Impeachment heroes

Proud to be Filipino. This was how I felt, and still feel, after the Senate impeachment court rendered its historic decision. I am proud that our constitutional democracy works; that the rule of law is alive and can solve our conflicts and problems; that we no longer need extra-constitutional methods, like people power, to cleanse and reform ourselves.

Senate heroes. This impeachment saga spawned heroes among our senator-judges, congressmen, lawyers and witnesses. Foremost among them is Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. By his wise, competent and patient steering of the entire proceeding, he demonstrated the adequacy, fairness and efficacy of the rule of law. He was the right person at the right time in the right place and for the right reason. If he was the major catalyst of the bloodless Edsa revolution in 1986, he remained the awesome pillar of the constitutional democracy created by that cathartic transition.

Though a little frail of body, JPE is as sharp, as quick-witted, as eloquent, as strong-willed, and yes, as suave, now as when he was my dashing professor at the Far Eastern University Institute of Law some 50 years ago. The passing years have not dimmed his memory. And his charm. He intuitively remembers the complexities of trial technique and of constitutional and remedial law. Truly amazing! Walang kupas.

All the senators deserve the accolade of the nation. Including the dissenters, for democracy tolerates even the most outlandish ideas. But two senators deserve special mention. The first is Sen. Franklin Drilon who subtly persuaded witness Enriqueta Vidal, clerk of court of the Supreme Court, to surrender to the impeachment court the statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.

That singular revelation gave life to the floundering prosecution effort to prove the respondent’s failure to disclose some of his assets in his SALNs. Indeed, it would have been impossible to show the respondent’s culpability had his SALNs remained hidden in the secret vaults of the Supreme Court. Without the SALNs, the prosecution’s case would have surely collapsed.

The second is Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, worthy son of a worthy father, who extracted from the respondent the damning admission that he hid $2.4 million plus P80 million from his SALNs. Here was the direct and undisputed evidence of culpable violation of the constitutional command to declare truthfully all his assets in his SALNs. Whatever remaining doubts there may have been about the respondent’s guilt completely vanished after these indisputable admissions surfaced.

Witnesses as heroes. Aside from the respondent’s self-destructing admissions, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales’ testimony was the most telling. It proved to be the tipping point of the trial. The irony is that she was unwittingly called to the stand by the defense. Therefore, her testimony, though categorized as “hostile,” shackled Corona. By hostile is meant merely that the defense was given more leeway in examining her with leading questions. But unless trapped into contradictions or proven to be outright falsehoods, her testimony bound the respondent.

On the stand, witness Morales was dignified, forthright, responsive, pristine and backed by official documents from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC).

On television, she easily passed the Supreme Court’s test for testing the credibility of witnesses laid out in People vs Espinosa (Dec. 20, 1989) thus: “[T]he demeanor of the person on the stand can draw the line between fact and fancy. The forthright answer or the hesitant pause, the quivering voice or the angry tone, the flustered look or the sincere gaze, the modest blush or the guilty blanch—these can reveal if the witness is telling the truth or lying in his teeth.”

Earlier, I have already lauded Enriqueta Vidal. But let me reiterate my admiration for her courage in bringing the respondent’s SALNs when she testified. She could have let them hibernate in the dark vaults of the Supreme Court. She could not have been forced to surrender them. Two Supreme Court decisions issued two decades ago barred the disclosure of the justices’ SALN without the permission of the court en banc. But she risked censure, nay her job, by choosing the less traveled road.

Prosecutors as heroes. Man for man, the prosecutors from the House of Representatives were no match for the seasoned and experienced defense lawyers. After all, trying cases is not their forte because the Constitution limits the practice of their profession. But they redeemed themselves eventually. During the closing oral arguments, Rep. Niel Tupas’ impassioned plea was sincere, convincing and powerful. Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas’ “palusot” summation was simple yet devastating. It will be long remembered by our people.

The nation owes all the private lawyers a debt of gratitude. They served pro bono, without pay, all for love of country and truth. Lead private prosecutor Mario Bautista was sharp, knowledgeable and unflappable. I should also mention, pardon the immodesty, Jose Benjamin Panganiban, the son of my cousin Dr. Ronnie Panganiban of Candaba, Pampanga. I have not seen or spoken with Joben for many years now, but I am proud of his demonstrated grit, talent and single-mindedness.

These impeachment heroes fought for the principles of public accountability and transparency enshrined in our Constitution. May their heroism set a new standard of public service. And may their tribe increase.

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