POSTSCRIPT / March 13, 2012 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Impeach case defective, but too late to stop trial

SHOW MUST GO ON: Halfway through the Senate impeachment ballgame with the prosecution leading – because the defense is not yet allowed to shoot — it might be too late to call off the fight as the team of impeached Chief Justice Renato C. Corona wants.

The defense seeks the scrapping of the impeachment charges for being fatally defective. It complains that the Articles of Impeachment were railroaded without their having been read, assessed and verified by all the 188 congressmen who signed the documents.

But with the Senate court having accepted the Articles and given the complaint due course, and having heard testimony and received evidence with the defense in full watch, it may be too late to undo all that has been done.

On that point alone, this non-lawyer thinks the trial must go on wherever it may lead – in the Senate hall or out in the streets.

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RUSH SUBMISSION: My attitude, I keep repeating so as not to be misunderstood, is that I really do not care if Corona is removed or retained as Chief Justice provided this is done according to the law and without violating the rights of any person.

I take this stand despite my impression that the House prosecution panel is ill-prepared to prosecute a defective complaint that its signatories have not even read or assessed as required by the Constitution.

The reason for my negative impression is: How could the excited (over what, don’t ask me) congressmen have read the complaint when it was still being printed at the time they were asked to sign? All that some of them saw was a PowerPoint audio-visual presentation.

In fact, when the complaint was rushed for submission to the Senate the next morning it could not be accepted right away, because there were still not enough copies printed.

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BAND AID: The congressmen were required to examine the evidence before signing. But what evidence was there when the prosecution, in its hurry, was just banking on two possibilities:

* That the merciless mudslinging against Corona, amplified by willing media sectors, will shock and awe Corona to the point of resigning. If the accused quits, the prosecution do not need evidence to prove anything.

* Or if Corona keeps standing to fight, the Senate impeachment court will be asked to subpoena witnesses and documents that the prosecution had not bothered to secure and verify before filing the case.

Like a Band Aid, the certification of the House Secretary was taken at its face value and regularity was presumed in the complaint’s preparation and verification. That was done under cover of inter-chamber courtesy.

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EVIDENCE IS IRRELEVANT: Actually, whatever evidence is offered –real or imagined, true or false, filched or validly procured — is largely irrelevant in the senators’ deciding the guilt or innocence of the Chief Justice.

Invoking the catch-all term sui generis (a class of its own) to describe the impeachment trial, senator-judges are able to lay down any rule or adopt any mental disposition since they can disregard any precedent, if any.

A consequence of this is that any and all evidence can be disregarded by individual senators who can render judgment on the basis even of whim, partisan bias, or ignorance. Note that the impeachment case is 99 percent political, and hardly judicial or legal.

At the end of the day (an expression as worn-out as “at this point in time”), it will be every senator on his own, or in connivance with like-minded politicos, passing judgment on the Chief Justice.

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GRAND DEBATE: It was partly because of the highly partisan color of the proceedings and the perceived irrelevance of evidence – plus the outbreak of a media war of mutual destruction — that I suggested last week throwing the Corona case directly to the people.

The people who watch the trial as a sort of extended jury are the ultimate judge in the superior public court trying Corona outside the Senate.

The suggestion, first aired on Twitter, is for a Grand Debate between President Noynoy Aquino (the Accuser) and the Chief Justice (the Accused). The bout could be organized by an independent group with the proceeds going to the education of out-of school children.

Referring to the protagonists, the proposed debate had a kicker: “Ang aayaw ay duwag.” (He who runs away is a coward.)

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REACTIONS: Picked up in other forums, the suggestion elicited varied reactions. One of them, tongue in cheek, came from STAR reader Remberto Maclang, who said:

“Yes, indeed, why not a Grand Debate (since both of them, PNoy and CJ Corona, could not be dissuaded anyway to shut their mouths) with no holds-barred on all the issues, till one of them drops dead, the winner being the one left standing.

“And if both drop dead, the winner will be the people. This will save us the agony of the continuous impeachment charivari. Let the INC and the CBCP sponsor it, so it will not be claimed as partisan. Tagalog should be the medium used since both are fluent in it.

“Manila Water or Maynilad should provide the drinking water during breaks to avoid conflict of interest. Or Absolute or Summit purified water could be provided instead. The venue should be the Luneta Grandstand and not UST or the Ateneo.

“Both should take a leave of absence, with Jojo Binay as acting president and Antonio Carpio (the most senior associate justice) as temporary CJ. Tourism Secretary Jimenez should capitalize on this spectacle and solidify his mantra of ‘It’s more fun in da Pilipins.’”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 13, 2012)

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