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Enrile and the Davide mystique

If there was a clear winner in the opening skirmishes of the impeachment trial, it was neither the prosecution nor the defense. It was Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and, by extension, the Senate as an institution.

There is nothing surprising here. Remember that during the Erap impeachment trial more than a decade ago, it was then Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. who presided (as the Constitution requires when it is the President who is on the dock). In the public mind, Davide came to embody the law in its majesty, the quintessential magistrate which, in the Pinoy imagination, made him a statesman. At a UP forum during that trial, university president Francisco Nemenzo Jr. said that if elections were held then, people would choose Davide as president.

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For Enrile, his jurisdictional and evidentiary rulings were picture-perfect for the magisterial stance. On Day 1, he ruled for the prosecution and junked the Corona camp’s request to second-guess the validity of the articles of impeachment. On Day 2, he ruled for the defense and blocked the prosecution’s plea to compel Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and his family to testify. On Day 3, he tried to steer a solomonic middle ground, so that the Senate can compel the production of the Chief Justice’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) without staring down the Supreme Court which has shielded the justices’ SALNs.

Under the Senate’s impeachment rules, Enrile could’ve done a Pontius Pilate and called for a vote on these issues, thus sharing the glory or ignominy with his colleagues. But he didn’t. Instead he made the call, and put his name and stature on the line should his colleagues vote to override him.

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That almost happened on Day 2, when his ruling recognizing the Coronas’ testimonial immunities was challenged by some senators, and with good reason. That’s because both sides of the debate can invoke equally viable doctrinal grounds. The Senate put it to a vote, and eventually affirmed Enrile’s ruling.

On Day 3, the Senate seemed too deferential to the Supreme Court’s non-disclosure of the justices’ SALNs. In doing so, the Court had flouted both the Constitution and the Salonga Law (namely, the Code of Ethics for Public Officers). What’s the point of SALNs if you file them with your subaltern, who can’t show them to others except with your permission? Plainly stated, what’s the use of SALNs if nobody else can see them? And how dare the high court exempt itself from an anti-corruption command directed to every public official?

Finally, the Supreme Court’s rule on non-disclosure of SALNs is merely an administrative, and not a judicial, act by the Court. It does not implicate the separation of powers as highly as some senators made it appear. To his credit, Chief Justice Corona has now offered to release his SALN to the Senate.

Overall, otherwise contentious rulings were adopted by the Senate and, apparently, accepted by the Filipino public. Come to think of it, this is precisely the kind of deference that we ought to give to a worthy Supreme Court, and it is so telling that a political body, the Senate, has now trumped the Court as the fount of legitimacy. Contrast that to the year 2003 when the impeachment of Chief Justice Davide was TRO’d and eventually TKO’d by the Supreme Court. How things have changed.

But that only brings us to a sobering fact: Filipinos have short memories. Davide in 2001 was the toast of the town, the Inquirer’s Filipino of the Year, and in 2002, a Ramon Magsaysay laureate for government service. In 2003, he was impeached, saved only by the Court citing the one-year constitutional ban on a second impeachment. The real shocker is that those congressmen had the gall to even try. That they got so far shows that the adulation was vulnerable, the popularity precarious, the mystique fragile.

The even more sobering thought, amid the glowing online commentary, is this: People seem to have forgotten that, once upon a time, Juan Ponce Enrile was the martial law administrator, jailor to thousands, many of whom vanished during that dark night in our nation’s history, whose survivors remain physically or psychologically scarred for life.

Redemption is perpetually possible, the faith teaches. Enrile had that chance at Edsa 1, that one brief shining moment that could have erased the stain of the Marcosian nightmare. Yet he has since whittled away the prospect of deliverance and, until the impeachment trial, hovered between the roles of political elder and political survivor. Enrile’s place in history should be secured not by us forgetting his inglorious role under martial law, but by him giving us a fair trial that would reconcile law with justice.

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Perhaps the old fogies among us should recall that Edsa 1 happened 26 years ago and Edsa 2, a good 11 years ago. The college kids today were not even born yet at Edsa 1 and were only in grade school (approximately Grades 2-4) during Edsa 2. I shudder when I realize that what was Current Events for me is Hekasi (Heograpiya, Kasaysayan at Sibika) for them. We cannot blame them for their short memories. After all, my generation lived through the anti-martial law struggles as a life passion; their generation learned about it for the final exams. Short memories? But isn’t short-term memory precisely what is most useful for exams?

In highly politicized cases, the trial is a theater. That has always been the case. It is thus a perennial problem that the audience may not know the larger saga of which the courtroom drama is just one chapter. What is different now is that the new technologies and social networks enable that audience to speak more loudly but not always more wisely.

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TAGS: corona impeachment, featured columns, Hilario Davide Jr., Juan Ponce Enrile, opinion
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