The Constitution provides for an impeachment process to immediately remove from office a key official who betrays the public trust.
However, in the warped Philippine socio-political setting, successfully removing an official through the impeachment process is as likely as the Ampatuans becoming Carmelite nuns.
Removing erring Philippine officials, no matter what process is involved, is extremely difficult. Even Justices and judges with notoriously questionable reputations and exorbitant lifestyles that reek of corruption remain unchecked and unpunished. Enough effective mechanisms are just not there to correct the whole sorry mess.
The impeachment process is inherently defective and bound to fail in accomplishing its purpose of removing key officials who ought to be removed. We have seen the systemic defects in the Estrada impeachment trial. We are seeing it again now.
For lack of imagination, the framers of the Philippine Constitution simply followed the American Impeachment Court model. In the U.S., the 2/3 vote needed to remove a key official amounts to 67 Senators and the 1/3 vote needed to acquit amounts to 34 Senators.
In the Philippines, 16 Senators are needed to convict whereas only eight Senators are needed to acquit. It seems grossly unfair to the citizenry that their future well being can be sabotaged by just eight people – who might not be that concerned about the national welfare.
In general, the system works in the U.S. because democratic institutions are deeply embedded and more Senators are involved which means more thinking heads. The system does not work well in the Philippines.
We really ought to get away from this colonial mentality of thinking that what works well in the U.S. will also automatically work well for us. The factual cultural settings in America re political, economic and social situations are far different from those in the Philippines. It’s best for us to do our own original thinking to solve problems unique to our situation.
This monkey see, monkey do approach – when conditions are different – often result in solvable problems becoming more complex and unsolvable. Such is the case with the impeachment process in the Philippines which is a time consuming expensive exercise in futility. It simply does not work in efficiently and effectively removing officials who betray the public trust.
The cold undeniable reality is that the Impeachment Court is composed of politician Senator-judges. Too many of our politicians do not think in terms of primarily putting truth, justice, honor, morality and the national interest above partisan and personal considerations. Our leaders have consistently betrayed us.
Hunger, ignorance, disease, homelessness and other forms of human sufferings resulting from mass poverty is a common countrywide situation. National and local politicians on all levels of government make inane policies and decisions – focused not so much in solving problems but based on partisan or personal selfish agendas. As such, neighbor countries refer to us as “Asia’s basket case”.
This impeachment trial is a classic illustration of what is wrong with the Philippines. Here, the national interest is clearly involved. The country needs an honest and efficient judicial system in order to bring justice to the people. If all the Senators were in good faith and cared more for the interest of the people than their own selfish personal and partisan interests – they would be able to easily focus on accomplishing the purpose for which the Impeachment Court was instituted. It would then not take long for them to make a decision.
They would immediately concentrate on getting any and all relevant information relating to the alleged wrongful acts of the accused and his moral character – in order to properly decide on whether to acquit or find him guilty.
If Corona were truly innocent and wanted to vindicate his honor – he also would want the entire truth about his actions and character to be revealed. He can then explain his circumstances.
Corona apparently has enormous wealth. He declares an annual fixed salary and some perks as his only income but these appear insufficient to justify his numerous real estate holdings and millions in peso and dollar bank deposits. He also does not report his true wealth in his SALN. To common ordinary citizens, these series of omissions and misrepresentations persuasively suggest that Corona appears to be engaged in dishonesty and is receiving huge sums of money from some sources.
It is very conceivable that the discovered Corona assets is just a tip of the iceberg. People will never know and he will always be under a cloud of suspicion unless he himself acts in good faith and reveals all of his holdings – including deposits in other banks, additional real estate properties and corporate shares.
His lawyers have been moving heaven and earth to keep evidence related to his financials from being admitted. Some Senators have noticeably also been involved in excluding the admission of a lot of damaging evidence against him – citing all kinds of legal technicalities.
The main issue in an impeachment trial is the moral character of the accused who as a public servant is supposed to be an honest moral person. Any evidence that relates to his moral character should be material and relevant.
Here, the rights and interest of the people to obtain justice and have honest public servants should weigh heavily against the rights of the accused re exclusion of evidence. Senator-judges can and should in fact consider even evidence and facts not admitted technically in court. They should fill in the blank spaces to see the truth and the big picture about the accused – when they decide on his guilt or his innocence.
This Corona Impeachment Court has ruled repeatedly against admitting evidence touching on the wrongful acts or moral character of the accused. In fact, the very first ruling of the Court was to excuse Corona and his family from appearing in Court. The Presiding Senator reasoned that their appearances would violate their right against self incrimination. I went to law school in the United States and have been practicing law here for more than thirty years. I still have to see a court stand in the shoes of the defendant and on his or her behalf claim this Fifth Amendment Constitutional right against self incrimination.
