Before the day ends, the Philippine Senate – meeting as an impeachment court- will decide the fate of the country’s Chief Justice. Whether the highest magistrate will be pronounced guilty or not, will depend upon the judgment of the 23 Senators, assuming that they weighed the evidences and the arguments presented, in a circumspect manner. The country’s fate hangs in the balance, not just the chief magistrate’s.
A lot of people in the Philippines believe that the whole exercise is motivated by politics. They say that the current President has an ax to grind against the highest official of the Supreme Court and his administration hatched and organized the whole proceeding to pin down a loyal appointee of the previous dispensation. This could be true in some ways. But I would like to believe that the President considered everything before embarking on what others term as mere “personal vendetta.”
He knows what’s on the line here. He is aware that the country cannot afford more divisiveness at this point. He is conscious that impeachment, as a democratic process, has both strengthening and debilitating effects to a fledgling nation and a hopeful people. If the exercise succeeds in pointing out the bad deeds and in weeding out the bad guys, then points go to the strengthening part. If it doesn’t, then, we go the other way. The exercise will only have shown more ineptness, more grandstanding and more of the usual, merry ways of people in high offices. I would like to believe that the President and his men considered those.
Now at the climax of the affair, the Senate members vote this afternoon. Million pairs of eyes and ears will be watching and listening. In the first place, the whole thing was followed by the people for five months, with much ado as a cockfight and a telenovela combined. Impeaching the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court! Why, yes, only in the Philippines… We had two impeachment proceedings before, one involved a former president of the country, no less. The other one was aborted – it involved the head of the Ombudsman. She resigned before the Senate started trial. To think that an impeachment is usually protracted, costly and laborious. Am thinking, this last one should be the last, in a long time…
When we were in high school, we studied the term magistrate. The lesson said that a magistrate is not only one who is wise, but who is also a person of unquestionable integrity. Why? It is so because that is deemed the only way he could function in his full time duty of arbitration and adjudication of conflicts. The term has its roots in China, where civil service is prized highly and government officials who earned their place in the bureaucracy are regarded higher over those who got there by election or political appointment. Am telling you this precisely because to a large extent, an impeachment is about that.
As a political set-up, democracy provides for mechanism to remove erring, non-performing and unfit elected officials. There is the recall procedure for officials elected at the local level (and for certain officials at national level). On the other hand, for the top national, sensitive positions, there is the impeachment procedure. To impeach means to cast doubt on the fitness of the occupant of the position – the elective office. It must be noted that what is being protected by the mechanism, as contemplated in the country’s Constitution, is not the person but the office. The premise being, the office must be held by someone whose integrity is unimpeachable. In other words, his character and fitness must be unassailable.
Thus, by tradition, not only in the Philippines but also in other countries that profess to be democratic, the mere filing of an impeachment case in itself, constitutes questions to the fitness. Ideally, it shouldn’t come to the point that the esteemed high official will be hailed to court, in an impeachment court at that. Why? Because it seems that no one wins that game. The legality could be traversed, it could even be pointed out that the allegations are mere fabrications or cover-ups for bigger shortcomings. More often, it is not a matter of mastering the legalese or presenting the sharpest legal points, no. It is about being unassailable. With the public at large watching and judging as well, it’s tough water. Anybody, I suppose, who is subjected to a thorough examination, through the looking glass, will have a hard time coming out squeaky clean.
And so it goes. As I am typing this, nine (9) senators voting as impeachment judges have already cast their votes. I am watching the last leg of the trial via live webcast and the reception is not going smoothly. It is a bit like Philippine style democracy – too many rough roads and yet, no end seems to be in sight. It is exciting, as always. 😉