After 43 sessions within the span of 5 months, the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona has finally ended with an overwhelming vote for a “guilty” verdict. So much has been said about how the prosecution cut corners and violated the most sacred parts of the Philippine Constitution just to demonize the respondent in the public’s eyes, but not a lot has been said about the fact that this was ignored by majority of the judges. What they highlighted instead was Corona’s omission of some of his savings on his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) and made it look like such a horrible and despicable crime. Likewise, not a lot is being said about what will happen now.
It’s a good question. What will happen to the Philippine Republic now that the perceived enemy of the state has been removed? Most of us know the answer to that one. Of course the status quo will prevail. President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino had succeeded in removing someone he perceived as a major blockage to his corruption reform drive and someone who happened to play a key role in the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to its rightful owners. There will only be a handful of people from the opposition who will attempt to criticize BS Aquino lest they risk attracting his ire and be persecuted the same way as Corona was.
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Another good question is, what will happen to Corona? Will he eventually join the private sector or will he retire? I’d like to think that Corona should be able to easily move on from all this. After being publicly humiliated for months by the President and his allies, there should be nothing more that can hurt him now. He should come out of this a stronger individual. His supporters understand that what happened to him was a political assassination and do not see him as a lesser man despite his removal from office. Only lesser people would think otherwise. If what he is saying is the truth — that he did not steal his savings, then he should be able to walk with his head held up high since he does not have anything to be ashamed of.
There is no reason Corona has to come out of this the loser. In fact, he fought for the Filipino people. He knew there was a risk that he would be removed but he still didn’t go down without a fight. What happened to him stressed the importance of respecting the rule of law and the consequences of not doing so.
Corona stayed long enough to see to it that the ruling on the distribution of the Hacienda Luisita was finalized. The beneficiaries — the hardworking farmers — will remember Corona as an honorable man for they have waited a quarter of a century for this to happen. It was BS Aquino’s late mother, former President Cory Aquino who made sure that the land stayed with the Conjuangco family that long. Hacienda Luisita is indeed, one of Corona’s legacies. The second one would have to be his challenge to all public servants to divulge their savings in whatever currency it is kept. Now the spotlight is on Corona’s accusers and the public is waiting for them to do the right thing. Third and last, because of the impeachment trial, a lot more people are aware of BS Aquino’s real motives and it seems mostly self-serving.
Corona’s impeachment trial has certainly taught me a lot of things about Filipinos and human nature in general. There are things in life that are beyond our control and we need to be careful about how to deal with these lest these consume us. I think the whole impeachment exercise can only be good for the Filipino people if some can finally accept that there were things that should not have been done. If the people who were against Corona continue justifying that the violations perpetrated by the prosecution were worth it because of the outcome, then our society will certainly regress instead of progress.
Here are some other things that I got from watching the whole impeachment proceeding:
1. Do not fall for traps — In his own trial, Corona was tricked into testifying against himself. The prosecutors and Senators kept emphasizing earlier on that the impeachment trial is sui generis or the impeachment court is unique in its purpose and that the proceedings are not judicial in nature but political. According to them, this meant that they would observe liberality in applying the rules of court. While they were very liberal in tolerating the violations of the prosecution team, they became very strict in interpreting the mandate of the law when it was time to hand out the verdict.
This demonstrated that what seemed like a friendly invitation by the prosecutors and Senators then for Corona to show up was just a trick to bait him into incriminating himself. We will recall that after Corona’s testimony, the prosecution had changed its tune and decided that they will not cross-examine him anymore. The Senators for their part were suddenly no longer interested in uncovering the truth despite all the obvious holes in the prosecution’s allegations.
The best defense is Article III Section 17 of the Bill of Rights: No person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself. Never show up on the invitation of the so-called “distinguished” gentlemen of the impeachment court.
2. Put on your best poker face — While we understand that the months of relentless black propaganda thrown by the prosecution with the help of various media organizations took its toll on Corona, it was his nervous breakdown in the court that probably helped convince some Senators that either he was putting on an act or he was weak emotionally and physically. I personally hate it when I cry in the middle of having a heated debate with someone because I come across as weak. It’s the same thing with what happened to Corona. He could have avoided this had he not spoken for three hours and made himself a bit emotional towards the end; or if he had allowed his lawyers do most of the talking; or as mentioned above, use Article III Section 17.
