Between a conspiracy and a stuff-up

photo from

The former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam famously said that between a conspiracy and a stuff-up, he would prefer the latter. The left-leaning former leader has the distinction of being the only PM to be dismissed by the Governor General. Conspiracy theories later circulated that the CIA had a hand in this given his position of ending his country’s involvement in the Vietnam War, hence his somewhat philosophical conclusion.

The same quandary could be facing us as we assess the lacklustre performance of the prosecution team seeking to convict the Chief Justice Renato Corona through “leaked documents” the evidentiary substance of which has yet to be determined by the senator-judges acting as an impeachment court.

Laying the authenticity issues relating to the said documents to one side (the prosecution team presented them as true copies of original statements, which was later denied by the banks that supposedly issued them), these came from an audit into the Chief Justice’s bank holdings launched back in 2010 after the assumption of PNoy of his current office.

That would tend to suggest as per the thinking of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile that the said tampered document was leaked by an insider of the auditing body, either the central bank or the anti-money laundering council. That would make it inadmissible since it would have been acquired illegally. Its probative value is possibly extinguished on two counts: for dubious content and illegal acquisition.

The more disturbing implication from all of this is that there might have been a deliberate attempt on the part of the administration to go after the Chief Justice from the very start. That is the conspiracy angle. Of course, as we mentioned already, it is only one possibility, and we hope that it is not the case. It would certainly have very grave and dire consequences if the allegations were proven true that the palace used regulatory agencies to conduct a witch hunt of its political foes.

The other possibility is that the prosecution team having not had the benefit of a preliminary investigation in the house before the articles of impeachment were drafted was forced to make things up along the way, hence their somewhat weak performance so far. As a result of this hurried approach, the prosecution suffered many setbacks unable to prove the relevance of the testimony which they sought to summon.

The latest stuff-up has led to recriminations and rancour from within the prosecution team and its backers from the house and the broader community following the withdrawal of five out of the eight articles by the lead counsel. Seeking to present a brave face before the public, they have justified this by claiming their exposition of evidence so far would stand up to scrutiny and prove sufficient for a conviction.

They are of course hoping that their parading of such unverified documents before the media and the public would illicit such massive outrage on their part that it would put pressure on the impeachment court to rule in their favour. So far, the response has been lukewarm as surveys suggest. Ironically, the push back from religious groups such as the Iglesia ni Kristo has been substantially more robust.

Indeed, given the high bar that senate rules have set for a conviction, the case looks a bit shaky at this point. And that is even prior to the defence mounting its case for an acquittal before the court. Even if against the odds the Chief Justice were convicted (and that is a long-shot at this point given the numbers required—2/3 of the senators), the spectre of a palace conspiring to bring its enemies down by any means fair or foul would create an unappealing and unsettling atmosphere. No one knows this more than the senate president himself who was the chief architect of Martial Law.

On the other hand, if Corona were to be acquitted, it would call into question the judgement of the palace in bringing its half-baked case before the senate and wasting the people’s time and treasure in the process. These are not exactly splendid times to be distracted in this way given the global and local economic downturn. The strategic miscalculation on their part would prove to be one momentous stuff-up.

Two images are therefore conjured up: one of a cunning state engaged in shady practices to achieve its narrow political ends, another of an inept state fumbling and stumbling over itself in presenting its case before the court and the public. Neither one is particularly appealing to us at this point, but if we were forced to choose between the two, then we would have to opt for the latter, just like Gough Whitlam.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy ( and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • Anon, sorry for the delayed reply. I’ve seen references to the Corona case in Reuters and the Asian Wall Street Journal. Maybe others, but I’ve neglected to record them in my cranial container. It is considered a litmus test of President Aquino’s efforts to curtail high level corruption.

  • J_ag

    Must reading for Pinoy’s and their so called rulers 

  • Manuelbuencamino

    “In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to Win, but mainly to keep from Losing Completely” – Hunter S. Thompson.

