An emphatic opening statement | Inquirer Opinion

An emphatic opening statement

/ 11:10 PM January 17, 2012

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile emphatically laid down on Monday the terms under which the Senate, sitting as a tribunal, will try the historic impeachment case against Chief Justice Renato Corona. In his opening statement on the first day of the trial, Enrile as the presiding judge served notice that the tribunal was determined to discharge its constitutional duty to conduct a fair trial, guided only by evidence and due process under the rule of law.

The speech defined the functions of the tribunal and set the tone for a trial that has been variously described as a political exercise whose procedures seek to follow rules of court. It also addressed a warning  to the executive department to respect the independence of the Senate.


Enrile made it clear that the trial would be conducted in accordance with the Senate’s Rules of Impeachment and not those of the House of Representatives, which filed the impeachment complaint, or those of the executive branch of government, and certainly not those emanating  from the parliament of the streets or the lynch mob.

In a speech that left little room for ambiguity over  the determination of the Senate to be independent from extraneous influence, Enrile said: “The task at hand is a constitutional  mandate and a duty which we have no discretion to postpone or evade.  As jurors,  it is our obligation  and responsibility to closely and diligently examine the evidence and the facts to be presented  before us, to determine whether such evidence  and facts sufficiently and convincingly support the charges, and ultimately to decide the fate of no less than the Chief Justice of the highest court of the land, and the head of a co-equal branch of our government.” The last phrase underlined an important constitutional principle in Philippine democracy—that of checks and balances—and called attention to the dangers arising from a tilt in the balance of power among the three branches.


Enrile pointed out the delicacy of the task facing the tribunal when he said: “By its very nature, the work we are about to do is unique. It is a rendition of justice outside our traditional judicial system and  carries  with it a grave and serious responsibility. It deviates from our normal functions and duties as legislators.  The House of Representatives impeaches on the basis of its determination of the sufficiency of the charges both  in form and in substance and of the existence of cause, while the Senate bears the sole responsibility to try and decide whether to convict or acquit the respondent in an impeachment case, that is,  whether or not the respondent deserves  to be removed from the office he or she occupies, based on the grounds dictated by the Constitution.

“While it has often been said that, by and large, the trial in an impeachment case is political  in nature, nonetheless, such is neither an excuse nor  a license for us to ignore and abandon our solemn and higher obligation and responsibility as a body of jurors  to see to it that the Bill of Rights are observed and that justice is served, and to conduct the trial with impartiality and fairness, to hear the case with a clear and open mind, to weigh carefully in the scale the evidence against the respondent, and to render to him a just verdict based on no other consideration than our Constitution and the laws, the facts presented to us, and our individual moral conviction.”

He reminded the contending sides, his fellow senator-jurors, as well as the public and the media, that the trial “shall be governed by the rules we have adopted.”  He added: “I therefore urge everyone to fully cooperate in  the orderly conduct of these proceedings in accordance, with the rules,  to demonstrate civility and to observe decorum that is required to carry  our  respective duties with  dispatch, with honor and dignity.”

In an attempt to assure the public that the Corona impeachment would not end in an abortion like the disrupted  impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada in 2001, leading to People Power II, Enrile said: “I am committed and determined to see the process all the way to its completion. Let us finish the job, for our oath demands no less from us.”

In warning against another People Power, Enrile  pleaded for “some degree of caution  on the part of everyone in exposing evidence that ought to be  presented in this impeachment court out (to) the public. The public is not under oath, unlike witnesses presented here.”

“We are not litigating this case before the people,” he stressed. “We are are a representative democracy.  We operate through representatives.   Let institutions of government operate according to tasks  granted to them.”

Enrile pointed out the implications of the trial for the system of checks and  balances.  Although the respondent is the Chief Justice, “we cannot escape the reality that, in a larger sense, the conduct of this trial and its outcome will necessarily have  serious impact on the entire nation.  Its success or failure to achieve  the purpose for which the Constitution has provided this mechanism as part or our system of checks and balances and of public accountability may spell the success or failure of our democratic institutions, the strengthening or weakening of our sense of justice as a people,  our stability or disintegration as a  nation, and the triumph or demise of the rule of law in our land. The people’s  faith in the Senate and the very fabric of our democratic system are at stake.”

Now that the Senate has laid its own life on line, it is expected to make good on its  word.

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