SAN FRANCISCO—The resolve by the US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) to petition the International Criminal Court (ICC) to reconsider and reject the election of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago as an ICC judge was not made on a spur or on a whim but only after careful deliberation. Although members had already been dismayed by the repeated contemptuous conduct of Sen. Santiago towards the House prosecutors, the decibel levels went through the roof on February 29 when Sen. Santiago screamed and twice called the prosecutors “gago” (morons) at the court hearing.
The Internet chatter rooms lit up. “How can a judge say that in a courtroom?”
The collective outrage led to calls to petition the ICC to review the conduct of Sen. Santiago to determine if “a person who is emotionally or psychologically unstable, prone to fits of uncontrollable rage, lacking in patience and empathy, ruthless with the feelings of fellow human beings, bereft of civility and uncaring about decorum” deserves to be an ICC judge.
A draft of the proposed petition was prepared by Greg Macabenta and circulated to more than 100 USP4GG members scattered throughout the US. At a March 6 national telephone conference call to discuss the petition, members offered their opinions on the draft petition.
One member from Washington DC, who participated in the teleconference, previously sent an email where he asked: “How can we maintain our credibility when we question someone’s election only after multiple rounds of nominations and voting? Senator Miriam Santiago’s selection was confirmed after 15 rounds of ICC voting. I don’t think questioning the process at the back end speaks highly of our intentions and deliberations. For one, she has very impressive judiciary credentials. While she is well known for her exaggerated bombastic pronouncements and at times eccentric actions, no one can question her intellectual capabilities.”
But Greg noted in his draft petition that “mastery of international jurisprudence and forensic skills” was not enough, as “a sound mind, emotional and psychological stability, unsullied integrity and incorruptibility, as well as patience, civility and impeccable decorum” were also required.
Another member pointed out that although Sen. Santiago was nominated by no less than President Benigno Aquino III in 2011, it was made before she exhibited her unprofessional behavior at the Senate Impeachment Trial. It was compared to the local case of Ross Mirkarimi who was elected Sheriff of San Francisco in the November 2011 elections two months before he was charged with committing domestic violence against his wife. After Mirkarimi pled guilty to the lesser charge of misdemeanor false imprisonment, calls came for him to resign even as his supporters pointed to his impressive credentials and his 2011 election as the reasons for him to hang on.
Many expressed doubts that the ICC would even consider the petition. But USP4GG chair Loida Nicolas-Lewis, who served with Sen. Santiago and Sen. Franklin Drilon in the Student Council of the University of the Philippines (UP) in the 60s, explained: “We do not have the illusion of being successful in removing Senator Miriam but we are giving her notice that her continued antics are not acceptable to Global Filipinos now that she is in the Global arena. Something said is something heard. She thinks that she can do and say whatever she wants with impunity. Our petition will show that Filipinos Overseas will not tolerate her disrespectful, uncouth behavior.”
One member suggested that the group wait for those in the Philippines to initiate this move and we can then join them as has been the practice of overseas Filipinos in the past to follow the lead of the homeland Filipinos.
But that was before. As former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban noted recently: “Overseas Filipinos, without having to reside here physically, have the means to inform themselves of our country’s needs and of the suitability of candidates for national offices. Interactive news websites, cable TV programs, social networks like Facebook and Twitter, cell phones, Skype, Magic Jack, e-mails, teleconferencing and other electronic wonders no longer require actual physical presence to acquire thorough knowledge of Philippine political life,” he wrote in his Inquirer column (“Enfranchising duals and greens”).
Just as Filipinos in Cagayan de Oro should not defer their initiatives to the folks in Manila, overseas Filipinos should not likewise defer to Filipinos in the Philippines. An initiative will rise or fall on its merits and not on its source.
When the Internet was googled to find out if any individual or group in the Philippines was embarking on a similar initiative, none was found. There was outrage certainly as expressed in the letter to the editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer from UP Prof. Gemino Abad who wrote: “Anyone, especially a senator, who has no respect for the innate dignity of every human being, loses his or her personal worth and dignity. The lady senator no longer entertains, she disgusts with her shrill, outrageous harangues and self-congratulatory displays of superior knowledge and experience in judicial proceedings; in fine, she dishonors the impeachment court.”
“Does the impeachment court condone such insufferable behavior? What sanction has it for contemptuous disregard of basic human dignity? Why is she not herself detained to stop her from committing more dishonorable acts? If her fits of rage and displays of self-satisfaction should continue at the International Criminal Court, she would inevitably become our country’s disgrace and a world-wide object of ridicule.”
The answer to Prof. Abad’s question is yes. The Philippine senate has repeatedly condoned the “insufferable behavior” of Sen. Santiago as they did when she railed on the senate floor after her nomination as Chief Justice was rejected by the Supreme Court: “I spit in the face of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban and his cohorts in the Supreme Court…a Supreme Court of idiots.”
Sen. Santiago has never been reprimanded nor chided for her “dishonorable acts”. Perhaps because her colleagues, a few of whom barely graduated from high school, are intimidated by her impressive academic accomplishments or because they fear being on the receiving end of her tongue-lashing.
But what made the February 29 “gago” harangue at the House prosecutors memorable was not the outrageousness of Sen. Santiago’s conduct but the quiet courage of private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre who covered his ears while she was berating the prosecutors. Although he was cited by the Senate for contempt, his simple act of defiance, captured on national television, inspired a global protest of her conduct the likes of which Sen. Santiago has never faced before.
It was as if people resolved that if Atty. Aguirre can stand up to her, so can they, so can we, so should we.
At the end of the lengthy March 6 teleconference, the vote was called on the resolution to petition the ICC to reconsider and reject Sen. Santiago as an ICC judge. The vote was unanimous with no abstentions. The petition was posted online and is set to be personally handed over to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
While the petition to the ICC is virtually dead on arrival, it nevertheless sends a powerful message. Just like the time when the Roman bullies asked the captured slave rebels to point out Spartacus and each stood up to say they were Spartacus, we are all Vitaliano Aguirre now. We’re mad as hell and we won’t take it anymore.