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A waste of time?

/ 09:30 PM February 20, 2012

We may spend much of every afternoon glued to our TV sets following the Corona impeachment trial. And the habit may indeed impair our productivity, or at least the productivity of people who have time to spare on workday afternoons. I’m confident that in most business concerns, work goes on as usual, that despite the legal and political drama unfolding in the Senate, money is being made, services are being dispensed, children are being educated, lives are being saved, and the life of the nation moves on.

Which is why I can’t understand the so-called “clamor” to bring an early end to the impeachment trial, on the grounds that it is distracting our legislators from their basic task of legislating, and our leaders from directing the affairs of state.

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Or as Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles put it in a recent public statement, the impeachment trial has “kept the government from resolving urgent problems, such as unemployment, a sluggish economy, extrajudicial killings, rampant crime, and natural disasters.” The trial, said the prelate, was “a waste of time and taxpayers’ money” as it would not have any effect at all on uplifting the situation of the poor.

Kept the government from doing what? How many people do we have working for the bureaucracy? How many local officials are there? Are they all wasting half their day watching the televised proceedings of the Corona trial?

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True, the Aquino government faces many pressing problems, all of which compete for scarce funds and the limited attention span of officials. And the problems enumerated by Archbishop Arguelles are not new or novel, having confronted previous administrations which met with various levels of success. It seems a bit much to blame the ongoing impeachment trial for any delays or failures to address these problems. And if the trial is cut short without resolving any of the issues raised, then the good archbishop may be assured that government efforts to address all the problems he raised will all the more fail.

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This is because if the trial is abruptly ended, then not only Chief Justice Renato Corona but also all other corrupt and venal government officials will feel that they had been given a free hand to proceed with “business as usual.”

Forget the fight against poverty and to bring an end to corruption. The government will ever more find it harder to find the money to fuel development and raise standards of living, since much of government revenue will have gone to the pockets of the corrupt and dishonest.

Or as former congresswoman Risa Hontiveros, speaking for the Bantay Gloria Network, put it: “We do not see the impeachment trial as an obstacle at all to the continuing implementation of the national government’s pro-poor programs and anti-corruption thrust.

“In fact, we believe that with Corona’s imminent removal from office for culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and graft and corruption, the government’s reform programs would even take a quantum leap as there would be one less big obstacle along the way,” the former Akbayan party-list representative said.

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What about the trial being a “waste of time and taxpayers’ money”?

The Chief Justice stands accused of hiding his real income through inaccurate entries in his SALNs and of influencing deliberations of the Supreme Court to favor certain individuals, particularly former President and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. These are issues deserving of scrutiny and discussion, no small matters to be swatted away in the belief they are “a waste of time and taxpayers’ money.”

Besides, as Hontiveros asserts: “The impeachment trial cannot be considered a waste of time and money as it is a legitimate constitutional process aimed at replacing those who have failed in their duty to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law, and to protect the public interest.

“Impeachment is a vital component of the system of checks and balances in a democratic society,” she added. “It is aimed at strengthening our democracy so that it can better serve the needs of the poor and the powerless, and allow the national government to pursue vital political, economic and social reforms.”

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But to remind our legislators, there are indeed pending matters before them to which they must pay attention. The ongoing impeachment trial doesn’t (or I hope it doesn’t) put the rest of legislative work in suspended animation.

One of these is the Reproductive Health bill which still hasn’t been brought to a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives and of the Senate. The delay is alarming given the recent news that maternal deaths are growing in number, with 50 women dying in Metro Manila from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth in January alone.

“These deaths are caused by inadequate reproductive health services needed in preventing and responding to such complications and therefore, saving mothers’ lives,” said Elizabeth Angsiocio, chair of the Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines and a reproductive health advocate.

Greater support among the national government and local government units for the provision of such services is included in the RH bill, that Angsioco describes as being “continuously delayed for more than 12 years by Congress.”

Of course, there may be reasons other than preoccupation with the ongoing impeachment trial that explain why the RH bill has been delayed, if not deferred. But every day women continue to die from risky pregnancies and childbirth, infants will not survive beyond their first year due to being born too soon after an older sibling, and children will be born into families unable to give them enough food, education or care to allow them to grow into productive adults.

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TAGS: bishops, Corona impeachment trial, featured column, Government, legislators, opinion
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