Contempt | Inquirer Opinion
There’s The Rub


History repeats itself yet again, first as tyranny, second as travesty.

Miriam Santiago did it before, in Erap’s impeachment trial. She interrogated a witness, a young lawyer named Jasmin Banal, who resigned from a law firm after she found it to be setting up dummy corporations for Erap and his cronies. Santiago tried to shoot down Banal’s credibility by showing irrational behavior on her part. She got Banal to admit that she was getting a higher salary from the firm she left than from the one she subsequently joined. Santiago concluded: “So you deviated from the usual career path, since you and I and all UP law graduates virtually pursue the same career path after graduation. Isn’t that so? We try and get the highest salary we can get.”


When Raul Roco’s turn came, he asked Banal what the motto of the UP law school said, and she replied, “It is the business of a law school to teach law in the grand manner.” Roco asked, “So that means we as lawyers should be motivated by a sense of idealism, would that be correct?” Banal said yes. “And when you transferred from a higher-paying job to a lower-paying job, that could be motivated by a sense of idealism?” Banal said yes. Roco concluded: “I thought (I should raise that point) because I was surprised to learn that the usual career pattern of lawyers is going from lower-paying jobs to higher-paying jobs.”

Stung by this, Santiago turned her fury on the gallery. Complaining of heckling, she demanded that three people who sat near front row be thrown out of the court, and got Hilario Davide to do it. The three turned out to be Dante Jimenez, Bettina Aboitiz, and Rosanna Tuason-Fores.


Vitaliano Aguirre’s provocation was nowhere near as lofty as that of Roco’s, but it produced roughly the same effect. Aguirre covered his ears at Santiago’s by-now routine harangue of the prosecution, which drove Santiago to even greater heights of ballistic-ness, and blood pressure. Santiago demanded that Aguirre be cited for contempt, and got Juan Ponce Enrile to do it.

In fact, Aguirre merely did what most everyone in this country has wanted to do in a long time. If not more: Not everyone wants, like Odysseus, to cover his ears with wax at the wailing voices that drive the hardest of men to madness, some would rather go forth into the lair like Perseus and cut off the head of the person with a headful of hissing snakes. It’s bad enough that we have to stand the sight of Santiago on TV every day, it’s worse that we have to stand the sound of her on TV every day too. Fortunately for us, we can always mute the TV, or switch to Cartoon Network whenever she takes to the floor. The prosecutors cannot. How can you cite anyone for contempt who has just shown an instinct for survival, or a reflex for self-preservation?

Santiago’s antics during the Erap trial would already have shown how the provocation tends to lie completely with her. It’s a good reminder that her pretensions to brilliance, which is where she gets off thinking she has a right to lecture others on the finer points of law or ethics, are just that: pretensions. It’s neither borne by her legal nor political life. Getting a grade of 76 in the bar exams is not a masterful legal achievement, and I don’t know why the lawyers she waylays in the impeachment court do not demur by saying, “I’m sorry, Madame, but having gotten 77 in the bar exams, I do not see myself as needing your hectoring to pass this test.” And goading the unshod, or rubber-sandaled, masa to sugod-sugod Malacañang, and defying the authorities to arrest her afterward, gun on table, only to turn to the other side faster than you can say “Brenda,” is not a sign of ethical behavior, let alone a sane one.

Indeed, the way Santiago harangued Banal, if not Aguirre, would already have shown the stuff she’s made of: “You and I and all UP law graduates virtually pursue the same career path after graduation—we try and get the highest salary we can get.” I wonder what the other UP graduates, of law or not, would have to say to that. But that she did, that she keeps doing, turning to the highest bidder faster than the speed of her mouth. It’s the story of her life. Her post in an international juridical body, which has made her even more insufferable than she already is, is not a measure of her ability to show a mastery of the law, it is a measure of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s capacity to reward slavish behavior.

But even if Santiago were an exemplar of law or a paragon of ethical behavior, it still would not justify the kinds of eruptions she is now routinely given to at the slightest provocation, or at the slightest sight of the prosecution, which—to her—are one and the same thing. It’s not merely that you have to wonder how she’ll comport herself in the international court, the thought alone is enough to make you cringe. It’s also that you know there are exemplars of law and paragons of ethical behavior who do not do what she does. Which is why they are exemplars of law and paragons of ethical behavior in the first place.

Ka Pepe Diokno was such a one, topping the bar exams (and the accounting exams at the same time) but forswearing the career path of trying to get the highest salary a lawyer could get and embracing instead the career path of getting the lowest pay, if not nothing at all, for the highest good of serving the weak and powerless. He was not given to arrogance, he was given to humility. For good reason: Arrogance is not feistiness, it is bad manners. Humility is not weakness, it is strength.

Before she was through with Aguirre last week, Santiago went on to rant about the prosecution as a whole: “Ang yayabang niyo! Mga gago naman (kayo)!” What can one say?

A perfect summation, of one so deserving of contempt.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Congress, corona impeachment, Estrada impeachment, Government, judiciary, Miriam Santiago, politics, Renato corona, Senate, Supreme Court, Vitaliano Aguirre
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