Burning and boredom #cj trial

By Rene Azurin

When the senator-judges at the Corona impeachment trial chose to wear blood red robes, I thought that it was because they imagined themselves to be Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada since he, legend has it, wore red robes when trying accused heretics, blasphemers, witches, and homosexuals. That fanatical temon of the dreaded Spanish Inquisition sentenced over 2,000 such unfortunates to burn at the stake, so one can guess that his trials were not ho-hum affairs. Not like the boring one now unfolding on afternoon TV.

The problem must be that our senator-judges choose not to match their demeanor to their fearsome red robes. With one notable exception, they take pains to speak quietly and respectfully, almost as if trying to assure the viewing public that they are not in fact fanatical friars in blood red robes. Other than that one notable exception, no one in the cast of red-robed characters evokes the appropriate image of the truly mad, wild-eyed bigot spewing fire from tremulous lips. There is also the added fact that no accused is present in the tableau, no bloody broken product of the torturer’s rack, no helpless heap of bones to be pelted with screaming rants that it is surely the devil’s spawn. Oh well, I am probably dredging up images from an old movie. But, truth to tell, I find this particular version of the daytime reality show sleep-inducing even if it is ending in the figurative equivalent of a burning at the stake.

That ending is obvious. Just noting the statements that have already issued from the President (and his minions) and the unrestrainable efforts of congressman-prosecutors to make their case in the media rather than in the courtroom makes it clear that the non-negotiable goal is nothing less than a public burning at the stake. Especially disturbing to those searching for any indicators of fair play is the continuing penchant of congressman-prosecutors for releasing willy-nilly to the press so-called evidence considered inadmissible in court. The obvious strategy is, if we can’t burn him in the courtroom, let’s burn him in the streets and coffee shops.

One can speculate that the red-robed senator-judges’ often labored attempts at essaying postures of reasonableness and impartiality are simply intended to obscure the fact that there is already an execution by fire actually in progress. But, it is useless trying to persuade the public that objectivity and fairness will characterize this purported trial. No one I have talked to really believes that political considerations and pecuniary incentives have not already determined how this “trial” will end. Like Torquemada’s mock trials, that is a foregone conclusion. By the way, this is not to say that people do not think that Chief Justice Corona is guilty of at least some of the impeachment charges (they do), only that people do not think that pork-salivating politicos — whether senator-judges or congressman-prosecutors — are realistic models of impartiality and objectivity.

So end it already. As quickly as possible, since everybody already knows what its final outcome will be. Unless it is to provide aging viewers a helpful soporific to make them slip fitfully into their afternoon siestas, there is no longer any point for daytime TV to continue inflicting a boring reality show on an exasperated public. Me, I have already tuned out.

For future impeachment trials — since another one is forthcoming soon, that of Supreme Court Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo — let me suggest that the Senate adopt a simpler, more straightforward, and shorter procedure. The procedure I propose is to just allow prosecutors to present and argue their case in full (with audio-visual presentations if they like) before senator-judges, then letting defense counsels similarly answer and argue their case in full. Of course, hard copies of all the arguments and documentary evidence offered by each side will be collated in binders filed with the impeachment court. Each side’s complete case will thus be in a bound book that will also be made available to the public (via Web).

After hearing the oral presentations and studying the filed binders, it will then be up to the senator-judges — presumably still in blood red robes — to call any witness they might want to ask questions of in order to clarify certain issues or validate certain alleged facts. (Unlike Torquemada, though, they will not be allowed to subject witnesses to the rack.) In this proposed procedure, it will be the senator-judges asking questions of witnesses, not the counsels for the prosecution or defense. In this way, questions will be limited and basically clarificatory in nature, and time-consuming objections can be avoided. After the senator-judges have satisfied themselves with respect to particular concerns, they can immediately vote to settle the guilt or innocence of the accused. With this procedure, senator-judges can run through impeachment cases like a production line, a convenient thing since at least seven more allegedly pro-Arroyo justices have yet to be impeached.

For us, the Filipino public, we ought to be thoroughly aware that, in the end, the result of the impeachments of Supreme Court justices is the burning at the stake of the institution of the Judiciary. Even if the justices subject of the current impeachment proceedings might truly deserve to be impeached, the practical effect will be that no justice henceforth will dare rule against or offend a sitting president who, because of the largesse a president can offer, can readily get 80-odd congressmen to impeach a justice for “high crimes” and 16 senators to find him guilty. The so-called independence of the Judiciary will be effectively over. No more checks for the power of the Chief Executive. He will be able to do what he wants and get all the judicial rulings he needs, including those benefiting him personally, whether these concern executive privilege, election sabotage, sweetheart deals, or even haciendas.

The critical issue then is, since the building up of institutions is a sine qua non for the maturing of a democratic society, if the burning down of a concededly ineffectual and possibly rotting Judiciary will ultimately result in the bettering of the lot of the long suffering Filipino people. Clearly, that will depend on what is put in the burned structure’s place. No one (I think) wants a return to Torquemada’s 15th century and an era when the perceived lack of faith in a prevailing doctrine or reigning king is punishable by burning.