By Gel Santos Relos
What is the cost and collateral damage of the Aquino administration’s quest toward good, clean and honest governance?
As the saga that is the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona enters its third week, more questions arise in the minds of many Filipinos trying to make sense of this political exercise in the Philippines.
How does the strict implementation of the rule of law apply in the Corona impeachment proceedings? How have other legislative functions of, and other very urgent pending bills in both the Senate and Congress been affected by the apparent tunnel vision focus of the Aquino administration and the media on the Corona trial? Does the moral compass of President Aquino toward the “Daang Matuwid” cover only his foes but not necessarily his allies? And how will all these lead to judicial reform to make justice work for everyone?
Let me share with you the commentary of an esteemed community leader of the Filipino-American community in the Washington DC area, and Director of the Migrant Heritage Commission-- Atty. Arnedo Valera-- that assesses these concerns:
The Corona Impeachment: Will it Lead to Judicial Reform?
Coming up in our home country of the Philippines is a political spectacle that is probably as stormy as the political crisis that led to the ouster of then President Joseph E. Estrada in 2001 or even the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. The impeachment trial of Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Renato Corona is doubly momentous opening as it does – on January 16 – when the country marks two people power uprisings: Edsa I in February 1886 and Edsa II in January 2001.
Corona is charged with eight articles of impeachment upon a majority vote of 188 by the House of Representatives last December. The articles of impeachment were quickly brought to the Senate which will act as the trial court on the case. The charges include culpable violations of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, corruption, and failure to submit a statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN).
At the core of the charges is Corona’s alleged partiality in the rendering of SC decisions in favor of former President Gloria M. Arroyo as shown, for instance, in the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) invalidating the justice department’s hold departure order against the former president. Arroyo was arrested last December and is now detained at the Veterans Memorial Hospital in Quezon City on a court order after she was charged by the justice department and Commission on Elections (Comelec) for election sabotage in 2007.
It is an open secret that the impeachment of Corona who was appointed chief justice by Arroyo a few months before ending her term is orchestrated by Malacanang. President Benigno S. Aquino III’s spokespersons claim that Corona is an obstacle to the prosecution of the former president by acting as a “rear guard” in the SC. But they also stressed that both the prosecution of Arroyo and that of Corona are part of the administration’s anti-corruption program and the reform of the judiciary.
Sadly, the impeachment of Corona has apparently divided the legal community in the Philippines where the move was questioned on two counts: First, with regard to due process pointing to how the articles of impeachment were voted upon hastily, and second, on the chilling effects of the powers of the President being thrown to back the impeachment. Some see the move as undermining the integrity and independence of the high tribunal with not an invalid accusation that the President was out to replace Corona with someone friendly to Malacanang.
The Corona impeachment is expected to be protracted with the defense lawyers led by former SC Associate Justice and justice secretary Serafin Cuevas questioning every procedure, evidence, and witness presented by the House prosecution panel, led by Rep. Niel Tupas, Jr. While the whole Congress may as well conduct its regular business most of its members particularly the 23 senators who will be acting as judges will have to stay focus on the impeachment for several months – if not years.
The removal of the chief justice has become a political struggle involving leaders of the three branches of government. Were the justice system in the Philippines been performing according to law then ideally the impeachment process will be resolved with impartiality and non-partisanship.
The incumbent president may claim to be motivated with a noble purpose but the way the impeachment is unfolding it appears to be in a pursuit of a short-term goal, i.e., to oust the chief justice in favor of his own political appointee. The entire spectacle will also be used by some members of the prosecution and impeachment court to promote their political agenda in which case their actions and votes may be decided by the coming 2013 elections. It is expected to the presidential office to conduct its own political maneuvering so as to get favorable results. Expect the proverbial political patronage therefore to play here.
Right now, we don’t see these political events evolving into substantial measures in pursuit of a comprehensive reform of the country’s major institutions particularly the judiciary. Arroyo has been slapped with an election sabotage case but no serious efforts are being shown with regard to other monumental unsolved issues that warrant more prosecution such as big-time corruption cases, human rights violations, and other constitutional violations.
There is in fact no clear vision originating from Malacanang on how it aims to fight corruption in an all-sided way as well as to launch institutional reforms that would once and for all bring sanity, public service, and trust into the major agencies of government including the LGUs the supervision of which is under the office of the president through the DILG.
Thus, it would be a grave injustice if major resources of the government are being marshaled to prosecute both Arroyo and Corona while little attention is being paid on the bigger requirements of good governance and accountability as the candidate Aquino III once promised.
But let us all see what is unfolding and we must do our share in making sure that efforts such as what’s happening in our own country don’t go to waste. We hope that bigger positive things will happen in 2012.
Read related article: Will The Impeachment Trial Convict Chief Justice Corona?
(My Asian Journal Column, February 1, 2, 3, 2012)