  • J_ag

    Bottom line remains that, institutionally the rules make it very difficult to hold public officials to account. They have set themselves up as demi-Gods on their Olympus. This system will last as long as the “we the people” is more fiction than not. 

    Having said that the fact remains that PNoy initiated this with his circle without any preparation at all. It does not reflect well on his leadership skills. 

    This man is not competent to be President. With his high ratings he obviously does not know what to do. 

    • Anonymous

      Hindi pa handa yet PersiNoy pushed anyway….    Tiglao would say that there is a reason for PresiNoy’s big rush.  The need is to kick Corona out before Pill-pinas Korte Supremo pushes finality to Hacienda Luisita CARP-ification.   With Corona remaining as CJ, best PersiNoynoy can do is hurl barriers against HL CARPer-diyem  but the clock still ticks.  Come 2016;  then maybe Bongbong will be in position to show his agrarian-reform leanings.

  • GabbyD

    my theory (could be wrong) one way to come up with evidence to justify a subpoena is to look at the SALN. however, in the SC case, they dont reveal it. 

  • Anonymous

    Doy….   a third possibility is  inosente si presidente,   inosente in the tone of “… eh talaga namang bilib na bilib si Persidente na alam niya ang batas, eh….   at sa tingin niya  lahat ng gawa-gawa niya ay dapat iyon ang batas”.

    Of course….   a group of senators may not agree to the defense that ignorance is not a high crime.

  • Bingo. I 
    just got off another blog site where I dropped off the following observation: ”
    All that said, I worry that the watching world would take away from acquittal that the Philippines is not the place to invest. Either it remains corrupt, or is “banana republic” in the execution of justice. It seems lose lose to me.”

    • J_ag

      Joe, in case you have not noticed in our neck of the woods we are already getting the lowest rate of real investments. 

      We already have a bad rep out there when it comes to rules.  The only way to make money is by breaking the rules…   

    • Anonymous

       Joe_Am:   I have not read anything in Washington-DC, Bangkok- or London-newspapers or seen from their media any  bribery-scandal or  influence-peddling scandal or vote-rigging scandal linked to CJ Corona….    have you? 

  • GabbyD

    serious question: lets ASSUME your worst scenario is right. how can someone who is investigating the CJ get information on his accounts? how does one build a case to support a 100% legal subpeona?

    • Anonymous

       wel…  one way is to suspend the constitution for 5 days in a 2-kilometer  surrounding  the bank branch…  and Malakanyang has authority.

      • GabbyD

        UPn’s answer underscores the impossibility of doing a straight forward investigation of corruption and funds. 

        seriously, is it truly impossible?

      • Anonymous

        but the real answer is what any straight-thinking person would say  — dot the i’s and cvross the t’s.

        Doing a “Richard Nixon” authorizing a Watergate break-in —-  in search of truth, what else?!!! (same reason that PersiNoynoy says is what he is making happen nowadays) — doing a break-in  (physically, electronically or with bogus “volunteers”)  is impeachable.

        Dot the i’s and cross the t’s.   Obtain evidence using methods that comply with the law. To do otherwise is to act in violation of written law — probably most likely highly like the action can be grounds for impeachment.

        • GabbyD

          the subpoena must be grounded in some evidence.

          WHAT is this evidence? 

          if i suspected you of hiding money, and i sought a subpoena, what should i have to justify that?

          • Anonymous

             Heidi can tell you how to spot discrepancies in publicly-available documents that point to probable anomalies.

            Like, say,  Presidente Aquino receiving a donation from Kris Aquino (Kris donating her share of inheritance to Noyi-noy)….   then a tax document where PersiDente declared the large-sum as inheritance  ( versus donation ).  ( I’m making a guess…  I’m thinking USA laws where, inheritance-money has very low tax-rates…. much-much lower than the tax on received donations).

          • GabbyD

            the point is– THERE IS NO PUBLICLY AVAILABLE information on justices’ saln. 

            furthermore, i wonder if the BIR/DOF and the ombudsman can work together in these kinds of crimes. even IF there is info, can BIR just share it without justification?