Midway into the impeachment trial, there are two issues which could bear on the final outcome, one of which is unresolved, the other is not.
The first is the matter of the Supreme Court’s TRO on the disclosure of the CJ’s dollar accounts. In abiding by it, the Senators have accepted the Court’s jurisdiction on the Impeachment even as they (half-heartedly) reiterate their pre-eminence over the trial.
To be more exact, this is the Senators’ stance: They are omnipotent except when the Supreme Court decides otherwise; in which case they will accept the latter’s interference for as long as it is temporary (as in Temporary Restraining Order). If and when, God forbid, the Court does finally decide on the issues, the Senate will take it on advisement and hold its breath hoping the matter will go away or the clock runs out. In whatever case the Impeachment Court is equal, repeat equal, if not superior to the Supreme Court.
Sounds to me like the Senate whistling in the dark.
Right now, the last thing neither the Senators, nor the Supreme Court, nor the fear mongers want is for the SC to decide on the CJ’s dollar accounts; because it could trigger a constitutional crisis between the Senate and the Supreme Court.
The CJ’s announcement that he will soon disclose his dollar holdings should make the matter academic. However, if he does not, the Senate should bring the matter to a head because the current situation is, well, absurd.
If the Constitution wanted the SC to be the final arbiter of an impeachment it would have said so. The Constitution does provide enough safeguards to arbitrary impeachment namely the requirement for a one-third vote of the House and a two-thirds vote of the Senate. What the Constitution did not envisage is for the Court to be, effectively, the ultimate judge on an impeachment of one of its members.
To take the argument to its most absurd, what if it was not one but all fifteen SC judges who were being impeached for owning suspicious dollar accounts? Would the Senate still accept the judges’ TRO on the latter i.e. grant them the power over their own destiny?
Some warn a Constitutional crisis will lead to the demise of our democracy. They do not understand the foundation of this nation rests not in a document, however wise or sacred, but in the will and blessings of the people. This was proven in People Power I and II. Where was the Constitution then when we most needed it?
The stand-off between the Senate and the SC is no longer about the CJ’s dollar accounts, nor about jurisdiction, nor even about the law. It is now about things that really matter, like the truth, our values and the need for civil society to hold high officials accountable. Constitutions, Senators and Chief Justices will come and go but we as a nation will have to live with the legacy that we set.
So let us not be afraid to test the limits of our Constitution and the strength of our convictions. With the certainty of our leadership, now is as good a moment as any to prove the fundamental premise that democracy is founded not on arguments of law but on essential truths embedded in a free people. That test, I am certain, we will pass. We just need our Senators to so believe.
The other matter that has taken unexpected form are the recent revelations on the Basa-Guidote case. Ana Basa, a niece of the CJ’s wife Cristina, has accused Cristina of abrogating P34 million of the family’s estate with the help of her husband (The latter has also been accused of holding a gun to Pedro Aquilon, a family caretaker). The claim took on added credibility when reportedly confirmed by Sister Flory Basa, an elderly aunt of Cristina: “They took the money. We received nothing. ”
It’s hard to go up against a 90 year-old nun.
The revelations are not part of the impeachment proceedings and do not directly bear on the CJ, only on his wife. However, it is a commentary, truthful or not, on the couple’s style and could influence the Senators’ and, more important, the public’s assessment of the CJ’s moral fitness to remain in office.
The Chief Justice will start his defense this week, explaining how he came – or, more accurately, did not come- to all this money, his somewhat messy accounting, and the collegial nature of the SC’s decisions. He will also question the irregularity of the House impeachment proceedings.
In the normal course of business, these could be sufficient to get him acquitted. However, with the unanswered questions about the Basa-Guidote case, the public will remain dissatisfied and this could bear on the Senators’ final adjudication.