Monday, March 12, 2012

If we must

This is my column today.

The circus, also known as the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, resumes today.

We expect the fireworks to be more spectacular this time around because it is the turn of the defense to take the floor at the Senate.

We want to know how Corona is going to explain the discrepancies between the items declared in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and the bank statements presented in the impeachment court. We are being conditioned to believe that the millions of pesos in Corona’s bank accounts didn’t belong to him but to his wife’s family corporation. It seems too much of a stretch to believe that yarn because as a banker I know that most people in this country do maintain separate bank accounts for funds intended for separate purposes. It’s just so much more convenient, intuitive and commonsensical to do it that way. Then again, he has not officially presented his defense so if we must judge the man, we must first give him his day in court. He is supposed to be innocent until proven otherwise which is the reason why there is a trial to begin with; otherwise, we might as well declare public lynching legal in this country.

But granting, for the sake of argument, that there is indeed a discrepancy in his SALN that is in violation of existing laws, the question that begs to be answered is if whether such an offense has enough legal ground to impeach him. I know that there are those who insist that as chief justice, Mr. Corona is supposed to be beyond reproach and that ultimately it is a question of moral fitness for the highest judicial post in the land. I don’t particularly think that the impeachment trial is the right venue to weigh the moral character of a person but I recognize that the impeachment trial is both a legal and a political exercise. And politics is ultimately about the ethical or unethical use of power. So yes, I think that the moral angle is valid.

But if we must impeach Corona on moral grounds, we must make sure that the process we use in doing so is beyond reproach. I insist that this is the reason we have never been able to make people fully accountable for the sins they have committed while they were in office – we tend to take a lot of shortcuts and haphazard processes that end up indefensible, all in the name of good intentions. We must realize that being suffused with righteous indignation is not enough justification to convict anyone suspected of wrongdoing.

Perhaps due to certain circumstances in my family and personal life (which I cannot go into details now), there is one admonition from my grandmother that I took to heart very early on in my life: Those who preach from a high moral perch and wish to cast moral judgments on others must make sure that they have the moral right to do so and then do so the right and moral way. Put another way, those who insist on walking the straight and narrow path must make sure that they personally do not stray from the avowed path.

For example, Corona’s revelation last week that the President seemed to have broken his own hard ethical stance when he met with Corona at his sister’s house to discuss the Truth Commission was shocking. For someone who has been harping about the need to stick to the straight and narrow path, the revelation that he tried to influence the Chief Justice on something that was going to end up in the Supreme Court in a few weeks was unnerving. Was this perhaps the reason why the articles of impeachment alleging Corona’s unfitness as Chief Justice supposedly to be propped up by testimony by Lauro Vizconde, were dropped by the prosecution? If the President himself met up with the Chief Justice to discuss a potential case, why would Corona’s meeting with Vizconde be questionable?

If we come to think about it, this is the reason this particular impeachment process is deeply flawed and difficult to empathize with. The circumstances around open more questions than answers.

In the end, it requires one to have unshakable faith in Benigno Simeon Coujuangco Aquino III not to scoff or at least doubt the wisdom of this particular complaint. The problem is that the performance of this government does not really inspire that kind of faith on people other than his rabid supporters.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Not about the frills

This is my column today.

What a relief to hear no less than the prince of the Catholic Church in the Philippines, the Archbishop of Manila Luis Antonio Tagle, slam the growing commercialization of weddings in this country. I’m not a conservative person, but I am not blind or deaf to situations that break social norms.

In remarks delivered at the Manila Archdiocesan General Pastoral Assembly last week, Tagle chastised Filipino couples and their wedding planners and coordinators and told them to stop all the “ka-ek-ekan” (gayspeak for frivolities) associated with weddings.

I also liked the fact that Tagle didn’t deliver his message in a scathing, fire-and-brimstone manner. Instead of issuing threats and condemnations and warning people of eternal damnation in hell, the archbishop narrated vignettes culled from personal experiences while officiating during weddings.

About time someone put people to task for the way weddings in this country have become a pabonggahan (over-the-top) contest. As a teacher, I invariably get invited to a lot of weddings of former students and I tell you, there have been many occasions when I wish the bride or groom was still my student. This is so I could tell them exactly why a wedding ceremony should not be reduced to a fashion or drama production. I know what you are thinking — it’s their wedding and they have every right to make it into whatever they want. But a wedding is still a sacred ceremony that demands a certain level of solemnity and seriousness; the fact that they invited witnesses must signify their intent to keep things at a certain level of respectability. And really, if it is held inside a place of worship and officiated by a religious person, they are also obligated to show respect for their and other people’s faith.

I don’t care what people do during the reception — they can turn it into a Halloween party if they so desire. But I have serious misgivings about watching the entourage gyrating their way from the door of the church to the altar to the soundtrack of Fame, the movie. Nor is it okay for the production people who have been contracted to produce an on-site video and several post-wedding music videos to literally direct how the priest, the readers, the entourage, and the guests should position themselves or move during the ceremony just so they could get cinematic footages. The video and the photo shoot just cannot be the main consideration in the ceremony. I consider myself to have a very open mind and to have a very tolerant attitude towards fashion trends but I draw the line at flower girls dressed in evening gowns with plunging necklines and bared backs — these are kids, for crying out loud.

