Civility in the Senate #cj trial

By Elmer Ordonez

I knew it was coming. Did we expect the public to just accept what the Senate did, holding in contempt a private prosecutor for cupping his ears during the senator judge’s abusive tirade against the prosecution in last March 1 hearing of the impeachment trial. I had already submitted my last column that day and could only comment on it today. No editorial or column had appeared on the subject until last Sunday with Randy David’s “The ‘upper’ house” (PDI). On the night of March 1 the social media was already astir with opinions largely against the lady senator. Now it’s the talk of the town.

Defense counsel Serafin Cuevas himself said in effect: I sympathize with Atty. Aguirre but what he did was in contempt of court. The first part of his statement shows his sensitivity to verbal abuse inflicted on anyone and incivility in court; the last part is a recognition of the importance of having order in the court. He was after all a trial judge for 20 years.

Senator Miriam Santiago took on a Jesuit priest Catalino Arevalo, a close friend of the Aquino family, for having said that the senator’s insulting remarks directed at the prosecution panel were worthy of the “fires of hell.” The senator, invoking the constitution on separation of church and state, said the priest had no right to meddle in politics. As expected Conrad de Quiros launched a withering attack on the senator’s conduct at the hearing.

Just a week before that fateful hearing, I already commented: “The ‘terrors’ of academe live on in the trial. But after the constant barrage of legal technicalities, pomposity, ex cathedra statements, incivility, grilling, grandstanding, ego-tripping and other antics in the trial, tedium and frustration started to set in. I now prefer following the progress of the trial through video footages and print media reports and analyses. I miss the cool and unruffled manner of Chief Justice Hilario Davide presiding over the impeachment trial of President Estrada.”

Presiding officer Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile can do more in setting the decorous tone of the trial than just calling on the participants to speak calmly. He himself was given to outbursts directed at the prosecution and some witnesses. I have also seen too many Senate investigations that turned out to be medieval inquisitions.

I hope civility returns to the Senate and respect be accorded to all witnesses, private counsels, and the prosecution panel who are after all co-equal members of Congress.

While the senator-judges were unanimous in citing the lawyer for contempt, many of them, I believe, were embarrassed with the whole affair. Just as well they meted out just an admonition as penalty for the disrespectful lawyer. If they take up their colleague’s intemperate behavior in the ethics committee, they shall thereby also hold up a mirror at their own lapses.

Whither impeachment?

Early on (1/7/12) I already wrote that the impeachment was a “manifestation of the rifts between rival elite factions” and that eventually the two sides would come to terms – on the notion that historically factions of the ruling class do not annihilate each other. This is of necessity to preserve the playing field of the local oligarchies and their dependency on foreign (mainly US) capital and support. In fact, foreign intervention has manifested itself in many ways. For one, economic programs are tailored to neoliberal requirements of development. The oligarchies have long wanted to amend the 1987 charter to suit foreign investments, now focused on mining. Furthermore, the ruling classes need the protection of US military support (e.g. Operation Bayanihan) against threats to their investments.

The alleviation of poverty is foisted by foreign investors well represented by local oligarchs as the objective of the big mining companies but Atty. Christian Monsod, an advocate for responsible mining, said these firms are interested in profit not poverty. A UP study has shown that poverty levels are higher in mining areas.

The outcome of the impeachment trial – acquittal or conviction – will be decided in the playing field of the ruling establishment and US interests. The senator-judges may be talking about “cold objectivity” and impartiality but are saddled with IOUs, utang na loob to patrons, party and personal loyalty, even pending litigation in the courts. Ultimately they will rationalize their vote.

Hacienda Luisita is said to be at the bottom of this exercise. This is a view shared by many who have become skeptical about the anti-corruption drive of President Aquino. Partisans of Chief Justice Corona and the former president harp on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, but have we not seen how the judiciary including the highest court has been corrupted during the Marcos regime and subsequent governments? How can a damaged judiciary be independent? The rule of law has also been twisted by the ruling class to suit their interests. The constitutional authoritarianism of Marcos is just one example. More in past and present regimes.

Unless President Aquino disengage decisively from all interests in Hacienda Luisita and institute genuine land reform, his credibility will continue to suffer, putting in doubt his daang matuwid campaign including his desire to see his bête noire removed.


  1. KEY PHRASES, for Article 2:

    – Chief Justice with more than adequate credentials and qualifications

    – inexcusable negligence of duty
    – betrayal of public trust

    – deliberate attempt to conceal assets
    – culpable violation of the Consitution


    This is our quest
    Don’t care how’t may sound

    No matter how hopeless
    Pro-CJ senators abound

    To fight for the right, without question or pause
    To be willing to march into Hell, for a Heavenly cause

    And we know if we’ll only be true, to this glorious quest
    That our hearts will lie peaceful and calm, when we’re laid to our rest

    And the world will be better for this:

    That one man, who gave us a runaround
    Be dismissed from his unrightful office

    To reach…an IMPEACHABLE ground….

  2. The rule is that for an ordinary public servant, he loses his job if he commits bad faith in filing the SALN. For him, he has a “gimme” since his compliance officer must first notify him of a “problem” and allow a “correction.” This means, the SALN requirement is probably honored in the breach. Still, that’s not a valid defense.

    But who will police the compliance officer? For the judiciary, this officer is the CJ. In theory, it would be an impeachment court. Should he then be treated like any other public servant, and given a break, an allowance as postured by former J Cuevas? Or should we the people ask for delicadeza/noblesse oblige? Or is delicadeza a non-word nowadays? Is apoplexy a la one Senator judge the vulgar common thing that we must live with?

    That’s the Conrado de Q rub.