Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Corona Impeachment Trial: A Pandora’s Box

Posted by butalidnl on 24 April 2012

The Corona impeachment trial is not an ordinary trial. By its nature, and due to the national attention to its proceedings, it is turning out to be a Pandora’s Box – bringing to the fore issues about corruption and abuse of power beyond that of the trial itself. While these issues may not be resolved during the trial; they have been raised, and will have to be addressed by the Philippine political system.
The campaign against corruption will advance more through resolving these issues, rather than on whether Corona gets impeached or not.

SALN. Attention has been given to SALNs (Statement of Assets,Liabilities and Net Worth), which are formally required of all government officials and employees. Before the trial, filing it was only a routine procedure; but now we realize that not only should government officials file SALNs, but that they should also be accurate. And that the assets claimed should be ‘explainable’ given the officials’ income.
In discussing Corona’s SALN, the question has been raised about how accurate  SALN entries should be, and the conventions for making SALN entries (e.g. date of ownership, market values etc.)

Implementation of SALN rules will surely be more strict from now on. There will also be calls for the publication of SALNs of all elected officials.

Bank Secrecy. The existence of strict Bank Secrecy Laws (too strict, actually) has been brought to the public’s attention. People have seen the ridiculous extent to which these laws could be implemented. Congress will now have to pass a new Bank Secrecy Law that will allow government (especially the courts) to access bank accounts, including foreign currency accounts.

Executive Discretion. The issue of whether the Executive Branch can simply choose to disregard a Supreme Court order is also under discussion. Can a Cabinet Secretary ignore a Supreme Court order on the grounds that she thinks it was biased? What will happen to ‘rule of law’ where people can simply ignore laws that do not favor them? Shouldn’t Cabinet officials be sanctioned for disobeying the Supreme Court (I think they should, but I don’t think they would). In the future, Cabinet officials will be more careful before they decide to defy SC policies.

Courts will have to be more strict regarding violators of TROs. The De Lima precedent was followed recently by the administration of STC (a Catholic school which punished students for posting photos of them in bikini in Facebook) which ignored a TRO by a Regional Trial Court because the they said that they had filed a motion for reconsideration. This is partly the same logic that De Lima used.

Just Means. “A just struggle has to be fought with just means”- Mohagher Iqbal, 2002. The Corona impeachment process may be what is called a just struggle, but the means with which the pro-Aquino forces are fighting it are not just. The Corona trial will probably be determined by patronage, personal loyalties and wheeling-dealing, rather than by the facts of the case. And most people expect it to be so. The Aquino government is merely pulling strings in the old, politically corrupt way things have always been done.

But the people, who have been watching the trial on TV everyday, will not accept the old ways of politics as easily as before. There will have to be at least a semblance of a real trial, as a result of all the media coverage, It will set a standard for transparency in politics, which even the most hardened political wheeler-dealer cannot fully negate.

President Power over PDAF
Representative Tobias Tiangco said that his PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund ) allotment was not released after he refused to sign the impeachment complaint versus Ombudsman Guttierez last year. This use of Presidential prerogative in releasing (or withholding) Representatives’ ‘pork barrel’ raises the question of whether such control is justified. There would be calls to limit presidential discretion on the release of PDAF.
Another question would be whether PDAF allotments should be made in the first place. After all, the PDAF is used by Representatives in order to build patronage.

Lying About CV
Corona has also be accused of lying in his Curriculum Vitae, claiming honors that were never his.
This charge is rather trivial. After all, who does not ‘pimp up’ their curriculum vitae? The question, of course, is on the extent of ‘pimping up’ that will be allowed.

Hail Marys
‘Hail Marys’ is a term from American Football, when the quarterback throws the ball at no specific receiver And then, he just prays that it will be caught. This is seen as an act of desperation, as when the game is almost over.

The Corona impeachment is a case of a ‘Hail Mary’ thrown by the Aquino administration. They didn’t have a case at all against Corona, but they filed for impeachment anyway, under the logic that since most government officials are corrupt, Corona must also be corrupt, Since Supreme Court SALNs were not public, they assumed that they contained something improper. They calculated that Corona would most likely just resign if an impeachment case was filed. Well, he didn’t; and the prosecution had to be formed, even when they didn’t have a case.

So, they threw a ‘Hail Mary’ again, fishing for his SALN in the hope that some illegally accumulated wealth will show up. Now, it seems that this is being parried successfully by Corona’s defense. What will happen is what often happens with Hail Marys in football – the defense intercepts the ball, and the offensive side loses the game.

The whole Corona impeachment trial shows the folly of trying impeach someone just because Aquino dislikes him. The next time around, Representatives would demand much more proof of wrongdoing, before they impeach somebody else.

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