Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Miriam mobbed in supermarkets and gets standing ovation at Lisa Macuja’s performance. To National Artist F. Sionil Jose: the moral cannot be detached from the ‘legal,’ as otherwise anarchy would reign. Rule of law is bedrock of democracy.

News reports said Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, who celebrated her 67th birthday this week, was “thrilled to the skin” when she was given a standing ovation when she arrived at the performance of the "World Stars of Ballet," featuring prima ballerina Lisa Macuja at the Aliw Theater in Pasay City.  Miriam was also reported by media as being mobbed in supermarkets, so much so that she couldn't do any shopping.

These reactions  to the feisty senadora from Metro Manilans are not surprising, and the astute observer should link them to the sharp drop in President Noynoy's acceptance rating in MM as shown in the SWS survery taken late last month---about the time the Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona was winding up. The survey taken from May 24-27 showed that slightly less than half of the population in MM (48%) disapproved of P-Noy, representing a sharp 24 percent drop in his net satisfaction rating from just last March.  


The link between the ovation and mobbing of Miriam and P-Noy's steep ratings drop in MM, I submit, is the disgust MM folks felt over the persecution of CJ Corona and the ruthless way the administration mobilized all agencies of government in the process.  People are really not as dumb as the Palace's propagandists think they are, especially in MM where they have better access to information than just from controlled yellow media.

Unfortunately, 20 senators were unmoved and led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, they overwhelmingly voted to convict Corona. But they had their own reasons which didn't fool the people one bit. By contrast, the people idolize Miriam, who led the lonely trio of pro-Corona senators with Joker Arroyo and Bongbong Marcos. These three senators were lauded---and continue to reap praise for their independence and integrity.  


Star columnist Carmen “Chit” Pedrosa answered her fellow columnist, the respected National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose who, in his June 3, 2012 column titled “What we have learned from the Impeachment Trial,”  chose to see the Corona impeachment as a “morality play and the triumph not so much of justice but of good against evil.” 

Mr. Sionil Jose, zeroing in on Miriam in one part of his column, accused her of “apparent moral metastasis” because leaders like her, he said, “are hobbled by their tremendous self-esteem, their encyclopedic legal knowledge, they forget that the basis of law is moral.” He asserts that “Were (Miriam) cognizant of this she would have joined the majority vote in the Senate.”


The National Artist obviously swallowed the line peddled by the administration that the impeachment of Corona was the fight of good vs. evil. Chit Pedrosa, however, couldn’t be swayed from arguing the path of the rule of law.

She cited unforgettable aberrations of the prosecution in the nearly six months of hearings that thwarted this gold standard of a democratic society--- such as brown envelops c/o a little lady or left on a congressman's gate on a rainy night, the myths of the 45 properties churned out by a search engine and offered by the chief of the Land Registration Administration and US properties which turned out to be hoaxes, the $10 to $12 million in 82 bank accounts cited by an Ombudsman who irresponsibly didn’t verify computer-generated data from the AMLC, etc. etc.

Chit argued eloquently that “using shortcuts such as unfair trials ends up not correcting society but in fascism.” As she stressed, this is a “greater evil we will all regret” for as a reviewer of Emile Zola’s “J’Accuse” said, “When you break the law to correct flaws in a nation, you break the nation.”


Interestingly, a number of President Aquino's critics are raising the alarm about the drift of the administration toward strongman rule. Chit cites fascism.  Hector “Chito” Villanueva, who served in the Ramos and Arroyo administrations, a normally mild-mannered man and opinion columnist, deplored in his June 15 column in the Manila Bulletin “the total mobilization of the State’s vast resources without inhibition to doggedly hound and pursue perceived political enemies in the name of democratic reforms and crusade against corruption.”

By resorting to defiance of revered democratic practices, argued Chito, P-Noy “is not only a game-changer, but may be on his way to becoming a strongman, and extending his term by lifting the term limits through constitutional amendments, with his control of the Senate, the House and the Judiciary.”  When all is said and done, he stressed, “it is hoped that the hubris and bravado that President Aquino is displaying will not bring the country to the brink and abyss of political chaos.”


Since the esteemed F. Sionil Jose argues from the morality issue, let me tackle this through examples in the recent impeachment trial. He argues that “the basis of law is moral,” but I submit that in this issue of CJ’s impeachment, the moral issue is very much tied to the legal issue.

No matter how distasteful the resort to legalese may be for some, including Mr. Sionil Jose, CJ's trial still was a legal exercise that should have been governed by rules under the law---never mind if the senator-judges tried to portray it first and foremost as a political exercise. Now we know why they did---conviction would never have been possible if they had conformed to the law.


CJ Corona stressed in his first appearance before the Senate Court that he did not declare his $2.4 million foreign deposit in his SALN as he sincerely believed this was covered fully by RA 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposits Act (FCDA), which guarantees absolute confidentiality of such deposits. Senate President Enrile, however, in his explanation of his vote last May 29, disagreed with Corona’s stand, arguing that the constitutional provision on total disclosure by public officials is superior to the FCDA.

There is a lot of disagreement about this point. In fact CJ’s lawyer, the respected former Ateneo Dean Eduardo “Dindo” de los Angeles, argued in his closing remarks on May 28 that even granting, without conceding, that CJ had erred on this point, the law governing SALNs, RA 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, DOES ALLOW RECTIFICATION of SALN errors borne out of misconception and not malice.

Sen. Ralph Recto of the LP was the one who raised this crucial point of possible rectification early at the Senate trial.   


Interestingly, last May 19, 2012 in the Philippine Star, Civil Service Commission Chair Francisco Duque III admitted that the law governing FCDs is “a gray area” and the issue on whether dollar deposits should be disclosed in one's SALN is NOT CLEAR under the law. Duque has tasked a technical working committee to review and study the SALN form in order to make it “a more effective tool of transparency.”

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago commented during the trial that Corona should not be punished for what she termed the “ambiguities” of the law on foreign accounts in relation to the SALN.


Senate President Enrile was very emphatic in his vote explanation in stressing that “the Chief Justice does not stand accused of having amassed any ill-gotten wealth before this impeachment court.”  In other words, the court is not saying he stole the money he failed to disclose.  JPE’s beef, which majority of the senators bought, was that CJ stands accused ONLY of failing to declare his assets in his SALN. Corona, however, cited in his defense RA 6426, which protected their confidentiality.

It’s a question of interpretation for which, I maintain, Corona couldn’t be faulted---as perhaps to a man, all public officials have hidden their dollar assets, also invoking RA 6426. But now, after the senators have ousted him, they themselves, save for three senators, have chosen to stonewall public demand that they apply the same strict standard of accountability they had imposed on Corona. The senators, especially the three richest ones (namely, JPE, Edgardo Angara and Franklin Drilon), simply refuse to disclose their SALNs.


In addition, except for a few party-list representatives, all the 188 who impeached him in indecent haste, without verifying the complaint as the Constitution requires, have refused to disclose their own SALNs. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte was quoted as saying this clamor is “just a passing phase.”

President Aquino and his entire Cabinet, led by Budget Secretary Butch Abad, who also used “acquisition cost” vs. “fair market value” of his properties in his SALN, just like Corona, have also stonewalled this public outcry.

Mr. Sionil Jose, isn’t this hypocrisy on the part of our public officials the height of immorality?  What kind of bogus morality play are we in?

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