Monday, February 20, 2012

Leadership is badly needed

This is my column today.

I have long given up illusions of the impeachment trial being fair, impartial and an exemplar of outstanding—or at least competent—legal wrangling. As I have said in the past, there is only so much certain people such as Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile can do to maintain the integrity of the proceedings.

All the ingredients for epic failure just happen to be present. First, you have a complaint that was rammed through Congress without the benefit of a hearing and subsequently found to be so defective that the Chief Justice’s defense team has been able to make mincemeat of it without breaking sweat. Second, it now appears that the prosecution had no evidence to speak of prior to the impeachment hearing (no wonder it objected vigorously to a pre-trial). Third, the prosecution team has repeatedly shown what can only be described as gross incompetence all throughout the hearings, enabling the defense team to gleefully—and sometimes, irresponsibly - take advantage of the blunders to embarrass, lecture, or even ridicule them. Fourth, and probably most important of all, the political nature of the proceedings and the political leanings of the characters in the impeachment trial have become increasingly obvious some people don’t even bother with subtleties anymore.

And so, what I feared most has come to pass. The conflict between the executive and the judiciary branches of government has now degenerated into a street brawl, with no less than the President of the country and the Chief Justice engaging each other in a very public, very ugly exchange of unsavory accusations and innuendoes. In the past, the President was content with making innuendoes and simply allowing his lieutenants to do the attacking. He has dropped all pretenses of leaving the matter in the hands of the senators and has signal the launch of a more mass-based campaign to oust the Chief Justice.

Chief Justice Corona has likewise shunned the dignified and venerable image that has traditionally cloaked justices of the Supreme Court and has decided to engage his detractors mano-a-mano. He told the President to also explain his own Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth as well as make public his psychological records. Corona’s attack was unprecedented. Justices of the high court usually behave with probity and propriety. But then again, his supporters say he has been provoked enough or driven to desperation.

If the top officials of the country are now throwing mud at each other and calling each other names, it’s only a matter of time before things make a turn for the worse.

There are those who think that the whole downward spiral could be averted if Corona makes the ultimate sacrifice and resigns his post. Unfortunately, Corona’s supporters also argue that a resignation would precisely defeat the essence of what Corona is fighting for which is the independence of the judiciary and the authoritarian tendencies of the current administration. Besides, the stakes for Corona are already too great—his personal and professional reputation as well as that of his family is already on the line. The impeachment trial was supposed to be the constitutionally provided avenue to get out of the impasse. But the way the prosecution has been bungling the case does not exactly inspire confidence.

Of course the kind of information that is being revealed in the impeachment trial are too damaging for Corona that it seems a resignation even after an acquittal seems necessary. It seems this is his game plan, anyway. However, it would be irresponsible to make a judgment at this point when the defense has not even started presenting its rebuttal and its own witnesses.

But it is obvious that what we have today is a leadership crisis. So far, only Enrile is stepping up to the plate, all the rest—and I do mean all, including those in the Judiciary—seem oblivious to the great need for leadership and stewardship at this critical junction. In fact, this whole series of events could have been avoided if diplomacy, some strategic thinking, a win-win approach to negotiation, and just a little less pride and obstinacy were practiced. Unfortunately, we live at a time when some people think such things as popularity and a mandate and a sense of moral authority entitle them to do whatever they want.


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