One, it’s true, as the local saying goes, that the hardest person to wake up is the one pretending to be asleep.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines says the prosecution has not proven Renato Corona is corrupt with his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth. His tax returns show he earned less than a million bucks a year throughout Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time, his wife earned nothing at all until 2006 (she did not file any taxes except for one year as a one-time earner), and their children were dependents. Yet, individually and collectively, they were able to buy houses and condo units which are eye-popping even in their undervalued form.
“The documents that Sen. Ralph Recto was able to draw out from Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares,” the IBP says, “are still deficient to prove that Corona is prima facie guilty of graft and corruption… The prosecution needs to show not only Corona’s salary, but also the fact that he does not have any ‘other lawful income’ and ‘income from legitimately acquired property’ before it can claim that it has prima facie proven that he is guilty of graft and corruption.”
Why? Why in God’s good name does the prosecution have to do that? Have these guys ever heard of tax laws? Have these guys ever heard that citizens are obliged to declare all their sources of income so that they may be levied the appropriate taxes? The burden of showing them does not lie with the prosecution, it lies with Corona. If he hasn’t declared them, then they do not exist. If they exist and he hasn’t declared them, then he has been evading taxes. Either he is corrupt or he is a tax evader, choose your poison.
While at this, I go back to my earlier proposition that substantive proof is all you need to convict Corona. In cases involving the tenure of public officials, the amount of proof you need to boot them out should be inversely proportional to the office they hold: the higher the office, the less the amount of proof. That comes from the premise that public office is a public trust. A public official deserves to be a public official only to the extent that he can prove himself fit for his office, not until the citizens can prove him beyond a shadow of doubt to be a crook, a rapist or a murderer. The higher the office, the more so.
What is the IBP saying? Unless the prosecution can prove he did not win in the lotto or was not left a fortune by a long lost uncle, he has every claim to his wealth? Unless we ourselves are able to prove that the Chief Justice is not God and can acquire property in mysterious ways, he continues to have a claim on his position?
What in God’s good name has happened to the IBP? No wonder Dick the Butcher proposed, “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
Two, what is the prosecution thinking proposing to trot out 100 witnesses to make their case? If they mean to intimidate by it, they can forget it. It doesn’t make them look confident, it makes them look insecure. It doesn’t make them look thorough, it makes them look ridiculous.
Two things are wrong with it.
The first is that the prosecution itself subverts the right way to look at a public official, not to speak of a chief justice. They propose that nothing less than absolute, ironclad, proof is needed to boot out a public official, not to speak of a chief justice. When all it takes is to show, as they have already done, that Corona is either a tax evader or the possessor of ill-gotten wealth. Additionally, they propose that you have to prove all the articles of impeachment against Corona to impeach him. Why? Why in God’s good name do you need to show that Corona is corrupt, betrayed the public trust, voted for Gloria all the way, etc. to get rid of him? One charge should do.
The problem in any case, as the IBP shows, is that it is impossible to prove anything to the disbelieving. Any evidence you show will always be “deficient.” That was so during Erap’s impeachment, that is so during Corona’s impeachment. Arroyo’s—and by extension Corona’s—allies in the Senate will never be convinced by their arguments. Who was it who said that the hardest people to convince (like the oil companies about global warming) are those whose self-interest prevents them from being convinced?
The second is that the prosecution itself means the trial to take forever. Do they seriously expect Serafin Cuevas to not raise all sorts of objections to what each of those witnesses will say? That doesn’t include the 15 witnesses the defense proposes to put up in turn. We will still be at it past Christmas.
Of course during Erap’s trial, I kept saying I wouldn’t mind if the trial lasted forever. It wasn’t a waste of time at all. For the first time in their lives, most of the senators were earning their keep. And it was a tremendous education for the public: for the first time in their lives, most of the citizens were seeing democracy at work. They had begun talking like lawyers, the kids dreamed again of becoming lawyers. Suddenly, law meant something lofty again.
I wouldn’t mind that if the person being tried was Arroyo. Whatever valuable lessons this impeachment imparts—chief of them being that it puts on trial the kind of law we’ve always had, the one that has nothing to do with justice—it is also a monumental distraction, if not inconvenience. The longer it takes, the happier Arroyo gets. Or the longer it takes, the farther justice gets. Arroyo’s trial is the one that offers far more monumental lessons. The least among them, something we have already forgotten, if at all we ever learned it, is that where there is crime, there should be punishment. And the most vital one among them is that a vow is sacred, and when we vow “Never again!” to tyranny, we shouldn’t be making vows like Gloria.
A hundred witnesses? My reaction is the same as that of Juan Ponce Enrile: OMG!
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.