Let’s face it; while we know what we are going through, it is sometimes hard for some people to realize what we are going through. It is even futile to make our detractors understand how we feel especially when they already have a pre-conceived notion of what kind of a person we are. Besides, we should never ever let our opponents know how we really feel. We should keep them guessing. Never let them know you are affected by their bullying. Bullies will keep bullying you when they know that what they are doing is having an effect on you.
3. Be ruthless — This is the only way you will win. The prosecution showed no mercy from the beginning until the end. It was obvious that Corona’s emotional plea to be understood fell on deaf ears because the prosecution was singularly focused on removing him. Some members of the public could see that the prosecutors were very hostile with the witnesses but that was all a tactic to rattle the person into admitting guilt or to test their credibility. Some Senators like Franklin Drilon and Teofisto Guingona did not hide their animosity towards Corona from the very beginning but refused to inhibit themselves as judges. Even the very blatant conflict of interest did not stop Edgardo Angara from acting as judge and issuing a guilty verdict. He saw his son’s role as prosecutor as a non-issue.
The defense may have been very honorable and laudable for their professionalism but they were dealing with a bunch of unscrupulous men and women who had the advantage of playing on their home court with their own set of rules. In the end, the defense team should have used caution in dealing with double-crossers who did not honor their words. In the end, it was the foul-mouthed prosecutor, Rodolfo Fariñas who hammered the last nail on the coffin. It was what appealed to the crowd and the judges.
4. Know yourself and your enemies – in general; one should know one’s weakness and strength before going into battle. You should also do the same with your enemies. Corona had the people almost cheering for him on the first day of his testimony. Just before he felt sick and walked out of the courtroom, he challenged his accusers to join him in signing waivers to disclose their own dollar accounts. Most people were impressed with his maneuver. The presiding officer had to bang the gavel to demand order in the court because some people where even clapping. Unfortunately, by then, the pressure of being on the witness stand had put a lot of strain on his health and caused him to do something that insulted the Senators who, as it turned out later, obviously could not move on from the perceived slight.
5. Be careful with who you associate with — sometimes people ask why bad things happen to relatively good people. More often than not it’s simply due to the party they associated themselves with. The whole country knows why Corona became the target of impeachment complaints. It was not because members of the House of Representatives were really concerned about his SALN. It couldn’t be because it is assumed that they were not privy to his accounts because of the bank secrecy law. Even Senator Juan Ponce Enrile confirmed this when he said “It seemed that the case was being built up only after the charges were actually filed.”
Yes, the impeachment complaints were filed because the complainants thought Corona just had to go simply because he was former President Gloria Arroyo’s appointee. In the Philippines, one’s connection can make you and also break you. There’s just nothing in between.
These lessons may be too late to save Corona but it is not too late for other individuals who may become the next target of the Aquino government. Everyone needs to be very careful nowadays because the law can’t seem to protect anybody anymore. Since Corona, who held the Chief Justice position could not even get due process, what more ordinary citizens? As former Senator Francisco Tatad wrote in his recent article, we are getting closer to authoritarianism:
With Corona’s conviction and removal, PNoy is now virtually in control of the three branches of government. He may not have what it takes to exercise such control, but there will be no shortage of people who will want to do it for him. This was clear enough in the Senate trial, where representatives of supposedly independent constitutional bodies and agencies, such as the Ombudsman, the Commission on Audit and the Anti-Money Laundering Council, slavishly anticipated his bidding.
Corona’s impeachment and conviction accomplished the destruction of the tripartite system. With the surrender of the entire Congress, and the Supreme Court being “chilled” and spooked by Corona’s removal and by Justice Mariano del Castillo’s pending impeachment, PNoy has morphed into a strongman. Many had hoped the Senate would have the courage and the wisdom to turn back the rush toward authoritarianism. This was not to be.
That should send a chill down everybody’s spine.
[Photo courtesy Yahoo! News.]
In life, things are not always what they seem.