This right or privilege against self incrimination is personal and belongs to the accused. It is when he is being asked a question or being asked to testify during a court or related proceeding that he can assert this right. Here the Court’s Presiding Senator Juan Ponce Enrile asserted this right for Corona and his family without them being present in court. Technically, Enrile has no legal standing to do this even if he might have been in good faith in zealously protecting Corona’s Constitutional rights. Enrile may have made a mistake but nevertheless, a majority of the Senator-judges affirmed his ruling. The country has to live with this mistake.
Not even President Bill Clinton was excused from appearing in his trial. The Presiding Officer did not excuse his appearance on grounds that the trial might infringe on his right against self incrimination as nothing would have prevented Clinton from asserting this right during his trial and related proceedings.
How can Impeachment Court Senator-Judges determine the moral character of the accused public official Corona and the extent of his wrongdoing – if evidences of his wrongdoing are kept from being admitted? How terrible is the injustice inflicted on his victims – the Filipino people – when it is some Senator-Judges themselves who are engaged in preventing relevant evidence and facts from being presented?
Some Senator-Judges rationalize their actions in preventing damning evidence against Corona from being admitted by citing rules of evidence or displaying mock concerns for the civil rights of the accused or by pointing to the incompetence of the prosecution.
Rules of law, whether regarding evidence or on some other issues – are meant to serve the ends of justice. They are not meant to be abused by the accused to hide his guilt. The accused’s civil rights are not violated if he is given the opportunity to explain and to be heard.
Our people groan from the heavy burdens caused by mass poverty and widespread corruption. They cry out to the high heavens for justice. Dishonest calloused Justices and judges are deaf to their cries. They will groan and cry some more if they feel that they are again being screwed in this impeachment trial. We cannot allow ourselves to forever be victims of dishonest greedy officials placed in power to serve but instead betray us.
This impeachment case is crucial in this war against corruption. The country needs an honest and efficient judicial system to rid the country of corrupt government officials through proper prosecutions and trials. The Chief Justice who leads the Judicial Branch, like any leader, is supposed to lead by example. The country cannot have a clean judicial system if its head and the other Justices have questionable integrities and perceived as lacking the moral authority to lead.
This impeachment trial relates to President Aquino’s all out war against corruption which the people support.
Can President Aquino and the people afford to lose this war?
This war against massive corruption in the country has to do with improving the lives of all our people. This impeachment trial is directly related to that war. The Chief Justice of the highest court in the land is undergoing trial in a confused Senatorial Impeachment Court proceeding. The people cannot rely on an unreliable impeachment system to rid the country of undesirable erring officials.
This war is between the Corona and GMA forces on the one side and the good people of the Philippines and President Aquino on the other side. Inevitably, the war against corruption is a war of good versus evil.
Like a politician, Corona holds rallies giving the impression of mass support – but attended mostly by forced to attend INC members – who certainly do not represent the sentiments of millions of Filipinos.
On the people’s side in this war against corruption are millions of common Filipinos: taxi, jitney and tricycle drivers, farmers, factory workers, clerks, computer workers, office workers, businessmen, dentists, doctors, accountants, engineers, students, lawyers, academicians, teachers, nuns, priests and hundreds of thousands of overseas Filipinos (toiling in distant lands because of corruption in the homeland).
Like them, I have nothing personal against Corona – but just want a better life for all Filipinos. We cannot have that unless we rid the country of institutionalized corruption. How I wish Corona and some Arroyo appointed Justices would just resign and redeem themselves by helping to clean out the judicial system and make it more efficient for the good of all. Within all of us are seeds of good and evil – and we are always free to decide one way or the other.
On the people’s side also is President Simeon Benigno Aquino who wants to rid the country of corruption. Some well-meaning Senators are also on this same side.
The people need to now support Aquino’s all out war against corruption. This is a rare national opportunity to bring about significant lasting reforms.
Four years from now we will have a new president. In our history, only two presidents are known not to have engaged in corruption so the odds are against us. If the next one is corrupt, then we are back to square one. Worst because then the country would be drowned with a sense of hopelessness and the thought that we had a chance to rid the country of corruption but it did not happen. Many will then also conclude that it is impossible to have reforms through peaceful means.
This Impeachment Court will likely not succeed in removing Corona as Chief Justice – even if he deserves to be removed. As a removal system for erring key officials, it is dysfunctionally ineffective. Having politician Senators as judges is simply not going to work. Partisan politics and personal agendas will simply prevent the gathering of 16 votes necessary to remove him from office. It did not work in Estrada’s impeachment trial. It’s not working now nor is it likely to work in future impeachment cases.
