In scarlet velvet robes | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

In scarlet velvet robes

The senator-judges’ fashion statement is loud and clear. They wear scarlet velvet robes meant to inspire respect and awe among those who watch them do their job as judges in the ongoing impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. They have to have that kagalanggalang (respectable, dignified, distinguished) look that would set them apart from the rest of us. They are to be called “Your Honors” or “The Honorable” so and so.

In December last year when the senator-judges posed for their first official photograph that became a banner photo of the Inquirer, the robes they were wearing were fire-engine red. (Did the designer do some basic research on the history of this judicial costume?)  The senator-judges did not seem happy with the color and cut.  Harsh on the eyes and baduy, if you ask me. And so all the judicial robes, as they are called, were promptly changed.


When the senator-judges solemnly emerged at the impeachment trial for the first session in January, they had on them a certain sheen. The robes were velvet this time, and the color was not just any red, it was on the dark side of red. The color was scarlet or crimson which is the color of the sky at sundown. Those scarlet robes the senator-judges now continue to wear. The color is not the faded scarlet of the masa in T-shirts – they with the trembling hopes and shattered dreams, they who fling themselves on the Poong Hesus Nazareno of Quiapo. The senator-judges’ velvety scarlet suggests royalty, pomp and pageantry. It conjures up biblical themes and reminds about the glory of sacrifice and martyrdom.

And so every time the senator-judges glide into the courtroom day after day, week after week, we, with our mouths agape, wait with great expectation, eager to be confounded by some inspiring salutary moments the senator-judges might provide. Or be dazzled by the brilliance of their utterances.


But what did we get from the impeachment court during the last several sessions? Foul froth in the mouth, venomous saliva and obnoxious behavior that would shock even the shock jocks.

Call it synchronicity or what, but when Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada singled out prosecution lawyer Vitaliano Aguirre II whom he saw covering his ears in his little corner while Senator-Judge Miriam Santiago was perorating, ululating and bashing the prosecution lawyers (for the nth time), I knew at once that something – bad or good – would come to pass.

In street-corner Pinoy-ese, naghalo ang balat sa tinalupan. In the French and English language we might call it a denouement, albeit in a plot’s midstream. It was a defining moment we will not forget.

Defining because what happened defined and revealed many things to us. Not about the man on trial, not about the prosecution or the defense, but what was under those judicial robes. For many that I have spoken to, the shocking thing was not just Santiago’s verbal acrobatics and paroxysms, it was also the feebleness of the senator-judges to restrain (not publicly, of course) one of their own.

It was Santiago herself who had said sometime back that if all the TV cameras were removed from the courtroom, the impeachment trial would be finished in no time. Meaning that there would be no playing to the gallery on the part of the parties involved, no grandstanding. And yet it was she who has been hogging the limelight for many days – as legal lecturer par excellence, shock jock and screaming banshee rolled into one.

This is not to say that Santiago was all bluster and blah-blah. She had indeed strong points to get across to the uninitiated and especially to the prosecution guys who are often lost in the woods.  In fairness to the prosecution, they have been bravely and humbly taking it on the chin, until…

Alas, what brilliance Santiago’s points might have, has been darkened by the bats in her belfry. And for many who have been watching the trial on TV or in the Senate, Santiago’s coequals appear to be either terrified of her or cozying up to her, or they don’t care about the sensibilities of the public at all.  Their office is sacrosanct and beyond reach to us, the hoi polloi.


Or they have this covenant to look out for one another or look the other way (play deaf) when something like Santiago’s tsunami of words assault our ears. We all saw how Senator-Judge Pia Cayetano moved with lightning speed for the censure of Aguirre. The haste.

Called to explain, Aguirre could have gotten away by saying he was suffering from a chronic ear ache, that he did not mean to be disrespectful. Instead he said what many of us were dying to say – that respect begets respect.

Aguirre was ready to be detained. After yesterday’s caucus, presiding judge, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile announced that Aguirre will be given only a verbal reprimand.

Santiago, by the way, is due to take her oath (tomorrow, March 9, I was told) as one of the new member-judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague.  But she reportedly wants to finish the impeachment trial. An officer of the Philippine coalition that had lobbied hard for the Philippines to ratify the ICC’s Rome Statute told me that it was the Department of Foreign Affairs that nominated Santiago. The coalition does not nominate.

Here’s hoping that the ICC would get a jolt from Santiago’s participation, and that the despots, tyrants and terrorists accused of crimes against humanity would get their just desserts from her.

With due respect, I present (arrrrg!) commonly mispronounced words at the hearings, even on TV: honorable, circumstances, category, organization, testimony, precedence, applicable, cemetery.

I rest my case.

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TAGS: chief justice renato corona, corona impeachment, Human Face, Impeachment Court, impeachment trial, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, opinion, Senate, senator-judges
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