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.



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