Given that the system is defective and that the Constitution need to be amended in order to fix a broken impeachment system, should the people then just accept the partisan and personal agenda based decision of eight or more Senator-judges – that will drastically affect the future well being of millions of Filipinos? The people and Aquino should refuse to be fools and fight tooth and nail for the common good.
If eight or more Senators acquit Corona despite enough evidence showing that he is not morally fit to continue on as Chief Justice, they will likely justify their decision by claiming that the prosecution did not do a good job. The prosecution’s competence or lack of it will be used as a convenient excuse to justify the unjustifiable even if the real issues are Corona’s guilt and moral character and not the prosecution’s competence.
In the Estrada impeachment trial, which was watched closely on TV, radio and printed media – the people concluded in their hearts and minds – that Estrada was guilty as hell. Correctly, they resorted to defending the people and used their numbers to forcibly excise him from office when they concluded that many of the Senators were betraying them. The country belongs to the people and not to a crooked few.
If the system does not work, the people must protect themselves and future generations using alternative means in removing erring officials. People power is a legitimate means of protecting the people’s interest when the mechanisms of government fail to do so.
The US Constitution was written by very wise men who learned from the lessons of history that at any time, government can fall into the wrong hands and can be used to oppress and/or steal from the people. Modern examples are the governments of Marcos, Mugabe, Khadafy, Hussein, Ceseascu, Mubarak, etc. As such, they made sure that the people had the right to bear arms and wrote this in stone in the US Constitution – in case the people needed to defend themselves against the government.
The people are looking to President Aquino to provide strong leadership in this war against corruption and by implication against the Corona forces. He was elected by millions of people based on his anti-corruption promise and continues to maintain their trust.
Aside from this mandate, he also has the support of the United States and a sympathetic global community in the fight against corruption and the quest for a better life for all Filipinos.
Capitalizing on all of this support and utilizing his legitimate powers, aside from the impeachment process, Aquino can bring down erring Justices and judges using other legal means in order to clean up the judicial system.
For example. Corona apparently has enormous wealth. The fact is that at some points of time , he continuously was earning huge sums of money from either legitimate or illegitimate sources – in order to acquire his various real property holdings and millions of peso and dollar deposits. He obviously did not declare these incomes in his annual income tax papers. This alone provides enough probable cause which opens him to all kinds of possible charges including income tax fraud, misrepresentation, conversion, etc.
Many other legal tools can be used including the mutual legal assistance treaty with the U.S. to help criminally prosecute erring officials with assets in the U.S. Aquino’s government should use all of the resources available.
Aquino should also have the Department of Justice recruit many sharp idealistic young lawyer prosecutors and honest intelligent investigators – in order to successfully prosecute as many corrupt officials as possible. He needs this special team to rid the country of mass corruption. This is an absolute necessity to accomplish the difficult task of eradicating mass corruption. All this talk about us being his bosses, “daang matuwid”, no “wang wang” – is just empty talk, meaningless slogans and vocal cosmetics – if no significant major speedy measurable reforms result.
Corona was elected as Chief Justice by only one person who is presently detained. His patroness former President GMA, who is widely perceived as corrupt – is accused of plunder and election sabotage among other serious charges. Millions of honest citizens elected Aquino whereas only one non-credible person elected Corona.
Politically, Aquino cannot afford to lose to Corona in this war. If with all his powers as President and the support of the people and the international community, he is still unable to influence the removal of Corona from office through this impeachment process or by using other legitimate alternatives – he will lose face and credibility. People will lose their faith in him and see him as a weak leader. Then he and we are all screwed.
Neither Aquino nor the people can afford to lose in this all out war against corruption and mass poverty. So much is at stake. We need to end mass suffering and fight for a better future for all. It’s a now or never situation. To be involved in this effort to create a better Philippines if not a better world – is a sacred obligation to God, our fellowmen and ourselves.This endemic culture of corruption which permeates government and Philippine society from the very top to to the very bottom must be vaporized – eradicated – if we are to change the lives of millions of Filipinos for the better. Who else will be involved in this all-out war in the Philippines except us Filipinos wherever we are in this world?
Note: San Francisco based Atty. Ted Laguatan is one of only 29 U.S. lawyers officially honored and certified continuously for more than 20 years as Expert-Specialists in Immigration Law by the California State Bar. He also does human rights cases and complex litigation involving accident injuries and wrongful death. Email [email protected] Tel 650 991-1154.