The legal luminaries of the land, led by a former Associate Justice and the Senate President, are highlighted in the impeachment trial of another legal VIP – the Chief Justice. The publicly televised trial has been full of legal arguments, a deluge of legal terms and protocol, as though the Filipino people are being given a lesson on law. The worthiness or unworthiness of Rene Corona to remain being Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is being argued mostly from legal procedure. The Filipino people, then, are being told one thing – the law has primacy over truth, and the legal determines justice.
What happened to right or wrong? What happened to conscience? What happened to the only platform that allows Filipinos guidance over their behavior and interaction in Philippine society? What happened to the truth, the main ingredient in determining what is just or unjust?
The law happened. The lawyers happened. The Judiciary happened. And everyone and everything else moved to the sidelines so that the wang-wang of legal technicalities must be given the right of way.
We have an impeached public official. His position is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. His name is Renato Corona. The crime for which the House of Representatives found him culpable of – Betrayal of Public Trust.
Much has been said that the impeachment of the Chief Justice is not just a legal case but a political process as well. Why, then, are legal procedures the basis of every step in the impeachment trial? Most Filipinos like me are not lawyers. We are not only confused about legalities which impede the truth from being revealed in its full glory, we are being given the signal that truth is conditional more than having its own inherent and crucial value in the pursuit of justice. Truth, if it does not conform to the legal protocol, is truth which cannot be admitted as a factor of judgment.
It is no wonder that many Filipinos, especially the poor, have little faith in the justice system. Because most Filipinos are not studied in law, they rely on accepted norms of right and wrong, individual and collective. They use human conscience consistently affirmed by social dynamics and religious teachings. The citizen cannot use Republic Acts and their implementing rules and regulations as their daily basis for behavior simply because making these as standard operating procedures would disable a whole society from functioning. Yet, Republic Acts and their implementing rules and regulations are not separate from the people’s norms and behavior; they are, in fact, supposed to be the very expression and affirmation of a society’s desired lifestyle and higher aspirations.
The impeachment trial of Corona tries him both as Chief Justice and a person. In the case of public officials, the law fuses the status of person and position. That is the first price that all public officials pay, the surrender of their private status in the service of their people. It is not a steep price to pay if one’s life is a transparent rendition of acceptable social behavior. In fact, it is a source of great honor when the citizen-turned-public official maintains an private and public behavior with adherence not just to norms but as shining examples of those who live and perform above the average.
The Defense Team of the impeached Chief Justice is itself led by a former Associate Justice who could not see the impropriety, or the crime, of swearing in Arturo Tolentino as president of the republic in a comical Manila Hotel fiasco. But it showed then that Serafin Cuevas’s mental construct could rationalize that he was on legal grounds in doing so. His behavior could have been perverse by the standards of greater society but his legal mind apparently justified even that. Or, just like his client today, his debt to the president who appointed him may have outweighed the common good or the higher interest of the Filipino people.
There is a law that tries, from the very beginning, to set the standard of behavior of a public official, whether elected or appointed. It may be the most violated of laws, not because it asks for too much, but because too little is given. This is the fundamental basis of compliance or betrayal of the public trust. I speak of Republic Act 6713.
Republic Act 6713: “An act establishing a code of conduct and ethical standards for public officials and employees, to uphold the time-honored principle of public office being a public trust, granting incentives and rewards for exemplary service, enumerating prohibited acts and transactions and providing penalties for violations and for other purposes.”
Title. – “This Act shall be known as the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.”
Declaration of Policies. – “It is the policy of the State to promote a high standard of ethics in public service. Public officials and employees shall at all times be accountable to the people and discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives and uphold public interest over personal interest. “
Republic Act 6713 condemns Corona as a public servant. Republic Act 6713 condemns Corona in his attempt to hide, then understate his SALN. Republic Act 6713 condemns his accumulation of money in just one bank to amounts defying transparent explanation, and trying to hide information about his dollar deposits in a moment when his very integrity, the interest of his position and that of the Supreme Court hang in the balance.
Corona does not qualify to be Chief Justice. He does not even qualify to be a public official. And, most definitely, he is not a servant of the public by his actuation and by any definition.
Republic Act 6713 disqualifies him. Many others may be condemned as well by the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees but that is not an excuse to declare a guilty one innocent.
Removing Corona as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court blesses the journey to transformation of Philippine society. Keeping him exhorts the journey to the streets.