For Filipinos who followed the country’s first impeachment trial involving former President Joseph Estrada in 2000, the first week of the trial of Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona was rather tame compared to the groundbreaking and highly charged political exercise of Philippine Congress 12 years ago.
Quite understandable. The circumstances and political atmosphere are altogether different this time around.
Estrada of course was then president of the land, a popular president whose personal and political life was marred by growing reports and discontent over perceived sleazy and shady deals.
He was accused of, among others things, graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust.
After he was impeached by the House of Representative, he was tried by the Philippine Senate with then Chief Justice Hilario Davide sitting as presiding judge of the impeachment court.
Now, it is the Supreme Court chief justice on trial amid allegations of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the constitution, as well as eight articles of impeachment thrown against him by the House of Representative.
While the Estrada impeachment trial was cut short by a walkout by the prosecution that led to a popular uprising and his eventual ouster from office, the Corona impeachment trial promises to be completed and decided on evidence that will presented and disputed before the Senate impeachment court. This is unless of course the chief justice resigns from office, which is the ultimate objective of his accusers in this trial.
Removal from office and perpetual disqualification is the maximum ‘penalty’ that can be imposed against any impeachable official under Philippine law. But such a decision by the Senate impeachment court will not prevent the Ombudsman from filing charges based on the testimonies and evidences presented before the Philippine Senate.
This is precisely why the chief justice is adamant in defending himself. He knows once convicted, he will face more than just removal from office.
Resignation may be an option like former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez did when also impeached by the Philippine House of Representative.
Like Gutierrez, Corona is an appointee to a constitutional office who can only be removed by impeachment. Will Corona bow to pressure when all the evidence is in? It remains to be seen.
The first week of the trial does not give any indications at all whether a verdict of guilty or not guilty is forthcoming. Both the prosecution and the defense have barely scratched the surface.
But one legal question was already adequately addressed by Presiding Judge-Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. The impeachment trial, already in progress, can no longer be stopped by the Supreme Court even if several legal maneuvers are pending before it.
The Senate impeachment court is a class by itself. It is a constitutional body created by the sovereign will of the people.
Enrile’s bold statements are dire warnings to the Supreme Court. The impeachment trial is a constitutional act of the sovereign people. That being said, both the prosecution and the defense should dig in for a long battle ahead.
The trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona is by all means no ordinary political exercise.
People may not be glued to their television sets following this political exercise but that does not mean they do not care.
The first week may be tame but it did not mean there were no fireworks. In fact, these fireworks may just be sitting above a powder keg.