A month into the impeachment, the tables have been set.
The Prosecutors never expected to work this hard: They thought the man would resign. Then they were told by Sen. Enrile they would have to argue their case, not the private lawyers. They appear unprepared for the task. They oversold themselves with their unprovable claim of CJ’s 45 properties. They are surprised at the answers from their own witnesses.
On Article 2 they cannot bridge the gap between the CJ’s skinny SALNs and the claim of ill-gotten wealth. They present disjointed evidence without connecting the dots. They say if it walks and talks like a duck it must be a duck, but they fail to go from the probability to the certainty that it is.
The Prosecution needs to present an uncluttered narrative the public can relate to. The message might be that:
- 1. The impeachment is about the fitness of the man to head the nation’s supreme court, not about convicting him as a criminal.
- 2. A Chief Justice should be held to the highest standard of probity. The measure should not be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt nor a preponderance of it. Even a collection of unrelated facts that, to an ordinary man, amounts to a presumption of impropriety should be cause for removal. As the symbol of our national conscience, a Chief Justice must be above suspicion.
- 3. Judicial leadership significantly matters in our daily lives. Witness the change brought about by P-Noy on the Presidency and the nation.
The Defense is enjoying the Prosecution make their day. It is doing its job of boring the public to tears.
The question before the tribunal is what constitutes an impeachable offense of “high crimes, culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of the public trust”? Is it dubious accounting of one’s sworn SALN, assets seemingly disproportionate to one’s income, suspicious discounts on a penthouse, or what? There are 23 answers to this question. The seven non-Administration lawyers in the group (coincidentally the same number needed to acquit) will look to a high legal standard which does not bode well for the Prosecution.
I suspect- and so do they- that each Senator has pretty much made up his mind. Some have already let their slips show. At its glacial pace, the trial could survive a number of them. Public opinion-wise, the margin of conviction or acquittal is important.
The Chief Justice
The CJ has a number of options: a) Endure; b) Step down as Chief Justice but remain an Associate; c) Resign. Without any compelling evidence, c) is increasingly not an option. But even if he should survive the trial it is unclear how effective he can be in his post. If he believes, as he claims, in protecting the Court as an institution, he might consider option b). He would be an overnight sensation.
The CJ alleges the impeachment is P-Noy’s revenge for Luisita. That is such a mistake. You do not want, sir, to go head-to-head with the President because you will lose that battle 14 -86 which are your respective poll ratings.
With the impeachment Malacanang embarked on a high-risk adventure. It was riding the wings of public sentiment hoping for an early win. It now faces a long grind with an inexperienced Prosecution team running the plays. It still has a number of options including a tax investigation into the CJ’s finances, something the BIR Commissioner seemed to intimate in her testimony. It would be a natural consequence of the claim the CJ amassed ill-gotten wealth. The move would be seen as politically motivated but the Palace is already beyond that.
Another alternative is to get at least 3 of the 8 “majority Justices” to “switch” to the Administration or resign early; thereby marginalizing the CJ.
If the polls are any indication, the people have already judged the man even though they increasingly believe he will not be convicted. The trial is mere entertainment but it is losing its hold. Unlike the Erap impeachment which was about the Presidency, the Filipino is unlikely to take to the streets in the event of an acquittal unless he understands how it really matters to him.
Is there life after an acquittal?
The President will be diminished but he has sufficient political capital to go around.
The nation will be stronger for the trial whatever the decision, the Supreme Court in particular. The proceedings have signalled no one is above the law, that even the highest judge can be judged.
This alone is worth the tediousness and price of the show.