The main issues so far in the on-going impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice (CJ) Renato Corona are: what exactly constitutes “due process;” which rules of court should be adopted; and ultimately, the quantum of proof to convict. On the last issue, the Prosecution suggested “preponderance of evidence” which means there’s more evidence pointing to guilt than there is for an acquittal – the easiest for conviction. As expected, the Defense went the other extreme and proposed “beyond reasonable doubt,” explaining the gravity of the penalty of being removed from office and barred from ever assuming another government post again. It seems the Senators will choose something in between –- clear and convincing evidence.
The problem the impeachment court has is the lack of jurisprudence in as far as our own history of impeachment proceedings is concerned, for the simple reason that we have not had a single impeachment trial in this country. The trial of President Estrada was abbreviated so does not count as one, yet it is still alluded to which only underscores the absence of jurisprudence that could be serving as guide posts for the on-going trial.
But amidst changing and uncertain rules governing the impeachment trial, being that it is a “unique” court unlike any other, there is one thing that will and cannot change yet is being overlooked and that is the oath taken by the Senator judges when they convened as an impeachment court. The solemn oath taken should be the accompanying guide of the Senator-Judges when unsure of how to view and treat issues as they arise. The last phrase in that oath would go a long way if they adopted it as their mantra and it reads: “to do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the law of the Philippines.” Sadly, this goes contrary to what Honassan and Trillanes have already said will guide them: “the public pulse,” “public acceptability.” The last time we looked, we heard nothing of the sort included in the oath they had taken. To have sworn to that would have even sounded silly except, perhaps, to the “mob mentality.” Somebody please remind them of the oath they took or better yet, it might be a good idea for all the Senators to take that oath before each trial-day proceeding begins. That way, all Senators constantly remember and, maybe, more importantly, so the public is also reminded by which standards the Senators should themselves be judged, and there is no better basis and context within which the public may evaluate their performance than on what they are sworn to. That way, the people are not swayed by emotions devoid of understanding of the task of the Senators as judges.
The Constitution and its laws are not meant to be treated liberally or flexibly in an unlimited manner and there’s enough jurisprudence in criminal and civil law that define them clearly, in case there are questions raised by either the defense or the prosecution. The impeachment court is not at liberty to make up rules or redefine laws as they go along because they are sworn, and we go back to this, to following the Constitution and the laws of the Philippines as their oath demands. And contrary to what some Senators believe, it is our opinion that the High Court can step in if there is grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Senate. There should be no single government body that is allowed to run away without checks and balances by another. But since this is a special court, the abuse that could be cited by the highest court of the land should be one that is blatantly out of bounds, in other words, unlikely to happen and cause a confrontation between the Supreme Court and the Senate as a special court. The framers of the Constitution must have realized that the Senators would be, for the most part, rational, sensible, and intelligent men and women who are appreciative of laws, them being the lawmakers of the land. They must have thought the same for the members of the Lower-House to whom they gave the sole power to initiate an impeachment. On that latter presumption, we’re afraid they misread the capacity of 188 Representatives to try and outdo each other in their rush to kiss one and the same ass (donkey). Let’s see if the Senators can make up for their better half.