The flexible Mr. Tupas
Let us assume the prosecution is correct. The respondent, one Renato Corona, is a scoundrel.
He is unethical, arrogant and ruthless. He manipulates the law to allow his patrons their crimes. He squanders public funds and condones deceit. His judgment can be bent in favor of his own interests. He is a man who trades favors for power, who refuses accountability and schemes against his colleagues, while enriching himself and his family with the spoils of his position. He has violated the highest laws with intent and purpose. He is incompetent. He is biased. He is neither fair nor just. His crimes are legion; his power is great.
This is the portrait of Renato Corona, Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines, as painted by 188 men and women who demand his impeachment. Never, they say, “has the position of Chief Justice, or the standing of the Supreme Court, as an institution, been so tainted with the perception of bias and partiality, as it is now: not even in the dark days of martial law, has the chief magistrate behaved with such arrogance, impunity, and cynicism.”
If they are correct, as they claim they are, repeatedly and consistently, then the country is at the precipice of a crisis of monumental proportions. It is the wisdom of the Judiciary that interprets legislations and tempers the Executive. The chief justice, the guiding hand of the Supreme Court, whose judgments are final and whose power is vast, has destroyed the citizen’s last altar of appeal in a country buried in poverty and corruption. The danger is clear and present. If Corona remains at the helm of the Judiciary, every verdict is suspect, and every justice is tainted with his command.
This is what is at stake in the impeachment proceedings, the menace that confronts Philippine democracy.
The prosecutors believe Corona is guilty, the President believes it, the whole band of howling would-be heroes believe it, or they say they do every time a microphone wanders in their vicinity. They are servants of the people, and a threat like this demands the unleashing of phalanxes of angels with burning swords, intent on casting out the devil named Renato Corona.
“We will not shirk our duty, we will not deviate from the path of principle, and we will not betray the people,” says His Excellency Benigno Aquino III.
And yet, in spite of all the chest-beating and manly claims to action, the prosecution sends in Niel Tupas.
Tupas, the 41-year-old gentleman from Iloilo, he of the waving arms and grand speeches, half of whose 12 years as a lawyer was spent in politics, tangling against his cousins in congressional elections. Son of a former governor now government executive, brother to various siblings ranging from mayor to government directors, Tupas, who walks into the session hall defending articles of impeachment whose haphazard formulation appears every day on national television.
The impeachment court’s rules were never set in writing. The senators themselves are struggling with questions of procedure. The defense is a band of highly organized courtroom veterans whose one goal is to acquit the Chief Justice. The situation is already predictably difficult, and it is assumed that the prosecutors would have girded their loins at the prospect of battle, had spent their time gathering their witnesses, confirming their statements and preparing for one of the most important and difficult challenges facing Philippine democracy. If they did, perhaps they would have had to defend more vital issues than the placement of a paragraph.
And still, the honorable Tupas, who has been permitted his 15 minutes of fame, demands “the honorable tribunal to be liberal in the asking of questions,” after he complained of over 30 objections by the defense. The Senate president questions him.
Are you suggesting that we should allow hearsay evidence?
No, Your Honor.
Are you suggesting that we allow argumentative questions?
No, Your Honor.
Are you suggesting that we should allow hypothetical questions?
No, Your Honor.
Are you suggesting that we should allow leading questions teaching the witness what to say?
In the end, after his tirade on liberality and truth, Tupas did what Tupas does, and backed down.
It was Tupas, after all, whose obvious unpreparedness earned him a whaling by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, whose demand for a witness count resulted in little more than a head shake. It was Rep. Romero Quimbo of the prosecution who admitted that the hero of the house was asking for aid. And it was Rep. Erin Tañada who applauded Tupas in one of the oddest of statements, saying it was Tupas’ demand for flexibility that hastened the process.
“The impeachment,” Tupas told the Inquirer, “is more than legal technicalities. It involves the search for the truth, making our democratic institutions work and our officials accountable.”
It is as if the prosecutors shined their shoes, ironed their shirts, called their drivers and by all that decided they were ready for the impeachment of the highest magistrate of the land. It is odd to demand a loosening of what appears to be all legalities while in a room with a judge and jury. Tupas was certainly not selected for his legal prowess, and he may not be alone, as the haphazard articles of impeachment were supposed to be the product of the entire prosecution bench. And yet this is supposed to be a high stakes trial, with the President behind it and the future of the country in the balance. Truth does not matter so much as the proving.
Let us give the prosecutors the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they believe Corona is guilty so sincerely that the details do not concern them. Perhaps they do not realize their actions trivialize the nobility of the cause they claimed. Or perhaps they forgot the man they call a scoundrel is not the only one being judged.
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