When the Estrada impeachment trial took place, I was a pre-adolescent girl swooning over boy bands. Which is not to say that I didn’t want to get involved in what my older cousins were talking about—I was just naturally cast into the sidelines because of my age. As a college student today, I’m getting that chance to be in, rather I’ve thrust myself into “the thick” of the impeachment proceedings of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Here is the perfect time to see how the idea of democracy and democratic processes, as discussed in books and political science lectures, play out in real life. And watching the dynamics of the Corona impeachment trial—the moves and countermoves of the prosecution and defense camps, as well as of the rulings and orders of the Supreme Court relative to the impeachment proceedings; the actuations of the senator-judges during the trial; the “running” commentary of President Aquino and his officials on the trial’s developments; and even the terrified faces of the witnesses on the stand—certainly gives one a lot to think about. And, of course, write about.
A point that always gets emphasized in lectures on how a democratic government works is that its three different branches—meaning, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary—are coequal, have separate powers, and act as a “check and balance” on one or the other. I understand this to mean, in essence, that when one branch is messing up on its job, either one of the other two, within the scope of the powers vested in them by the Constitution, can step in and rein the wayward branch back into the righteous path (no pun intended). That said, I have to admit that in the run-up to the impeachment trial, I was disappointed with what I felt at the time was—for lack of a better term—the bullying by officials and allies of the Aquino administration of the Judiciary. We are taught that in the search for justice, due process dictates that a man should be presumed “innocent until proven guilty.” But how could the many acrid media statements from Malacañang spokespersons, the prosecution team, and even the President himself be in the spirit of due process?
But after a few weeks into the trial, what I saw bothered me, to say the least. Bungling and bumbling as they have been from the start, the prosecutors struggled to push their case forward, though remaining consistent in reiterating that theirs is principally a search for truth and justice. For its part, the defense lawyers spent a large amount of time putting up all kinds of roadblocks, in the form of legal technicalities, thus slowing down or needlessly complicating the impeachment proceedings. As one of those elder cousins of mine says, if Chief Justice Corona truly has nothing to hide, he should just lay out everything and let the facts speak for themselves.
Making this situation worse was the procession of incredibly uncooperative witnesses, most likely given “guidance” by allies of the defense team to make it difficult for the impeachment court to ferret out the truth—from the Supreme Court’s clerk of court who “at first didn’t, but did after all” bring Corona’s statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) to the trial, to the PSBank officials out of whom senator-judges had to squeeze information on Corona’s bank accounts. It’s mind-boggling that a process which should be so straightforward has turned into a discombobulating exhibition of legalese fireworks on TV.
But what I find most disturbing is the Chief Justice’s response to the impeachment proceedings. Instead of giving public officials a supreme lesson on transparency, he asked the Supreme Court, which he heads to this day, to stop the trial. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I say that this is not the action of a man who is eager to cooperate in the search for the truth. And while I do wholeheartedly still believe in giving the accused the benefit of the doubt, I don’t think I can be faulted for finding it increasingly difficult at this time to give the Chief Justice such benefit.
I’m not a lawmaker, I’m not a lawyer, heck, I’m not even a law student yet. But I think anyone who takes a pretty good look at what’s happening will agree that the search for truth and justice shouldn’t be this drawn-out and overly complicated. It’s getting to be frustrating watching the impeachment proceedings, which have made it clearer and clearer with every passing trial day that some public servants think that ordinary Filipinos need not be told the truth about their high public officials, let alone their Chief Justice.
Look, Chief Justice Corona, Your Honor, we don’t want your money, we don’t want your perorations, we don’t want your photo ops. All we want from you is the truth.
Denise G. Banaag, 19, studies at the Ateneo de Manila University.
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