I’ve been to a wedding where the church decoration included live rabbits hopping around in keeping with a spring motif (I understood why the priest rushed through the whole ceremony and completed it in 45 minutes flat). I stood as sponsor in a wedding that had over a hundred members of the entourage — almost 30 flower girls and around the same number of bridesmaids (the march alone took more than 30 minutes).

I see the wisdom of having the groom and bride recite vows they themselves wrote; I can tolerate plagiarism during weddings, but one wishes some would bother to have their opuses edited for clarity or grammar. And then there are the consumerist flourishes — butterflies, confetti, bubble machines, snow makers, little animals running or flying around. Again, I don’t mind if these are featured at the reception...but at the church? Come on!

These flourishes may be important, but not really as important as the ceremony itself. A wedding is still about the vows, the sacrament, and yes, about faith. Everything else is just the proverbial icing on the cake. And people should be reminded of that.

I do understand the need to make weddings special, unique, memorable, etc. I know most people wish to get married only once in their lifetime so they want to make sure their weddings are events that they will remember forever. I also understand the need to inject their own personalities and their personal styles into the event. The key is to go for simplicity, elegance and sincerity; it’s a wedding, not a Fourth of July celebration.

If we come to think about it, it’s not the frills and the extravaganza that people will remember about a wedding — it would be the warmth, the affection, and the happiness that envelop the whole proceedings.

And by the way, I don’t really diss the Catholic bishops all the time. See, I agreed with Tagle this time around.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Santiago the gadfly

This is my column today.

The irrepressible Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago is once again in the maelstrom of public opinion. She, once again, lost her temper at the impeachment trial last week, called the prosecutors “g*go”, and berated them publicly for dismal performance. She also exchanged heated arguments with private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre after he covered his ears in public purportedly to avoid “hearing her shrill voice” and, after Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile banged the gavel to declare a recess, reportedly confronted Aguirre by standing in front of him daring him to say something to her in person. The behavior was classic, very classic Miriam Defensor Santiago.

The repeated use of the words “once again” in the preceding paragraph is deliberate. This is not the first time that the senator made a spectacle of herself. It won’t be the last.

Which is why I am stupefied that people are going berserk over Santiago’s behavior. Oh come on, she got elected as senator and continue to hog the limelight precisely for being a political gadfly and for not mincing words in public. This is a woman who has never been known to do things in moderation; she has never been known to shy away from confrontations even if it reduces her to a caricature.

Wasn’t it just a few months ago when she called some people epal for claiming credit for government projects and displaying their photoshopped images in huge billboards across the country? We applauded her for that. Didn’t she get acclaim for calling some congressmen fungus-faced? In fact, I first heard of Santiago in the eighties when as a regional trial court judge she presided over the subversion case of directors Behn Cervantes and the late Lino Brocka. The two raved endlessly about the way Santiago bravely made mincemeat of the military’s attempt to fudge evidence against them.

Admit it, people. Without her outbursts, the Corona impeachment trial would not have lasted this long because we would have died from boredom a long time ago.

But as some people pointed out to me after I published a post about Santiago in a social networking site, am I not bothered that she called the prosecutors gago in public? Oh please, let’s stop pretending that our leaders are still capable of civility or niceties when dealing with their detractors or foes. Matagal na tayong nagbabastusan sa bayan natin. I can give you many examples such as when the prosecutors and defense panels make pronouncements or attack each other in media deliberately ignoring specific instructions from the impeachment court to stop subverting itself, or when the President picked Conchita Morales Carpio to administer his oath of office, or when the chief justice struts in public like a politician rather than highest magistrate in the land.

It amuses me no end when I come across comments in various social networking sites that put Santiago to task for not showing (or earning) respect and then in the same vein attack her using the foulest language and the most convoluted logical acrobatics. Many people put her down for saying “g*go” in public, and then let loose a volley of invectives directed at her.

Besides, I am not sure that I would not have done the same thing if I were sitting as a judge in a trial where the prosecutors distinguish themselves for rank incompetence. The prosecutors were strutting all over the place just a couple of months ago, swaggering with confidence and braggadocio about “hundreds of witnesses and tons of evidence.” It turns out they had nothing because they wrongly assumed that the chief justice would resign to avoid humiliation. Unfortunately, the chief justice has been unmasked as having a face just like theirs - thick as hide. Actually, I use even more incendiary language to describe Rep. Niel Tupas and company for wasting precious time and money on an impeachment complaint that they couldn’t prop up.

Do I like Santiago? Not specifically. But I think she is the most truthful person in the whole impeachment court. Call her arrogant, crazy, emotionally unstable, intellectually snobbish. But we all can live with a little provocation every now and then to jolt us out of complacency.

If only people were honest with themselves, they would admit that they hate her for her latest outbursts simply because these did not help the prosecution, otherwise, she could have burst a vein, done hara-kiri, or regurgitated invectives that would have put a Tondo criminal to shame and we would have given her a standing ovation. Really, guys, if she does the same thing to the defense panel next week, would we still be calling her the same things?