THE main complaint by his mostly lawyer partisans against the impeachment of Renato Corona is that it was done too quickly, followed by claims that it’s an attack on the Supreme Court’s independence, and is unconstitutional besides.

Minority Congressman and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ally Edcel Lagman is leading the chorus of Corona advocates in declaring that a crisis is upon us as a result of the supposed haste, describing the signing within a few hours by 188 congressmen of the impeachment articles as the result of “the mother of all blackmails (sic)” because, he said, his colleagues signed on pain of Malacanang’s withholding their 2012 Priority Development Assistance Fund, otherwise known as the pork barrel.

Maybe, maybe not. But Lagman should know whereof he speaks, anyway, his patron Mrs. Arroyo having used Palace control over pork barrel allocations to good effect during her nine-year rule, when she prevented any impeachment complaint against her from prospering in the House, and generally got her way in that body through precisely the same threat.

If Lagman seems to have forgotten that, it’s probably due more to selective perception rather than the ravages of age and conscience on his memory. Like Alzheimer’s disease, there’s a lot of that — selective perception — going around lately among the country’s legions of lawyers, including Corona and his spokesperson Midas Marquez.

In any event, the claim that anything involving a legal issue was or is being done in haste almost automatically leads to a lot of tongue-clucking among those lawyers who think postponements, deferments, and suspensions of proceedings to be the core essentials of the exquisitely misnamed justice system, despite that dictum about justice delayed being justice denied to which they piously pay lip-service whenever it suits them. (Manila’s judges called a court holiday and cancelled all hearings last Wednesday. There was no visible effect on the progress of the already delayed cases languishing in their courts.)

Delays, delays and more delays, for example, have characterized the Ampatuan Massacre trial, thanks to the unlimited capacity to file motion after motion and petition after petition of both the defense and the prosecution.

The petitions for bail of the accused in the Ampatuan Massacre could take years to resolve, the process moving so glacially a new ice age could be upon us and everyone could be dead by the time the cases against them are actually heard, let alone resolved. Only with slight exaggeration did lawyer Harry Roque declare that the way it’s going, the case against the Ampatuans for the November 23, 2009 massacre that took place in their Maguindanao turf can take 50,000 years to conclude.

Thanks meanwhile to the House allies and “men for others” schoolmates of that brilliant legal scholar Mariano del Castillo, the progress of an impeachment complaint filed against him a year ago for plagiarizing parts of a decision he wrote denying a petition for redress by Filipino women forced into sex slavery during World War II has lagged far, far behind that of the complaint against Corona, and is even likely to be dropped altogether because, says a House spokesperson, it can’t handle two impeachment cases at once.

That of course is justice, Philippine style, thanks to a judicial system in which expertise in the technical complexities of the law and the ability to lie through one’s teeth is the most common strategy in winning cases. Every Filipino also knows that the country’s unspeakable jails are full of poor people who’re not necessarily guilty of whatever offenses they’ve been accused of, but who’ve been rotting there for years either because they can’t afford a lawyer — or else do have one who has succeeded in delaying the resolution of their cases through the various, perfectly legal means at his or her disposal.

Among those means of delaying and denying people justice is the TRO, or Temporary Restraining Order, which lately has been used to stop practically anything, from preventing people accused of masterminding the murder of a journalist (e.g., the killing of Tacurong City’s Marlene Esperat) from being arrested, to stopping the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s anti-smoking campaign, or getting former Presidents out of government watch lists.

The justifiable fear that a TRO could be issued by some court or the other to delay the process compelled the House leadership to get the complaint against Corona signed immediately. But if it’s the supposed haste with which the complaint was signed that has led some lawyers to climb up the high horses from where they’ve been whinnying about observing in Corona’s case the due process that’s routinely denied millions of Filipinos, for Corona and company, including the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, it’s Supreme Court independence and the system of checks and balances that are in peril.

But what Court independence are these worthies talking about, if only a Chief Justice rather than the entire Court is being impeached — and if it’s a Chief Justice widely perceived to have been the client and beneficiary of a former President against whom a number of cases are likely to be filed that could almost certainly end up for final resolution in the Court over which he presides?

Is Supreme Court independence indeed in danger, or is that just another lawyer lie, its independence having been already compromised when Corona was appointed by Mrs. Arroyo despite widespread public misgivings?

When Joseph Estrada was impeached in 2001, did that put the executive department at the mercy of Congress? Or did that, though only too briefly, create an opportunity to renew the Presidency?

And doesn’t the operation of the system of checks and balances require a co-equal branch to check what it believes to be the excesses of another branch, through, among other means, impeachment? Practically everyone prates about the system and pays homage to it in every other speech, interpreting it to mean that each branch is immune from the scrutiny of the other, rather than the exact opposite: that while independent, each branch — the executive, the legislature and the judiciary — has not only the right, but also the duty, to keep each other honest.

But of course that won’t do — not in a country dominated by people who use the law to keep things the way they are, who cite it to prevent even the most minute change including the actual observance of the law from taking place, and who will use whatever means — whether “fair or foul,” to quote Corona to himself — to prove white black, subservience to the narrowest interests independence, inertia change, plagiarism original thought, words reality, lawlessness order, and lies truth.


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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