Next week, perhaps as early as Monday evening and probably at the latest by Tuesday, May 29, the Senate of the Philippines, acting on its constitutional duty to try and judge impeachment cases, will decide on the fate of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
It will be a historical moment; after all it will be the first time the country will witness the completion of this important political process that the Constitution ordained as the manner of holding accountable its highest-level officials.
It will be a solemn moment; no less than the head of the judicial branch, the first among equals of the highest court of the land, will be judged fit or unfit to stay in office. And, for me, it should also be a moment of truth and love.
The Senate decision must be based on the truth as the trial, imperfect as it has been, has uncovered. The verdict must be rendered out of love for our nation; in the end, the only question the senators must answer is “What is good for our people?”
In an earlier piece for Rappler, I recounted why, after Chief Justice Renato Corona’s testimony before the Senate impeachment court last Tuesday, I could no longer be confident in his leadership of the Supreme Court. His appearance that day revealed a man who, at the very least, made assumptions too reckless for a Chief Justice to make: holding too strictly to the letter of the law that, under bank secrecy laws, he didn’t have to disclose his foreign currency holdings.
I still hold the same conviction now as I did then: I believe the prudent course for Corona to take is to resign from the High Court, given the premises. I still hold it, even after his appearance Friday afternoon, following a hospital stay that was the aftermath of the stress and pains of last Tuesday, where under Senate examination, he apologized for his Tuesday departure, clarified his defenses, and formally submitted his unconditional waiver of secrecy of his bank accounts.
Ultimately, it is his decision and his right to continue his defense which, along with his apology and long-awaited waiver, I respect.
While waiting for next week’s conclusion of the impeachment process, I think this is a good moment to reflect on what the impeachment, and especially last week’s drama, revealed about us as a people. Specifically, I would like to pose the question, have we become too vicious for civil, sober political discourse?
When the impeachment began, I had mixed feelings. I was uneasy about how it seemed to have been decided on a weekend, in a moment of anger by the President. I was also concerned that the House of Representatives rushed into a decision, a fear vindicated later by the unpreparedness of the prosecution. At the same time, I praised the impeachment as a prime opportunity for accountability that we needed to do it right.
I wanted the impeachment to be conducted in a structured setting where the prosecution and defense could each argue its case, and the evidence weighed, in public view.
I certainly did not and continue not to identify myself with those who seem to me, to have judged the Chief Justice at the outset of the process – those for example, who sneered at his testimony last Tuesday, flippantly dismissive of his defenses, insulting of his person, and even those of his family.
I am objective enough to consider that the Chief Justice, when he returned to the Senate last Friday, was humble and candid, even if I completely disagree with his justification for not reporting the amounts in his dollar and peso accounts.
Not that those who believe – either in the Chief Justice’s innocence or in the impeachment being railroaded at the behest of President Noynoy Aquino – are not guilty of this viciousness, either. Practically calling Corona critics “dupes” (or words to the effect), eager to pick fights with them, including me, when I do not agree with them, and rapidly descending to ad hominem and non sequitur arguments.
They forget that the central issue remains: whether Corona was in violation of the Constitution with regards to his SALN, along with the other Articles of Impeachment now fallen by the wayside. Dura lex, sed lex. Blurring the issue is a disservice to the impeachment process and to accountability.
I understand of course that all people have the right to their raw emotions, including being angry. Most of those in the anti-Corona camp sincerely believe that accountability must be exacted, no matter how painful to someone or to a family. They assert that we are too forgiving a people and that is, in fact, a problem and an obstacle to reform the Philippines. To them, charity and compassion is misplaced in this process. The failure of our institutions to hold powerful people accountable has been frustrating and the Corona impeachment provides an opportunity to change course.
The pro-Corona side, on the other hand, sees impeachment as nothing but a political ploy by the President and his allies to gain the upper hand against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They are upset about how the administration has inflicted all the powers of the state against someone they consider a good person and public official.
I wonder how we have become so mean. Is it because we have lost faith in political and social institutions, all but shattered by a long history of corruption, that we feel that we should take up their fight for accountability, except with a vigilante’s fury? Binding trust between the leader and the led ensures efficient governance, with its boons of peace and prosperity — this is why I’m an advocate of the social accountability approach to governance.
This reciprocal trust is the best way by which President Aquino’s campaign mantra, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap,” for all its gross simplification, can still hold true. Without that trust, it’s too easy to fall into the Hobbesian state of nature, all against all, and compromise governance.
Have we become too embittered by the scandals of the Arroyo administration? Moments like the impeachment trial — in fact, all judicial proceedings — are specifically designed to allow these grievances to be vented, and then assessed, in a controlled manner. Apart from that, freedom of speech doesn’t only guarantee participation in governance and accountability; expressed in the arts (usually the art of satire), like a pressure relief valve, they also allow people to vent their frustrations, but to good humor and cheer, certainly a facet of Filipino life since the Spanish era, if not earlier.
Yet turning the arts of satire and the courtroom into the art of war takes it too far. It seems that, regardless of the impeachment’s result, many of us have decided to turn him into a convenient effigy of Arroyo, for us to lay our shame, our frustration, perhaps even our guilt of the past 10 years. Caveat emptor: historically, burning effigies, while they do air grievances, do not improve governance or restore breached trust.
If anything, they tend to drive an even greater wedge between the parties, the effigy’s subject recoiling from the insult, if Corona’s opening statement, described by a commentator as “maanghang,” (stinging) is any indicator. Good governance cannot float on a sea of such fire.
Yet I still persist in believing in the better angels of our human nature. We still must reconcile as a people. In this regard, the reconciliation of the Basa-Guidote family with Cristina Corona serves as an indicator. Perhaps the pain of the family feud, now caught up in the whirlwind of the impeachment, finally hit hard and hit home.
Even Corona pointed it out on the stand, that family feuds can be demoralizing as they are destructive. Yet that pain may finally have been the necessary wake-up call for the divided family. Could it be a wake-up call for a divided society, too — or will a far worse pain be necessary?
The cynic may say that this reconciliation could be used to cover up the related issues that were raised during the impeachment. Cover-ups are not in the spirit of reconciliation; neither should the latter aid the former. Truth-telling is critical for the reconciliation process, as anyone familiar with the Judaic, Christian, or Islamic tenets of confession are aware.
Without accountability, the offender cannot be made aware of the breach that exists, or the remedial steps necessary to restore his relationship with the offended. Reconciliation eases the process of truth-telling by providing the sober atmosphere necessary for accountability, as evidenced by the proceedings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We must continue to defend both the right to, and the process of accountability, from those who would deny the truth, and also from those who would abuse it with vindictiveness and vengeance.
Next week, our country will witness a historical and solemn moment. I believe it is not a coincidence that the first day of the week, this Sunday, is Pentecost Sunday when Christians everywhere celebrate the sending of the Holy Spirit among us.
It is my prayer that the spirit of truth and love for our country and for each other come and prevail upon all of us. After all, believe it or not, there is life after impeachment. – Rappler.com
Click on the links below for more opinion pieces in Thought Leaders.