With the impeachment trial winding down with all but the closing arguments and final judgement to be rendered, it is becoming clear just what is at stake.
The Senate was essentially made to referee between the bickering heads of two co-equal branches of government, the executive and the judiciary. On the one hand, the chief executive claimed that the Supreme Court was preventing him from exercising his prerogative to run after and prosecute his predecessor. On the other hand, the chief justice claimed the executive branch was weakening judicial independence through intimidation.
The two opposing camps were on a collision course ever since the ‘midnight appointment’ of the chief magistrate. The president never really acknowledged the legitimacy of it. What made matters worse were the decisions penned by the high court which tended to contain a certain slant not in favour of the administration. The politicisation of judicial appointments meant that a political process was needed in order to straighten things out and restore some form of balance to the bench.
The problem was that in going after the Arroyo appointees to the high court, the administration could not avoid coming off as vindictive. Accusations of arbitrarily using public agencies to conduct a witch hunt were inevitable. It didn’t help that the case was hurriedly built on shaky ground. Ironically, it was only with the emergence of clandestinely procured evidence that the prosecution started to gain momentum and make a serious dent in the case of the defence.
Meanwhile in the court of public opinion, both parties waged a war for our hearts and minds using the pulpits of their office as a platform for airing their views. For the last six months the campaigns have been relentless. At times senator judges were drawn into the debate. The Palace could be said to have the upper hand in this regard having at its disposal the propaganda apparatus of the state.
In a way, this forced Chief Justice Corona to take the stand. Only through his televised testimony could he address the issues posed to him both in and out of the courtroom squarely. He did so with candour, at times giving vent to his frustrations, but in the end with great humility and deference to the court.
In the end, it all boils down to whether his sin of omission, failing to declare certain assets in his public statement of net worth would be enough to convict him. Having openly declared on the one hand the full extent of his wealth and the assets in his possession while on the other laying the legal basis for not including them in his statement, the chief justice’s case now falls into the discretion of the senators acting as jury.
With neither camp being able to claim a majority of allies in the upper chamber, the decision of whether to acquit or convict now rests with the unaligned senators, a significant number of whom are up for re-election. What happens next will determine whether we will live under a tyranny of judges on the one hand or the tyranny of the majority on the other. What this means is that we will end up having a system of checks, but with no balance.