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Concluding Thoughts on the Corona Trial and Verdict

Well, there you have it. The Impeachment Court has passed its verdict on Chief Justice Renato Corona; so that is really the cue for the rest of us to get on with our lives. In the end, the 20-3 vote to convict was emphatic; and probably reflected, anyway, the overriding sentiment outside the walls of the Philippine Senate.

For the same reason that I always say that a decision by the Supreme Court is incontestable if for no other reason than that any argument has to end somewhere, then this decision by the Impeachment Court has to be seen as the end of the matter.

Because all of us who are not privy to the inner affairs of government can at best really just conjecture on what the truth is, then the decision of the Impeachment Court to declare Corona guilty as charged is as close as we can get at the moment to what the truth is.

That is why I am distressed to hear about Lead Defence Counsel Serafin Cuevas in the media making noises about elevating the matter to the Supreme Court.

Please! It is not as though the entire impeachment trial has not been traumatic and divisive enough for the entire nation. Besides, it was never as though the defence did not get its chance to state its case at the Impeachment Court.

Personally, at the start of the trial I had nothing but contempt for the prosecution whose case seemed half-baked and which seemed determined to entertain everyone with a comedy of errors.

At the time, the defence was very sharp; and it was easy to come to the conclusion that the way things were going, it was almost a certainty that the Chief Justice would be acquitted.

While it can be argued that the prosecution really failed to do a solid job of proving the Chief Justice’s guilt, it can also be argued that the defence likewise failed to prove his innocence.

In hindsight, listening to the Senator Judges explaining their decisions, one got the impression that these were arrived at based on testimonies of a witness that the defence itself placed on the stand and of the Chief Justice himself.

In a court of law, perhaps the legalistic stance of the defence from Day 1 would have been not only appropriate; it would have been the only way. However, it was always clear that the Impeachment Court was as much a political affair as it was a legal one.

Therefore, a seeming over-reliance on the notion that the prosecution did not legally prove its case was always going to be an Achilles heel for the defence.

Strangely enough, for all its legal nous, that the defence failed to substantiate the Chief Justice’s testimonies with documentary evidence always erred on the side of optimistic. I wrote as much in a previous article that I felt that this was a mistake; and ultimately it proved to be so.

Unless there was none to show; which only goes to show that the hardest innocence of all to prove is that of the guilty. If this was the case, then the Senator Judges saw through the veneer of legalese.

Despite the finality of the decision, despite the drama and the rawness of the emotions, thought must always be spared for the words of Senator Miriam Santiago. Strip the senator of her penchant for histrionics and melodrama and the wise will always find that it is her logic that is most difficult to shred.

Essentially, what Santiago tells us is that a verdict of guilty has made inaccuracies in the SALN a high crime; and therefore an impeachable offence with neither the benefit of legislation nor an explicit provision in the constitution.

This is in no way to detract from the guilty verdict; for indeed, if the Chief Justice cannot be trusted to file a SALN beyond reproach, who will? Except that this line of thinking is not explicitly supported by law...

Indeed, as those in management will attest, confusion in the workplace frequently stems from the failure of those in management to regulate the same workplace with sound policies and regulations that serve and protect the greater good.

What Santiago correctly if implicitly points out is that the Senate might have been better served by addressing the glaring need for legislation than by passing a guilty verdict.

Everything is, of course, water under the bridge even as I write this. Looking forward, however, I hope that the Senators will not undermine the respect that they earned with their emphatic verdict by subsequently failing to address the abject need for legislative actions that this impeachment trial exposed.

Even the Impeachment Court itself, and the frequent citations from foreign authors, appeared to indicate that in it we just used a tool that few – even some of the Senator Judges – fully understood. A serious rethink is not only in order; it is also long overdue.

Beyond the impeachment trial, how does Senate and the rest of Congress legislate to guarantee the independence of not only the Judiciary but of all three branches of government; and in so doing ensuring that government’s system of checks and balances is not compromised by sleight of hand moves by any of the three branches?

What can be done to prevent the signing of impeachment articles by those who have not read, much more fathomed, its contents; or the fishing for evidences while trial is already ongoing for an apparently half-baked case?

What about mysteriously acquired alleged evidences; and leaks to the media of supposedly confidential documents?

Above all, how do the Senate and the rest of Congress legislate to ensure that the standards of honesty of which Chief Justice Corona was found wanting are met by everyone else in government? Let us not forget what the Lord Jesus Christ said to those who were getting ready to pelt Mary of Magdalene with rocks.

Or shall we all naïvely assume that corruption will cease just because Corona was found guilty?

Let me end this article with just two more thoughts. First, of the closing statements delivered by either panel, I felt that Congressman Fariñas' was the most brilliant. A bit coarse, perhaps; and the defence was correct to retort that all his arguments should have been made in cross-examination.

That said, Fariñas’ street logic was not only ultimately powerful; it also showed a savvy that I previously did not give the prosecution credit for and something that the defence could have used a bit more of.

Finally, a word about Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile. Brilliant! Your Honour has won my respect.

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