Tobias Tiangco struck a heroic pose last Monday. He had broken ranks with his fellows, he said, to expose a deep-seated wrong. That was the impeachment of Renato Corona. That was not the product of judicious deliberation, that was the product of reckless conspiracy led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.
He himself, Tiangco said, would have gone along with it “eyes closed” but balked upon seeing it had no “probable cause.” He added: “I understand probable cause as the probability that the accused did what he is being accused of. How could I be convinced if there was no document or proof being presented?”
Tiangco struck a heroic pose last Monday, but he succeeded only in looking like a clown. At the very least, all he showed with his appearance for the defense was how different Belmonte’s House is from Corona’s Court. In Corona’s Court, everyone is banned from telling the world what he knows. In Belmonte’s House, everyone is free to howl his head off at the moon. In Corona’s Court, everyone must bow down to the wishes of the crown. In Belmonte’s House, everyone may felicitously follow his conscience. Corona’s Court courts contempt, Belmonte’s House houses freedom.
While at this, Belmonte’s House sounds like a respectable domicile, Corona’s Court sounds like a motel in Pasig.
But Tiangco of course goes beyond Belmonte to suggest that it’s P-Noy himself who’s behind the conspiracy. Which follows the Corona-Arroyo camp’s mantra that P-Noy is so power-mad he wants to control the three branches of government and will do everything in his power to do it. Do they have the right person in mind? Hell, are they in their right minds?
Who are they describing, P-Noy or Gloria Arroyo? Who was so power-mad she stole the vote and clung on to power like a leech? Who wielded power so ruthlessly she quashed every impeachment bid against her—after decreeing that no government official could testify she stole the vote—and even evicted antagonistic elected officials from their posts? Jojo Binay knows that very well, he nearly became a victim of it after Ronnie Puno bore down on Makati with soldiers to try to oust him. Fortunately, Binay had balls and dug in for a firefight. Puno blinked, and withdrew.
At the very most, all Tiangco showed with his argument that he found no “probable cause” was that he doesn’t read the newspapers or watch the news on TV. Well, Navotas now knows better in time for the next elections. Why should you confine yourself solely to the documents the impeachment bidders submit to know what’s happening? You know—or should know, being a congressman who ought to be abreast of his times—that the Supreme Court had issued a TRO countermanding Malacañang’s order for Immigration to stop Arroyo from leaving the country. You know—or should know, holding as you do a post that requires knowledge of reading and writing—that Malacañang had been accusing Corona, Arroyo’s midnight appointee, of ruling prejudicially in her favor. And the impeachment comes to you as a surprise?
It’s one thing to disagree with impeachment bidders’ arguments and say that they seem to be weak. It’s another to say there’s no probable cause. The one is the product of some thought, the other of plain ignorance. Indeed, it’s one thing to say that the TRO is an isolated incident and does not constitute a pattern of bias justifying impeachment. It’s another to say an impeachment case has been sprung upon Congress out of nowhere and the congressmen are being stampeded into acquiescence. The one is the product of personal judgment, the other is projecting one’s ignorance upon others.
The fact that Tiangco was willing to sign the impeachment complaint “eyes closed” before he changed his mind indicates the quality of his mind, before and after change. It does not indict others, it indicts him.
But all this is a tempest in a teacup. Which brings us to what’s gone horribly wrong with the impeachment trial. It’s become, well, a tempest in a teacup. It’s become as important to our lives as something happening in Ghana. It’s become as central to our lives as a theological debate on how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. All that buildup about the defense’s coming-out party only to produce this? Only to bring us back to technicalities?
Tiangco’s tacit proposition that to see probable cause you have to ignore the world and concentrate only on the documents of impeachment is all of a piece with the defense’s tacit proposition that to see probable culpability you have to ignore the world and concentrate only on what the impeachment court allows you to see. In order to see probable crime, you have to forget that Corona is corrupt, harbors hidden wealth in dollars, and has steered Supreme Court decisions in Arroyo’s favor—these may not be discussed—and focus only on laying the predicate, talking like lawyers, and crying “Waah!” In order to see probable evil, you have to forget what the Basas have revealed about Corona and wife, you have to listen only to the ululations of allowable witnesses like Tiangco.
Elsewhere in the world, that is not called rule of law, that is called the tail wagging the dog. It is not reality that must bow down to the demands of the impeachment court, it is the impeachment court that must bow down to the demands of reality. It is not social discourse that must conform to the marginal concerns of the impeachment court, it is the impeachment court that must yield to the central concerns of social discourse. It is not law that defines justice, it is justice that defines the law.
The world has moved on while the defense was sleeping, or preparing its brief. The impeachment court doesn’t bestir itself to catch up with it and it will soon find itself, if indeed it hasn’t done so already:
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