Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona’s Senate impeachment trial has taken a dramatic turn, and the question now seems to shift from Corona’s own political survival to that of President Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III.
After 26 days of trial, marked by serious lapses on the part of the prosecution, they finally rested their case by dropping five of the eight Articles of Impeachment against the Chief Justice.
The chances of convicting Corona, which the President is eagerly pushing for, appear to be getting slimmer by the hour. That is to say, if we go by the merits of the case.
In sharp contrast, P-Noy is already talking of a mysterious plot, by unnamed parties, to oust him from power. This looks like sheer paranoia, to some.
Should his claim hold, however, P-Noy would not be the first president to be ousted or to be so threatened. The last three decades offer enough examples. Ferdinand Marcos was ousted in 1986; Joseph Ejercito “Erap” Estrada in 2001. P-Noy’s own mother, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, was constantly threatened from 1987 to 1992. So was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo since she replaced Erap in January 2001 until she left office in 2010.
But they never found it necessary nor prudent to announce that nameless forces were out to get them. For whatever reason, P-Noy is the first one to do so. But the military knows nothing about it. Even the normally gossipy media and coffee shops know nothing about it. He alone seems to know about it.
Alone and unaided, P-Noy has put his presidency virtually under siege. The resulting instability is entirely self-made. But the phantom threat could yet come to life, and P-Noy’s spoken fear fulfill itself, should he continue to mishandle himself vis-à-vis the sinking case in the Senate.
After the dropping of the five articles, the case against Corona has crumbled, for all intents and purposes. Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, for one, has openly accused the prosecutors of “bad faith,” and some critics have pointed out the complaint was fatally flawed from the very start and should never have been acted upon at all by the Senate.
The crimes alleged in the remaining three articles fall far below the gravity of the crimes for which an official may be impeached and removed from office, if convicted. These are “culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. ” Not one article seems to rise to the level of an “impeachable offense.”
The strongest of the three (Article II) alleges Corona’s failure to disclose his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALn). But it fails to allege graft and corruption, bribery, or ill-gotten wealth. Still the anti-Corona propagandists have been trying to prove what the complaint does not allege.
Corona may have misstated certain assets in his statement. At the proper time, the defense should explain it. But as a matter of practice, nobody seems to take the SALn all that seriously. Many, if not most, officials leave its filing to their lawyer, accountant, or secretary. In fact, one would be quite lucky to find a member of the Cabinet or Congress whose SALn meets the standard demanded of the respondent Chief Justice. Corona’s accusers may not be half as innocent as the accused.
But even if the alleged flaws in Corona’s SALn were left undisputed, the law allows him to correct his mistakes. The bad news for the prosecution though is that any purported evidence they had obtained from Corona’s bank records may finally be disallowed, for having been illegally obtained.
It is now public knowledge that the prosecution used an illegally leaked bank document to pry open Corona’s confidential records. That renders inadmissible any purported evidence obtained. Such evidence has no standing in court.
However P-Noy could insist that his Senate allies convict Corona, regardless of the evidence. And not all of them may be able to resist. At least two of them are known to have separately urged Corona to resign even before the trial started.
Another is said to have lobbied some of his colleagues for their votes in exchange for “soft projects.” Still another is said to have visited some camps to urge some contacts there to organize something if Corona is acquitted. Yet another sits as senator-judge while his congressman-son speaks for the prosecution to the press.
These are at least five senator-judges whose obvious bias against Corona cannot possibly help them “render impartial justice” to the respondent. They have every reason to inhibit themselves from the final judgment. But that would ensure Corona’s acquittal, so they are not likely to do it.
Yet a conviction based on P-Noy’s intervention rather than on the evidence could harm the President and the nation more than anything else. The entire nation may not be able accept nor withstand it. The moral and political thread that holds our people together could break.
The signs are up. One such sign is the mammoth crowd that filled Manila’s Rizal Park and adjoining areas on February 28---courtesy of the politically powerful Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), which supported P-Noy in 2010 as presidential candidate.
That immense sea of humanity drowned the trickle of government workers who had come to listen to P-Noy’s renewed blast against Corona on the anniversary of EDSA I.
It showed how much drawing power P-Noy really has, independent of the propaganda pollsters’ and the conscript media’s claims about his alleged popularity with the masses.
Billed as purely evangelical, the INC assembly did not have to say a single word to convey its message to P-Noy. The silence said it all. It was the INC’s strongest statement to him yet.
Depending on how Corona’s trial ends, an even bigger crowd could return to the streets, made up of all the other sectors and religious groups. And it may no longer be a passive and prayerful crowd.
Is there a way of avoiding it? There should be. But P-Noy must be prepared to think out of his mechanical box, and listen a little more attentively to those who have no desire to simply indulge his biases and fantasies.