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Sunday Lifestyle

Teaching through impeaching

MANO-A-MANO - Adel Tamano -

The day after the senate impeachment court convicted Chief Justice Renato C. Corona for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution, my friend overheard, as he was leaving the Church after attending Mass, a woman asking her friend why she wasn’t wearing black that day as a sign of mourning for the Chief Justice’s conviction. My friend’s story encapsulated for me how the impeachment trial had captured the interest and imagination of Filipinos and how many of our countrymen had taken sides in the controversy.

Plainly, through the nearly six months of impeachment proceedings, including the signing of the complaint in the lower house and transmittal to the Senate, few Filipinos sat on the fence and the majority had strong anti-Corona or pro-Corona views, with the pro-Coronas being the minority. And both sides had legitimate arguments in their favor: the anti-Coronas viewed the impeachment as part and parcel of the reforms that President Aquino had undertaken to clean up the government. The pro-Coronas viewed the impeachment, which included articles of impeachment on decisions that the former Chief Justice participated in, as an attack on the judiciary itself and an attempt to coerce compliance and obeisance to the wishes of a popular executive. While both sides seemed well-intentioned, a smattering of hateful persons infiltrated both ranks, some obviously paid by propagandists, and would regularly spew the most offensive and untruthful statements on social media against anyone who appeared to question their side or who made any arguments against their claims.  

And the almost half a year of impeachment certainly distracted our lawmakers and made the passage of urgent bills, such as RH and FOI, an impossibility. This was perhaps the worst, to some perhaps unforeseen, consequence of the impeachment: the virtual standstill of the legislative mill. While a few brave lawmakers did attempt to make the legislative machinery move during the mornings when there wasn’t any impeachment proceedings, it was to no avail. The eyes of the nation and the limited time and resources of our legislators were focused on the historic trial and that simply meant that there would rarely be a sufficient quorum to do business for the passage of vital legislation.

Nevertheless, the impeachment, as a whole, has been a very positive experience for our country and a watershed moment for our nation. Simply, going through the impeachment process was a giant step in our political and democratic maturity. Others argue that the impeachment was a mere waste of time and resources and was hardly effective in rooting out corruption, particulalry since it caused the removal from office of only one person. That is the short and unfortunately myopic view. The reality is that, in the long run, the impeachment will be viewed as one of the turning points in our nation’s history  the time when we decided to behave like a mature democracy.  

Mature democracies trust their institutions. When there are great political disagreements, mature democracies don’t see their citizens running out into the streets but instead let the judicial and legal processes settle their controversies. While I believe that the first Philippine People Power was truly a miracle  I was there in EDSA with my father and I was tasked to carry the green banner of the UNIDO party  and the signal of the rebirth of democracy in the Philippines, however, like all miracles, it is very rarely a repeatable event. I say this because the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona demonstrated that our democratic institutions do work and thus our need to invoke future “people power” moments will, hopefully, be lessened.

This is why the impeachment proceedings were so important and why media also played a significant role  the impeachment was our Rule of Law 101 class, our “intro to modern democracy” on air. How many Filipinos are able to attend legislative proceedings or to go to the courts of law? Broadcasting the impeachment trial, with ANC doing a complete wall-to-wall coverage, gave our citizens the chance to see government at work. They saw our Senator-judges pondering difficult, sometimes technical, issues and endeavoring to have a process that was fair to both the prosecution and the defense. Filipinos learned about the law on procedure, banking, evidence, tax, land registration, our constitution, civil law, and even accounting and history. Only the most cynical and thick-headed of our countrymen would have failed to gain even a bit of understanding about our legal and democratic processes.

Equally important was the lesson in civility. We Filipinos have unfortunately grown accustomed to the most crass and rude displays of behavior when we are in conflict. We cuss, curse, and act like brutes towards those opposed to us. Sadly, we’ve lost our sense of being gentlemen and gentlewomen. But the trial showed that even when we disagree and argue, we can do so with a healthy dose of gentility and decorum. Sure there were some mistakes, for example, some might fault Miriam for histrionics, but, on the whole, the majority of the people involved behaved appropriately. As a side note, in regard Miriam, while many might disagree or even condemn me on this, despite all her sound and fury, she actually makes sense for me. Looking back at the trial, it was Enrile and Cuevas, both gentlemen of the old school, who set the tone for the proceedings and hopefully have taught our people how to behave with decorum even in the toughest of political battles.

But perhaps the most important lesson of all was the one on accountability: that even the most powerful of persons, the very head on one of our three great branches of government, can be held accountable. Sure, many will disagree with the outcome of the verdict, particularly lawyers who may not see non-inclusion of dollar deposits as an impeachable offense if done in good faith and with legal justification, but what is important is that Filipinos finally see a person in power being held to account for his actions. Often, we only see persons who have fallen out of power becoming the object of accountability or, more often, persecution from the new dispensation. Thus, Corona’s conviction is a strong reminder to our public servants to tread carefully because they too may be held accountable despite their seeming hold on power.

For all the impeachment process’ defects, it is clear to me that the anti-corruption message and the need for public accountability of our public officers has taken stronger root in the public’s consciousness. Hopefully, we will demand all elective and appointive officials to make waivers and disclosures of all their bank accounts and financial investments.

As a final note, if there is one premise of the impeachment of Corona that I disagreed with, it is this: the biggest challenge to our country has never been merely corruption but also the apathy of our citizens. My own optimistic view is that the great interest shown by our countrymen on the impeachment is a clear signal that we are becoming less apathetic and instead are growing  or perhaps more correctly “growing up”  to be more interested in the public affairs of our nation and that we are finally on our way to becoming a mature and responsible democracy.

CHIEF JUSTICE CHIEF JUSTICE CORONA CHIEF JUSTICE RENATO C ENRILE AND CUEVAS IMPEACHMENT PHILIPPINE PEOPLE POWER PRESIDENT AQUINO RULE OF LAW WE FILIPINOS
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