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.