I know what the Philippines needs. We need more people like Senator Miriam Santiago. We need more people like her who won’t think twice about saying the truth. Senator Santiago doesn’t care about what other people think of her because she has the balls to tell them outright when they are being stupid. And the lady-Senator did just that when she said during the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona that the prosecution team is “an INSULT to the intelligence of educated Filipinos”.
Senator Santiago’s style is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some Filipinos frown upon the way Senator Miriam handles herself. They say that she is loud, arrogant, and intolerant. However, most people would disagree with that view. In berating the prosecution, Senator Miriam is doing exactly what a lot of Filipinos would like to do but can’t because they are not in the position to do so.
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The prosecution, composed mostly of Congressmen allied with President Noynoy Aquino deserves every bit of the tongue-lashing they get from the Senator Judges. In filing the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Corona without enough preparation, they have wrought havoc upon the country’s institutions, not to mention put the branches of government in potential conflict with one another and possibly causing a constitutional crisis. What is worse is that they want the Senators to help them accomplish their dirty deeds. They have also distracted everyone from dealing with the real issues facing our country today. Now PNoy is getting away with his mediocre performance while in office. The prosecution had no qualms about destroying Chief Justice Corona’s reputation but they are now crying foul over Senator Judges like Senator Santiago giving them in-your-face lectures.
Senator Santiago’s detractors are claiming that she is very impatient. But who has time for the prosecution’s lies and deceptive stunts? Indeed, the trial is moving too slow for everyone’s liking not because of her “boorish lectures and pointless interruptions” but because of the prosecution’s incompetence. Everything the Senator has said so far about the prosecution has been spot on. A lot of people appreciate the wisdom and knowledge she injects during an otherwise boring and pointless exercise.
What caused Senator Santiago’s hypertension to go sky high again in the recent days’ proceedings is the realization that the prosecution is actually relying on the impeachment court to subpoena all their witnesses, including associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. It emerged that none of the prosecution’s witnesses are willing to testify voluntarily. Their problem seems evident in the way most of their witnesses turn hostile against them after being subject to the way they ask their questions. Even presiding officer, Senator Enrile noticed it:
“I even aid them now and then by asking questions because the manner by which they grill their witnesses is really objectionable. Sometimes, it seems I am already acting on their side as their lawyer so they cannot say I am biased against the House of Representatives,” he fumed.
It has not been a very good experience for most of the witnesses so far as they also get a grilling not just from the prosecution who do not know how to handle their own witnesses, but also from the defense counsels who do not have a choice but to question their credibility.
Unfortunately, because the impeachment court decided to allow Senator Judges to ask “clarificatory” questions, which is also a source of delays, the witnesses also get a grilling from them. In a number of occasions, some Senator Judges who seem biased towards the prosecution even act very hostile to the witnesses. Who in their right mind would volunteer for such a thankless task? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t want private details about me, which has nothing to do with the case against Chief Justice Corona, divulged on national television.
Senator Santiago’s detractors should give her a break. It’s not just her who has pointed out the prosecution’s weakness. A few of the senator judges have spoken out against the prosecution too:
Senator-judges on Day 24 of the impeachment trial told the prosecution team to get their act together and stop relying [on] the court to do the job for them.
This means the prosecution should produce witnesses on their own instead of requesting subpoena all the time.
Senator-judges advised the prosecution to talk to Sereno first instead of using compulsory process of the impeachment court.
“Bakit hindi niyo muna imbitahin si Justice Sereno? Kayong prosecution dapat kinausap niyo yung gusto niyong testigo at dalhin dito,” Enrile said.
“Nalalagay po kami sa alanganin. Tuwing may gusto kayong tumestigo, hinihingan niyo kami ng subpoena,” Senator Francis Escudero likewise told the prosecution.
Senator Panfilo Lacson added, “Bakit niyo kami isinusubo sa hindi niyo kayang gawin?”
The other senator judges may have been more subtle than Senator Miriam but after several weeks of trial that seemed to not have gone anywhere fast, subtlety is the last thing the prosecution needs. They constantly have to be reminded about the rules of the court or what they need to do to get things going. This is very frustrating especially for the judges who have to pay attention to all the little details in the proceedings.
Senator Santiago’s irritation with the prosecution is a reminder to all of us that we are not yet a mature society. In a mature society, members of the community do not need to be reminded of the rules all the time. They use their common sense, which is not something that most Filipinos have.
So what makes some Filipinos a bit squeamish about how Senator Santiago treats the prosecution? Writer James Fallows in his article A Damaged Culture: A New Philippines? made a very astute observation of Filipino ethic in general. In it he wrote: “The Filipino ethic of delicadeza, their equivalent of saving face, encourages people to raise unpleasant topics indirectly, or, better still, not to raise them at all.” Bingo.
With most of our ASEAN neighbors moving ahead in full steam, we don’t have time for misguided “delicadeza”. It is high time we get rid of this notion of saving face. We do more damage to our society when we turn a blind eye to our public servants’ shenanigans. Some Filipinos think that supporting a public servant they voted for means not criticizing him. Like what I have said before, there is a misguided notion among Filipinos that their public servants will eventually do what they are being paid to do. This is wrong and this is part of the reasons things never go according to plan in the Philippines.
To be sure, one of the reasons why Filipinos are not used to pointing out their public servants’ shortfalls is because of this belief that they are not supposed to be questioning authority. Where they got that belief is another story.
In any organization, there is a system of checks and balances in place that ensures that things work according to how they were meant to. If any part of that system fails, it would take a while before the goal of the organization can be met or, in the worst case, the goal will not be met at all. Included in those checks and balances are the low-ranking members who need to see to it that the people who make the decisions are doing their jobs.
A community or a society is no different from any organization. We all have a role to play in running the organization. Being a member is not just about enjoying the privileges of being a part of it. It is important that we perform our roles as community members by calling the attention of those concerned and make sure they are doing their part in fixing what is broken.
We should all applaud Senator Miriam Santiago for showing us how to be an effective critic. Let’s face it, anyone can criticize but not every vocal person is in a powerful position to make a difference. Our public servants just need to toughen up. If they can’t handle criticism, they have the option to resign.
In life, things are not always what they seem.