Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Corona's Travails

By some misguided sense of intellectual disdain and arrogance, I had automatically assumed that our household would be one among the few in Lianga who would spare the time (when they can) to tune in their television sets on most afternoons to the live coverage of the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona which happens to be on its 14th day today.  Just by asking around, I learned, to my shame, that there are many individuals and even families, much more than few I had thought, who were interested enough to watch portions, if not the entirety, of the proceedings on an almost daily basis.

Of course, the reasons why people here are willing to spend hours watching legal experts argue legal questions and technicalities in what amounts to a quasi-judicial proceeding varies from person to person. The lawyers, would-be lawyers, and self-proclaimed legal pundits see the impeachment trial as a chance to observe the best legal minds in the country strut their stuff live on national television.  They revel in the legal posturing and maneuvering, the arcane technical language and procedures, and, most of all, in the thrusting and parrying of what can be seen as gladiatorial combat albeit on a more mental and logical level yet no less as fierce and deadly or as physically demanding as the original life and death contests of the ancient Roman arena.

The less legally attuned minds here are more fascinated by the high drama and spectacle of this event cut into daily episodes served piecemeal everyday like their favorite prime time telenovelas or television soap operas.  There is constant discussion and commentary on what can be seen and heard by the cameras - both inside and outside the Senate building,  All and everything are fertile subjects for discussion and criticism.

The prosecution panel and their private prosecutors in comparison to the legal heavyweights of Corona defense panel come under scrutiny.  Who looks better on television?  Who dresses better?  Who looks more confident or more polished?

The periodic drubbing interspersed with the occasional lecturing on the finer points of the rules of court and the rules on evidence the House prosecution panel have been getting from Serafin Cuevas, the wily octogenarian head of the defense team, have been hugely entertaining for the many here even the non-lawyers who may not be able to appreciate the complicated legal points raised but can, nevertheless, smell, unpreparedness, ineptitude and mediocrity in the face of the consummate skill and the calm, composed yet shrewd maneuverings of a master litigator at work.

If the nation has been less than satisfied with the way the prosecution panel has been handling its case, it has been awed by the consummate mastery with which Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile has presided over the impeachment proceedings.  Advanced he may be in years but the elder senator has drawn on his decades of experience in the study and practice of  law to prove himself to be more than an intellectual match for even the veteran lawyers arguing for both sides in the trial.

The senator-judges, themselves, have also have not been remiss in providing occasions that have aroused public interest and light entertainment by means of their antics on live national television.  The lawyers among them were quick to find opportunities to impress upon their constituents  that they were not just politicians but are also astute legal minds.  Almost all of them have asked their share of pointed questions or have given commentary on various points in the course of the trial.  At least one has even tantalizingly given hints of his less than secret leanings regarding the guilt or innocence of the accused, instances that have aroused the notice and comment of the Corona defense panel.

There were those who tend to make a splash whenever they take the floor. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago's cameo appearances, for example, during the hearings were too brief and too few for many spectators but  she has made up for her absences by the explosive quality of her high-octane tirades particularly against the House prosecution panel.  No wonder she has had to take time out from the hearings to allegedly recuperate from bouts with stress and hypertension.

The non-lawyers among them have managed to hold their own not just by sheer bluffing but also by raising valid points and questions pointing to, at least, a serious attempt on their part to have taken the time to previously prepare themselves for a duty that they, as legislators, have not been obviously trained for.  Even Sen. Lito Lapid, whose rock solid membership in the so called "committee on silence" has never been questioned, was enticed, at least at one time, to finally to offer a comment or two in the course of the trial.

Of course, there are many here and all over the country who do make the valid observation that the Corona impeachment trial is a huge waste of the resources and time of the government and the nation that should instead be focused on matters that are more urgent and deserving of priority attention. One cannot deny the huge toll the trial is taking on the time, attention and energy of  the Senate, the House of Representatives and even the Supreme Court whose very integrity and independence has come under scrutiny and attack.

The Corona trial has polarized the nation into pro-Corona and anti-Corona camps and continues to threaten to provoke a constitutional crises that may pit the executive and judicial branches of the government against each other.  The impeachment trial has also moved beyond the confines of the Senate building and morphed into a battle for the hearts and minds of the Filipino people.  As Senator Ralph Recto put it, the "trial outside the Senate is moving faster than the trial inside it."

Beyond the old and belated arguments of whether the impeachment case should have been filed in view of its "raw, unfinished and unpolished" nature or the often repeated and already stale contention that the impeachment raps were a vindictive, divisive and ill-advised abuse of both executive and legislative power on the part of the President and the House of Representatives directed against the Chief Justice and the judiciary, the question remains of how are we today to view and deal with a process that, after a hurried and haphazard start, has taken life, a gathering momentum, and a reason for being of its own?

If it is with great interest that I continue to follow the events in this case before the Senate, it is because I see the Corona trial as a regrettable yet necessary rite of passage for the Filipino nation.  As such, it must be allowed to run its course and reach its conclusion, whatever that conclusion may be.

Despite our pretense as a nation to having a long, distinguished and noble history, we are, at this point in time, essentially a young country in terms of our collective experience in shaping for ourselves a workable political ideology and framework that defines our very own concept of democratic governance. As we seek to forge our own political destiny, we are forced to grope our way forward and learn from our mistakes and missteps.  We are simply a nation suffering from growing pains and unsure of where to go and how to get where we are supposed to be going.

The Corona impeachment trial will only be one of the many rites of passage this nation will have to go through in the years and decades to come.  Flawed, ill-advised and hurried it may have been when it was initiated and foisted upon a country and people too eager to done with politics, political bickering and infighting but, if allowed to complete itself, it may yet serve its purpose and more.

At the very least, it proves once again the truism that a crusading government eager to prove that it is purging itself of the rot and corruption that has infested its very core will have, in the end, to walk a thin and dangerous line.  On one hand, it cannot be complacent and timid, allowing opportunities to fight and stop corruption and malfeasance to pass by without taking prompt and immediate punitive and remedial action.  To do so would mark it as ineffective and inutile.

Yet, it cannot also bring the full force of its might against erring and corrupt officials without incurring the possibility that, in its eagerness to accelerate and expedite the cleansing process, it may end up abusing the very powers and prerogatives it has sworn to carefully use and exercise with prudence, wisdom and restraint.  How far does it have to go and how must such a goal be properly accomplished?

It is my hope that these questions and more will be answered as the Corona impeachment trial in the Senate continues and hopefully reaches its denouement.  Chief Justice Renato Corona may on trial in the Senate but, as some senator-judges have also wryly observed, so too is the Senate, the House of Representatives, the judiciary and, in the ultimate sense, all of government itself..

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