were in a hurry to get a TRO from the Corona court to beat the gun on a government determined to block her flight, fearing if she didn’t return, she would not be able to face the charges being prepared against her for alleged wrongdoings during her term.

Challenge for the Senate

Given all these breaches of procedures, the issues have now transcended to the overarching issue of whether all these acts attributed to Corona justify his removal from office.

This is the task of the Senate whose judge-members are bound by oath to assess the case on the basis of evidence and not bow to pressures—not excluding those from Mr. Aquino and from the lynch mobs incited by his public attacks on the court and who are demanding occupation of the court, with their own rule of violence and judgment without evidence.

The challenge facing the Senate is whether it can defend and uphold its independence in rendering a fair and just decision on the basis of the rule of law.

In deciding to impeach Corona, upon the initiative of the President, the House majority surrendered the independence of their branch to the Chief Executive, setting aside parliamentary procedures required for impeachment.

The Speaker and the key leaders of the House committee on justice formed themselves into a steering committee to gather the signatures of members and plotted the strategy to ram the complaint through the House. The group was in constant communication with the President as they rounded up signatures.

Is Senate next?

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte revealed that a “furious” President wanted a “fast” impeachment of Corona and seven other Arroyo appointees in the court. The President got what he wanted.

That statement of Belmonte was the most damning evidence of the President’s interference in the House and its capitulation to presidential pressure. When Belmonte informed the President that the House got the needed number of votes, the President said, “Thank you.” Tersely. The House had dug its own grave.

It took the declaration of martial law in 1972 to vest Ferdinand Marcos with unchallenged powers. It took only three hours for President Aquino to make Congress surrender its independence.

Will the Senate be the next?

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TAGS: impeachment trial, President Benigno Aquino III, SC Chief Justice Renato Corona, Supreme Court
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