AS if to remind us all, especially those so enthralled by Hollywood they look forward to it every year, that February is also Oscar Awards month, the word “acting” has been in much use lately in the vocabularies of some people in these isles of inequity.

Renato Corona and his defense lawyers have been saying it since Day One of the Corona impeachment trial. But they have recently resumed describing some senators as “acting” more like members of the House of Representatives prosecution team than independent judges.

Corona in fact trotted out some of the usual arsenal of pompous prose, complete with Latin phrases and mixed metaphors, people like Miriam Santiago love to inflict on non-lawyer mortals the better to confuse them.

A few hours after the Senate impeachment court ruled to “respect” the temporary restraining order preventing it from looking into Corona’s dollar accounts, Corona filed another petition before his Supreme Court cohort in which he alleged that his right to due process was being violated “because certain senator-judges have lost the cold neutrality of impartial judges, by acting as prosecutors.”

That seems a clear enough statement — but it’s actually slyly suggesting that he won’t get a fair trial in the Senate, if at least five of the 23 senators have already made up their minds and have been biased against him from the beginning.

Corona’s petition was part of a script, but was itself a script worthy of a grade-B Lito Lapid movie, its basic assumption being that the Court of which he is also the Chief can rule objectively on it, as it supposedly did on his earlier petition for the TRO stopping the Senate from looking into his dollar hoard.

As if to confirm the suspicion that the strategy of the Chief Aggrieved is to push for a mistrial which would stop the proceedings, it also came almost immediately in the wake of the failed attempt by most of the members of his defense team to prove the same thing, only worse: that not only were some of the senators acting like prosecutors out of conviction or political loyalty, they and probably others as well were being bribed, or had been, to the tune of P100 million each.

Those worthies turned in what they thought would be award-winning performances, complete with hang-dog, we’re- the- victims- here expressions, protestations that they would absolutely stand by their claims, and even swearing to their truth, may lightning strike them dead.

Unfortunately that didn’t happen, and the most they‘re likely to get is an award from the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Chuck Norris School of Bad Acting. Rather than end up on the red carpet, they found themselves on the Senate Court carpet the next day instead, with one of their number having to scrape, cringe and grovel in abject apology for that disaster in the face of the senators’ collective anger over the implication that they could be bribed.

Yes, yes, Virginia: as every Filipino and his entire extended family and neighbors know, people in government can and do get bribed. But it’s one thing to know that and another to say it — and not while some of them are sitting in judgment of one’s client, too.

Not that that client has anything to teach the legal hotshots he’s hired for his defense as far as acting is concerned. He’s no Lee Strasberg, and his own attempts to pass himself off as the world’s biggest victim since Cain killed Abel, complete with dainty handkerchief dabs at his teary eyes, should have provoked professional actors into howls of outrage at this travesty of their craft. And his Supreme Court subalterns’ and employees’ waving placards in effect proclaiming him not only as Chief Justice but as THE Court itself and the entire the judiciary, in a 21st century version of Louis XIV’s declaration that l’etat, c’est moi , didn’t come off as sincere either, or even original.

In so many words did those toadies proclaim his being one and the same as the Supreme Court by urging a stop to the impeachment trial on the grounds that it was undermining Supreme Court and judicial independence. That assumes that Corona is both the Court and the judiciary, in much the same way that Louis XIV thought himself the French state. But some commentators, and a whole lot of bloggers, did buy that argument, forgetting that it is precisely the question of how independent the Supreme Court has been since Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed him two days after the May 10, 2010 elections that rankles most about Corona.

But the worst example of bad acting to which the country has long been subjected is the universal pretense that there’s a judicial system headed by a Supreme Court that’s looking after the rights of the citizenry and defending and enhancing democracy by upholding the law and dispensing justice to every man and woman.

As those glued to their TV sets are finding out as the trial progresses and such information as unfiled income tax returns, misstated Statements of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth and hidden bank accounts come to light, it’s in the same league of outrage as the cliché about the rule of law, the majesty of the courts, or justice’s being blind to the distinctions of class and social status.

It’s worse than that declaration posted by the EDSA gate of Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, where the Philippine Army and Armed Forces of the Philippines are headquartered, that the Philippine military — and that presumably includes Jovito Palparan, Carlos F. Garcia and other AFP thugs — are “human rights advocates.”

This is the Philippines, a stage where idiots pretending to be geniuses, murderers posing as beneficiaries of humanity, victimizers acting like victims, and villains being held up as heroes are daily spectacles that make finding out who’s really what behind the masks the effort of a lifetime. Sometimes, however, events like an impeachment trial can considerably shorten the process.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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