Well, not really. Hacienda Luisita Inc (HLI) is not a publicly-listed company and therefore we can only do thought experiments on how the price of some hypothetical HLI shares floating in the equity market would react to the news of Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr’s removal as head of the prosecution team in the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. The removal of Tupas as lead prosecutor is not really surprising. What is really more remarkable is the amount of time he was actually allowed to continue as prosecution lead. In that sense, I will have to respectfully beg to disagree with the Manila Standard Today report where the news of Tupas’s getting the boot broke. The author of the report observed “that SERIOUS cracks are showing in the prosecution panel…”
That’s a bit of an understatement given that this observation was reported only today.
Those cracks had already become glaringly evident on the first week of the trial. Recall what I wrote on Day 2 of [the] Corona Impeachment…
…despite an army of lawyers engaged by the prosecution and an even bigger army of media hacks scattering factoids surrounding â€œevidenceâ€ against Corona over the last several weeks, House prosecutors came up virtually empty-handed on Day 2 of the Senate impeachment proceedings â€” a day that turned out to be a disaster for Coronaâ€™s prosecutors.
Indeed, what unfolded in the days and weeks following Day 2 were all but mere re-iterations and validations of that first impression — lack of real evidence, inept reasoning and argumentation, amateur — bordering on incompetent — lawyering, and dysfunctional teamwork all on the part of the prosecution team. All four were already exhibited by Tupas and his band of “prosecutors” on Day Two. And on those four characteristics, the prosecution team remained amazingly consistent since. The only thing Tupas and his henchmen managed to achieve was, in the words of former Senator Francisco “Kit” Tatad, to help make “rock stars” of the defense team and the presiding judge Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and turn their spokespeople into media hartthrobs.
The sidelining of Tupas by his own team is therefore not really something I’d consider noteworthy now. What would be a more interesting subject to explore is why Tupas had been tolerated for so long by both sides in this trial. It is actually quite revealing that Tupas was himself shown to be adamant about retaining his role as the top prosecutor in this trial (again quoting from the same Manila Standard Today report)…
â€œLast weekend, the prosecutors finally decided to tell off Niel to leave Article 3 alone,â€ the [unnamed] source said.
Outnumbered, the source said, Tupas acceeded but said: â€œOkay. But I will still be there to supervise them.â€
â€œDoesnâ€™t he get it? People donâ€™t want him, but heâ€™s forcing himself on us,â€ [an also unnamed] frustrated prosecutor said.
Could the barnacle-like stickiness to the role Tupas exhibits be the outcome of some sort of really powerful motivating force? Some intriguing clues around what might be the source of this motivation had already come to light thanks to the usual groundbreaking insight provided by Inquirer.net columnist Rigoberto Tiglao last week…
…Tiglao reveals what appears to be the source of Tupasâ€™s almost sociopathic motivation to crucify Coronaâ€¦
Hacienda Luisita Inc.â€™s law firm has been the Belo Gozon Elma Parel Asuncion & Lucila Law Offices. Niel and his wife [Yvonne Angeli] joined the firm straight from law school in 1999, becoming junior partners in a few years. â€œAs lawyers, Niel and his wife are creations of that firm,â€ a law-school classmate of his said.
While Tupas officially left the firm when he was elected congressman in 2007, it is widely known in Congress that it is still â€œhis Firm,â€ on whose staff he has continued to rely for his legal research and advice.
According to Tiglao, Tupasâ€™s firm is already involved in the battle to â€œpersuadeâ€ the Supreme Court to â€œreconsiderâ€ its resolution to subject Hacienda Luisita to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Tiglao cited how the start of their involvement was a virtual go-signal for the impeachment complaint to be â€œrammed through Congressâ€. At stake in this effort to protect Hacienda Luisita from expropriation is virtually the entire fortune of the Cojuangco clan which can only be secured if the vast estate is spared from the CARP or if its owners get the payout they demand.
If the [Supreme] Court buckles under their demand, it would result in the biggest payment to a private entity by government in our history, the biggest revenue ever of any Philippine law firm ever because of its contingent-fee contract with Hacienda Luisita, and immense wealth for the Tupases, if theyâ€”and most probably they haveâ€”still have profit-sharing rights in their law firm.
I had been puzzled over Tupas and his colleaguesâ€™ ferocity against Corona, the likes of which I had seen only in the eyes of communist firebrands or of people out to avenge their murdered kin. But now I understand why they have thrown all civility out the window, and had even wanted to drag his wife, his children and even his in-laws to a modern version of a mobâ€™s stoning. Many billions of reasons, it seems.
Perhaps then, given the stakes involved, it comes as no surprise that everyone is treading carefully so as not to upset Tupas, evidently the anointed executor of the Corona impeachment.
Could it be possible that Tupas desperately needs to be seen to be the go-to person who is on top of — and will take full credit for — the now increasingly unlikely conviction of Corona? After all, he needs some basis to justify an entitlement to a good share of the fees his firm could be earning from the Hacienda Luisita windfall. If he ends up the goat in this quaint exercise, what would be his claim to the loot?
Tupas should get over this hypothetical greed of his and become more of a team player. If the prosecution fails and Corona is acquitted, everyone gets nothing and the Tarlac mafia who allegedly fund his little operation lose the family jewels forever. Everyone loses. But if Tupas finds it in his little black heart to step back and allow better lawyers to run the prosecution show, the chances of the Cojuangcos coming out of this laughing all the way to the bank improve, and with this outcome remains the cash cow of the law firm that is his gravy train. Even if Tupas is relegated to second fiddle, at least there could be some winners in that scenario among his camp, and he might still manage to claw in some of the loot for himself. Conviction and some loot is still better than no conviction and zero loot, right Junior? [Note that the use of the term “loot” here refers to a hypothetical notion of what might be at stake in the impeachment trial.]
The irony in all this that escapes the vacuous sensibilities of all who campaigned for the ouster of Corona is in how they clamoured for his resignation on the basis of some sort of “delicadeza” he supposedly owes the Filipino people. And yet here is the self-anointed Delicadeza Crusader himself exhibiting the lack of the very thing he continues to pontificate about from his lofty perch.
See Mr Tupas Junior, perhaps you now understand why it is difficult for Filipino politicians to simply resign even in the midst of some sort of public clamour to do so. For many of them, there are bigger things at stake than one’s face. You of all people should be getting the best appreciation of that simple reality by now.
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