Wednesday, May 30, 2012

(A) Justice on Trial: Part 2

A few days ago I saw a political cartoon in the "Philippine Daily Inquirer" depicting "Juan dela Cruz" (a nickname for  the  individual  Filipino) keeping an eye on the impeachment trial proceedings of the  Supreme Court of the Philippines Chief Justice, Renato Corona. Along with  Juan dela Cruz was a symbol of the rest of  the world watching the trial as well.

Alas, the cartoon was only  partially accurate.  The Philippines has been transfixed by this event which was has played out since it began in January. But from what I can determine, internationally (except perhaps for Filipino communities abroad)  it was not considered a newsworthy event.

And more's the pity.  It was the first such removal of a Supreme Court Chief Justice in the nation's history.  The impeachment of the country's top jurist which was conducted by the Philippines Senate concluded yesterday.  Corona was convicted by a vote of 203.  He has agreed not to contest the verdict and will step down from his post (not that he had much choice. The Senate's decision is constitutionally final)    

There were several charges against Corona, including  accepting a legally questionable midnight appointment from former Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as she was leaving office. But the charge on which he was finally tried and convicted was failure to report all his bank accounts on his SALN (Statment of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth ) which every government employee is required to file and complete accurately. How he amassed his huge fortune as a SC justice  about which claimed legitimacy  was besides the point and may  be taken up under separate investigative proceedings.

The impeachment trial itself had many twists, turns, and blunders by both sides.  It was capped last  week when Corona himself staged a dramatic walkout after submitting his testimony  which was a three hour speech that really did little to dispel  the likelihood of  his guilt. The manner of his attempted departure from the Senate and the building (which was stopped by security) was done in an apparent deliberate attempt to insult the senator--judges.  By conducting himself in this arrogant manner, he sealed his own fate.

The guilty verdict was a victory for President of the Philippines Benigno Aquino III who had challenged  Corona's appointment as SC Chief Justice from the beginning.  Aquino ran for office on an  anti-corruption platform and Corona's removal is a feather in his cap toward this end. 

IMO the impeachment proceedings were carried out fairly. with the prosecution and the defense presenting their respective cases and witnesses  to the senatorjudges who with a few exceptions displayed no overall bias for  either side. But in the end, the evidence was overwhelming against Corona.I was especially impressed by 88 years old Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who despite his advanced age is still as sharp as a tack and oversaw the proceedings as masterfully as an orchestra conductor.

And it is for the reason of this impartiality in a country where fairness and due process in legal proceedings are very uneven except for the wealthy and well-connected (and who could be more influential than a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?) that the world should have been made more aware of this trial. As a result of this lack of coverage, it missed an opportunity to witness a  possible sea change  in the dispensation  of justice in a country where such a transformation is long overdue.

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