The first week of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona may have opened in fits and starts, but what is undeniable is that it has now acquired a life of its own.
Note for instance is that for all the protestations of Chief Justice Corona’s defense team that the Rule of Law is being trammeled in the whole exercise, they’re the ones who appear ready and adept at invoking its finer intricacies to their advantage.
Yet, the defense may be one step ahead right now in form but what the prosecution has in its favor is substance.
Now, I do not wish to go into the merits of the prosecution’s claim that SALNs already made public, once examined detail by detail, will show not only Chief Justice Corona’s utter failure to abide by the law’s disclosure requirement’s but also how he allegedly amassed unexplained wealth over that span of time it took him to transform himself from being a lowly chief of staff of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to being the primus inter pares of the High Court.
I shall leave it to the prosecution witnesses to testify on those points beginning today.
But once the key to Chief Justice Corona’s SALNs has been turned over to the Senate — no less a triumph of the constitutional proposition that an impeachment court is itself a constitutional institution higher because unique in its function than the country’s highest court — the cause for public accountability has, in a very real sense, been already won.
I don’t know if the High Court can at this point still risk a showdown with the impeachment court convened by the Senate. For one, whether the high and mighty justices of the Supreme Court like it or not, the televised (and live-streamed!) historic trial is a blockbuster everyone wants to see.
After all, for the very first time, the veil of mystery that has shrouded an often misunderstood institution has been lifted. Not only that: it’s very leader, no less than the Chief Justice himself, is being placed under intense public scrutiny.
A new Temporary Restraining Order from Mr. Corona’s dependable friends in his own court, this time aimed at torpedoing his impeachment trial, is sure to backfire the way it did when the High Court tried to open the door for Mrs. Macacapal-Arroyo so she can fly out of the country and escape public accountability.
The immorality of the whole sordid affair riled the public so much; there was nothing but public ridicule for Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, whose feigned illness was so obvious that it immediately elicited devilish comparisons with the popular Japanese anime character Naruto from among the ranks of savvy netizens.
This is what agent provocateurs like Alan Paguia and Homobono Adaza are up against – a public that has, over the years since the February 1986 revolution, undergone no less than a revolution in political consciousness.
For this reason, Messieurs Paguia and Adaza, no matter how hard they try to outdo each another in their profession of unblemished fidelity to the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice, will never get the respect they so desperately want from the public.
Your ordinary citizen has become better at reading between the lines.
It is also for this same reason that the former First Gentleman, Mike Arroyo, cannot expect to be taken seriously by your average jeepney driver, his solemn oath to the incorruptibility of the good Chief Justice notwithstanding.
In case Mr. Arroyo has forgotten, he himself is facing a slew of corruption complaints before the Ombudsman while his wife, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the gracious benefactor to the Chief Justice, is herself in prison for charges she now has to fight off in court.
If at all, whoever was the PR guru who advised him to make public the case for the innocence of the Chief Justice should be fired for giving the utterly counter-intuitive advice to Mr. Arroyo. His public statements only serve to solidify in the public’s mind Mr. Corona’s close association with the Arroyos.
In any case, not even the prosecutors are spared from public scrutiny.And rightly so. After all, they represent the interests of the people in the impeachment proceedings. They cannot afford to commit blunder after blunder in the highly-charged atmosphere of a live trial. And they know it.
So Justice Cuevas is a necessary foil to the prosecutors. His presence in the impeachment trial means that in the end, the Chief Justice cannot claim to have been denied due process. He was given the choice to get the best defense lawyers in town. And he sure got them.
The impeachment trial of the Chief Justice is good for us.
More than a spectacle, it is an education in civic responsibility. The lawyers may have the run of things in the impeachment court but they must realize too that the corrupt legacy left behind by the Chief Justice’s chief benefactor, Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, has turned lawyers of all of us. The public wants the full force of the law applied to her. And there are no better lessons in legal and constitutional responsibility than a former President sent to jail for her criminal misdeeds and her favorite Chief Justice tried for betrayal of public trust, corruption and culpable violation of the constitution.*
You may also read this essay as it first appeared in my column for the Iloilo News today here.