To describe the ongoing Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona as a farce is to be spot on accurate as a farce is a comic play in which authority, order, and morality are placed at risk in a ridiculously absurd situation where everything goes wrong or becomes a sham.
The word can be traced to 15th-century France where it was first used to describe the elements of clowning, acrobatics, caricature, and indecency bound together in a single form of entertainment which often included acts of impromptu buffoonery inserted by actors into the texts of religious plays.
There is simply no other word to describe a trial where the presiding judge is a former client of the chief defense attorney.
The presiding judge, Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile, was represented by former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, Corona’s chief defense counsel, when Enrile was charged by the government of Pres. Cory Aquino in August of 1987 with the crime of “rebellion complexed with murder” for his role as the alleged brains behind the attempted military coup that was mounted against the Cory government by Enrile’s protégée, then Col. (now Senator-Judge) Gringo Honasan.
On August 28, 1987, Honasan led military soldiers in attacking Malacañang Palace in a coup attempt that resulted in the death of 53 people including three of the security escorts of Cory’s son (now President), Noynoy Aquino, who survived an assassination attempt by Honasan’s Rangers.
As Enrile’s attorney, Cuevas succeeded in getting the Cory government to drop the charges against his client. This attorney-client historical connection may explain why Enrile has been so gratefully deferential to his former counsel.
When the House prosecutors sought to call Enrique Javier, a Philippine Airlines (PAL) official, to testify that Corona and his wife received free first-class Platinum Card round-trip tickets to international destinations from PAL while the case of the flight attendants against PAL was pending in the Supreme Court, Cuevas objected on the grounds that the acceptance of PAL tickets by Corona was not specifically listed in the articles of impeachment. Enrile agreed and rejected the prosecutors’ argument that Javier would testify on Article 3 of the impeachment which deals with Corona’s probity and moral fitness for public office.
Enrile’s concurrence with Cuevas’ objections, according to the House prosecutors, “struck us like lightning that cascaded down to other witnesses.” It meant that other prosecution witnesses would be similarly rejected by Enrile based on the same “not specifically listed in the articles” argument advanced by Cuevas.
Enrile’s decision caused the prosecutors to decide to rest their case after presenting just three articles of impeachment instead of the eight they had filed in the Senate since their other witnesses would be similarly rejected by Enrile.
The prosecutors’ decision in turn caused Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago to engage in a rant that even caught the attention of the Wall Street Journal. In its March 1, 2012 edition (“Wah! Philippines Impeachment Hearing Explodes”), James Hookway reported:
“Ms. Santiago, 66 years old, rarely shies away from a fight. She narrowly lost a disputed presidential election in 1992 and her acid-laced barbs often punctuate nightly news broadcasts here. On Wednesday, though, the veteran legislator raised her game to new highs during a closely watched impeachment trial of the country’s Supreme Court chief justice, helping turn an important but often tedious legal battle into a must-see pop-culture event. At one point Ms. Santiago swore at prosecutors for dropping several charges in the heavily politicized trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, who is accused of obstructing justice…She then went on to label the prosecutors as gago, an offensive term in the Philippines which loosely translates as “stupid.”
As Sen. Santiago was venting her rage, private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre was seen on national TV covering his ears with his hands. When asked to explain his action, Aguirre said that he found her voice “shrill” and it “hurt his ears”. Santiago then told Aguirre: “You cannot make those contemptuous gestures and get away with it.” Her motion to have the senate cite Aguirre for contempt passed unanimously.
Some senators wanted to punish Aguirre by forcing him to “listen to the speeches of Sen. Santiago 24/7”. But most agreed that would be cruel and unusual punishment. Aguirre’s gesture of defiance went viral on the Internet and elicited wide support from the public causing the Senate to simply admonish Aguirre.
The use of “gago” caught the attention of Fr. Catalino Arevalo, spiritual adviser of the late President Cory Aquino, who delivered a sermon quoting Matthew 5:20: “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment. And if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council. And if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the fires of hell.”
Sen. Santiago responded that she was not “worthy of hell” because “there is no hell”. She then called Fr. Arevalo “a publicity hound.”
For Sen. Santiago to charge that Atty. Aguirre was disrespecting the Senate Impeachment Court was like the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. Her senate colleagues may recall that when the Supreme Court in 2005 rejected her nomination by then Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Sen. Santiago went ballistic and delivered a privileged speech on the Senate floor denouncing the members of the Supreme Court for rejecting her nomination:
“I am not angry. I am irate. I am foaming in the mouth. I am homicidal. I am suicidal. I am humiliated, debased, degraded. And I am not only that, I feel like throwing up to be living my middle years in a country of this nature. I am nauseated. I spit on the face of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban and his cohorts in the Supreme Court, I am no longer interested in the position [of Chief Justice] if I was to be surrounded by idiots. I would rather be in another environment but not in the Supreme Court of idiots.”
The “Supreme Court of idiots” may have redeemed itself with Sen. Santiago on February 22, 2010 when it rejected, albeit on a legal technicality, a complaint by Efren Battad to disbar Sen. Santiago for “culpable violation of the Constitution” based on his charge that she “purchased a lot and built a tiled mansion in La Vista Subdivision, Quezon City, at an estimated cost of at least P53,204,631; a building in Quezon City; and a weekend mansion in Tagaytay City… grossly disproportionate to her salary as Senator which, according to her, is P43,000 per month.”
A unique talent like Sen. Santiago cannot be confined just to the Philippines and its almost 100 million inhabitants. As soon as the Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona is over and she has cast her vote in support of Corona, she will head for The Hague in the Netherlands to take her seat as a judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Many overseas and homeland Filipinos are petitioning the ICC to reconsider and reject the election of Sen. Santiago as an ICC judge.
Some may ask what on earth possessed Pres. Benigno Aquino to nominate Sen. Santiago to the prestigious ICC in The Hague and the answer may simply be that he did it to fulfill his State of the Nation promise to rid the country of “wangwangs” (sirens).
Even the original 15th century French comedy writers could not have conjured a more imaginative and wicked farce.