5/28/2012
After the endgame

I want Chief Justice Renato Corona to be acquitted. My reasons, admittedly, are flimsy by all means. I believe that his impeachment is not born of the necessity to ensure transparency within our government and to the Filipino people, but rather, by the urge to intimidate anyone whose perspectives are skewed against the majority. It has been said that Noynoy Aquino and his minions cobbled together eight articles of impeachment - since whittled down to three - out of some sort of pressure, of the belief that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will slip away from their grasp if they don't take any action. That certainly forms the defense's seeming argument of late: the mistrial, that the evidence against Corona was not retrieved through lawful means, or at least not marked properly; and more importantly, that the birth of the trial itself did not go through due process, through due notice. At least Joseph Estrada's impeachment twelve years ago seemed inevitable.

Yet the prosecution, to their credit, slowly built their case. They stumbled more often than they could afford, but tonight, with their final arguments on record, it seems they have a good reason to get Corona out of office. The most compelling argument is his failure to divulge all of his assets in his SALN: the properties, all under his children's names; the peso bank accounts, supposedly "commingled" funds from his wife's family's company, his savings, and his inheritance; and the dollar bank accounts, all $2.4 million in it, all of the foreign currency he supposedly had the foresight to save from when he was little. The prosecution is confident they can get Corona out. After all, if you have the Chief Justice himself admitting to all these hidden assets, effectively incriminating himself, what else can you do?

The defense hasn't gone down without a fight, of course. Sure, in hindsight, they may have done more harm than good in attempting to prove that there are, to put it in a comic book-y manner, nefarious forces out to take Corona down, but they have raised some valid questions. Is the failure to divulge every asset on one's SALN - never mind if the reason for not disclosing them is sufficiently, supposedly, backed up by law - an impeachable offense? Is it enough to bring the whole country along to four months of political and personal drama unfolding on live television?

"Mga palusot," Congressman Rudy FariƱas repeatedly drilled in his closing arguments today. Essentially, he says, it is worth impeaching Renato Corona because he has made a fool out of us, through distorted interpretations of the law he swore to protect and uphold. To hell with the defense's claims that the Chief Justice's actions, while questionable, was done in good faith. To hell with claims that the Chief Justice did not use his position to enrich himself. Mga palusot. These excuses prove that Corona is unfit to be the highest magistrate in the land. And these excuses, he says, prove them right.

Tomorrow, the impeachment court will find Renate Corona guilty. Tomorrow, at least sixteen senator-judges will take the side of the prosecution, taking the belief that Renato Corona betrayed the trust of the public and violated the constitution. Tomorrow, Renato Corona will find himself out of the Supreme Court, marked as an extraordinarily corrupt individual, and barred from taking public office for the rest of his life.

None of it will matter.

Many have called impeachment as a political process. Unlike other legal processes, where the rights of one side or the other are at stake, the only thing really at stake in an impeachment trial is the accused's reputation. An impeachment trial can only kick someone out of office; it does not bring justice to those aggrieved. Only then can you file a criminal or administrative case against the accused. That certainly was the case with Joseph Estrada: we had to go through the whole rigidon of impeachment (and the second EDSA revolution that followed) before he could be arrested for plunder.

No matter what decision the senator-judges arrive at, Corona is a marked man. If he is not found guilty, the specter of him being an untrustworthy official will still hang over him, perhaps more so than at any point during the trial. More people will be convinced that he's an Arroyo lackey. More people will question his votes in Supreme Court sessions, never mind that it is a collegial body. More people will portray Corona as everything that's wrong with the government today (and, if you follow a particular line of thinking, the reason why we have Noynoy Aquino as president); ill-gotten wealth, one-sided decisions, you name it. People will want him out anyway: civil society groups (whatever that means), militant groups (whatever they stand for), clueless people. Corona can triumphantly say he won against the nefarious forces out to get him, but he will have no choice but to resign. Pyrrhic victory, as they call it.

If, on the other hand, Corona is found guilty, then the prosecutors, the current administration, will call it a major victory on their part. I can imagine the speeches. This validates our thrust to promote accountability and transparency within government. In other words, if you're protecting Gloria Arroyo's interests, you're next. Or maybe, if you're not protecting my interests, you're next. Whichever way you put it, Aquino proves that he knows what he is doing, that what he's doing is right, and, it has to be said, nothing is standing in his way. People will disagree anyway: employees of the judiciary, Hacienda Luisita farmers, clueless people. As if any kind of dissent ever stopped politicians from basking in self-imposed glory.

It is a victory for flashing cameras and column inches and Twitter trending topics, though. What happens next?

The downside to the impeachment trial being a political process is, things are still as muddy, if not muddier, than before. In the question of Corona's SALN, for instance - what we have are not two sides of the story, but two interpretations of it. The defense says Corona is abiding by the law that preserves the confidentiality of anyone's bank accounts comprised of foreign currency, whether you're a private individual or a public official. The prosecution says Corona, as a public official, should disclose every asset he owns. One is right, and so is the other; one is wrong, and so is the other. Does it define anything? Not really. Does it guide anyone into actually doing the right thing? It might have given them more means to do otherwise. No questions have been answered. We only get dragged-out theatrics (and this is not limited to the Chief Justice) and one side proclaiming vindication. And we all know how frustrating that is.

I want Chief Justice Renato Corona to be acquitted. My reasons, admittedly, are flimsy by all means. I believe that his impeachment is not born of the necessity to ensure transparency within our government and to the Filipino people, but rather, by the urge to intimidate anyone whose perspectives are skewed against the majority. But that doesn't mean I don't want corrupt officials out of government. I am just a believer in due process, that's all. When the eight articles of impeachment were transmitted to the Senate, I welcomed the decision. By all means, I say, impeach Corona if you have to. Just do it properly. I don't think the prosecution has. But we know that Corona owns this much, much more than he initially declared, and now that those facts are out - and more, really - you cannot ignore them. Now I don't know if I still want Corona to be acquitted. Maybe he should be declared guilty, but I still have problems with the origins of the whole shebang.

But after all has been said and done, what exactly are we going to do next? What are we supposed to do? What have we gained? What have we lost? Has anything changed? Will anything change? Will one's defeat, and the other's rise, mean better things for all, or better things for some? I'd love to have the answer to that question, but all I have are two interpretations of the same thing.

And your responses...

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