Day One | Inquirer Opinion
There’s The Rub

Day One

/ 11:11 PM January 17, 2012

One, Day One brought a tremendous sense of déjà vu. As in Erap’s impeachment trial, the physical appearances of prosecution and defense were much the same. The defense, to a man, wore barong Tagalog and the prosecution, to a man as well (the women’s groups might have something to say about that), wore coat and tie. During Erap’s trial, that evoked images of Erap’s own films where the kontrabida and his bunch of thugs wore suits, which became an ironic commentary on his real-life situation. Corona did not have that background, but it did little to make him look api.

Two, still much déjà vu, Day One brought clear indications of where the defense and the prosecution are headed. As in Erap’s impeachment trial, the one would harp on the letter of the law, the other on the spirit of the law. The one would harp on the legality of things, the other on the morality of things.

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Serafin Cuevas would signal the defense’s tack by questioning due process, arguing that the congressmen railroaded the impeachment. Eduardo de los Angeles would follow up by questioning the articles of impeachment, specifically objecting to the prosecution’s strongest point, which is Corona’s collection of expensive houses and diversion of World Bank funds on the ground that they were not included in the articles of impeachment.

Niel Tupas would intimate the second by talking about Corona’s fitness to be chief justice, pointing to Jose Abad Santos and Cayetano Arellano as the ideals to which chief justices should aspire. Corona was the antithesis of that, he proposed. “Ano ang pagkatao ni Corona?” he would ask, and proceed to answer his own question by parading Corona’s houses.

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Tupas did not have the power of Joker Arroyo when Arroyo launched his broadside against Erap, calling him a thief to his face, but then neither did De los Angeles have the sharpness of Estelito Mendoza, who tried to rip the prosecution’s case by resting it on the head of a pin, which was the word of Chavit Singson, about whom he had quite a mouthful to say. Tupas often gave the impression of delivering a speech in a high school declamation contest. But he had his merits. His PowerPoint on Corona’s houses was powerful and pointed. A pity that he did not have P-Noy’s talent for speaking in Filipino (he is Ilonggo after all), but he could have made the effort. “Ano ang pagkatao ni Corona?” naturally lends itself to an exposition in Filipino. It would have hit home harder.

Three, the defense’s strongest suit is attacking the weakest links in the articles of impeachment, such as the rejection of the Truth Commission and promotion of municipalities into cities. Frankly, I don’t know why the prosecution opted for a shotgun approach when one or two articles should have been enough. I have always thought impeachments are a case of less is more. More doesn’t really offer fallbacks, it merely offers targets to attack. You put down one, you cast doubts on the validity of the others.

The prosecution’s strongest suit is Corona’s fitness to be chief justice, and I truly hope it exploits that line, “Ano ang pagkatao ni Corona?” to the hilt. There is one important difference between an impeachment and an ordinary trial, which dooms a legalistic approach from the start. That is that in an ordinary trial, unless you are proven guilty beyond a shadow of doubt, you win the case. In an impeachment, unless you prove you deserve to be a chief justice or president beyond the shadow of a doubt, you lose the case. In the first you are merely looking at the presumption of innocence, in the second you are looking at the assumption of fitness. In the first, you are merely looking for the lowest standards, in the second you are looking for the highest ones.

Tupas is right: A chief justice has to have the caliber of an Abad Santos and Arellano. It is not enough not to be proven to be a blight, you have to prove yourself lofty. That is what the position calls for. That is the reason public officials resign in other countries at the slightest whiff of scandal, because they are expected to lead exemplary lives, not because they are expected to get around the accusations against them. And the scandals surrounding Corona are not the slightest whiff. Impeachments partake of that spirit. They remind people that they need not settle for the worst, they can always ask for the best.

Four, all of which refutes Juan Ponce Enrile’s exhortation for the parties in the impeachment to ignore the public, the senator-judges will judge the case, not the people. He might as well bid the waves hold still. All of them were performing before the public on Day One, including him. The impossibility of shutting out the viewers doesn’t just owe to the fact that next year is election year and the impeachment will make or break political careers (Enrile himself has a son who is running for senator), it is also that the digital revolution offers higher levels of public participation. Erap’s trial was the most popular thing on earth, but the viewers were reduced pretty much to spectators then. With Facebook and text, expect Corona’s impeachment to go off the charts in public involvement.

Which is positive rather than negative. Public scrutiny has never hurt in this country, where the law has been turned into a Mafia-like code of silence. Public debate has never hurt in this country, where institutions have been held hostage by Mafia-like cabals. Public participation has never hurt in this country, where the people have been given offers they can’t refuse, or decisions they can’t do anything about, by Mafia-like dons.

Five, look at Corona’s face on Day One and wonder why he wants to cling to his position like Gloria when he can earn an absolute fortune doing something else.

Playing poker.

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TAGS: corona impeachment, defense, featured columns, opinion, prosecution
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