Checks, But No Balance

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.

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.

  • Manuelbuencamino

    Some idiot continues to insist on the fruit of the poisonous tree argument. Why is he an idiot? Because the so-called illegally obtained documents, the AMLA report, came from a witness called by Corona. The prosecution did not call the Ombudsman to testify, Corona did. The prosecution never presented bank transaction documents, Corona did, through how own witness! And now the defense and their idiot rah-rah boys call the evidence they themselves presented as fruits from a poisonous tree and they want the fruits they brought to the table thrown out. Bweahahaha…

    But wait, there’s more…

    Corona wanted to debunk his own witness so he took the stand to prove that the AMLA reports were wrong, but in order to do so he had to admit under oath that there were four undeclared dollar accounts worth a little over $2M and several peso accounts worth around P80M. 

    The prosecution was floored! They said, “Why, we didn’t know he had that much until he brought it up in open court!” 

    They added, “Thank you, Chief, if not for your witness and your own testimony those undeclared dollar accounts would never have made it to the court because we were TRO’d from presenting any evidence related to dollar accounts!”

    So here we are, Corona brings poisonous fruits to the party and then says, “Hey you can’t touch those fruits, they are poisoned.”  

    And Yupi says, “Oo nga naman, in a western court of law illegally obtained evidence gets thrown out…

    And I agree with Yupi because justice and fair play demands that illegally obtained evidence cannot be used against a defendant unless….unless it’s the defendant himself who gives the evidence to the court. Voluntarily! Bweahhahahahaha!

    • UPnnGrd

       wow!!!   did ManuB just say he agrees with YuPI???  The Buen must have been sucking up on some good stuff!!!!

      Yupi commentary all moot and worthless for history.   History to be made — next week or shortly thereafter — Pilipinas Senate Court renders decision.  

  • UPnnGrd

    In a Western court of law,  illegally-obtained evidence gets thrown out — “fruit of poisonous tree” argument that legalists (and even human rights advocates, sometimes, when it suits them)  would cite.    “This is impeachment!!!”, though,  gets cited.   JP Enrile / “Brenda”  maybe even Drillon and maybe even Estrada   will have to prevail over  Trillanes and others  about instances when it is okay — lower the bar — and allow Malakanyang can use “small lady” and other such type items. 

    • Which means, UP n, that you want an acquittal for Corona, maybe for Gloria too, and maybe also for Abalos, and for all the other bad guys, too, right?

      • UPnnGrd

        Trillanes would have experience, being of his military background.  People hiding behind technicalities of the law  should not be allowed. Tthe full force of Gobyerno should be used to get them to admit their crimes or whatever it takes to convict them.

  • Manuelbuencamino

    An acquittal on the issue of SALN would mean a lowering of the bar on the behavior of members of the judiciary.

    • It all depends on how the senators couch their decisions.
      They might acquit on the principle that the CJ’s omission was not deliberate,
      that he left his foreign currency holdings out of his declaration of net worth
      in good faith believing they enjoyed absolute confidentiality under the law.


      They can affirm the fact that he violated the SALN law, but
      that this act did not rise to the level of an impeachable offence. In the
      future, everyone will know that the SALN law covers everything. If they continue to violate it, it can then be construed as deliberate. The
      bar won’t be lowered.


      The fact of the matter is, neither the executive nor the
      judiciary as institutions will come out of this clean. The rancour and vitriol
      that they have exchanged has debased our democracy. Some of the mud that has
      been flung will stick. Our democracy will survive (it would be too melodramatic
      to say otherwise), but afterwards, both institutions will have to work in order
      to repair the damage.

      • GabbyD

        well, it was deliberate. his testimony shows that the CJ was a very specific interpretation of the disclosure requirement.

        the only question that remains is whether he makes that requirement clear in his rules as compliance officer.

        moreover, he has the power to determine completeness of the submission for the judiciary. so he has the power to have binding legal interpretations of what constitutes fulfillment of obligations. 

      • Manuelbuencamino


        If they acquit because it was not deliberate then I hope they can explain how an act repeated year after year after year could not have been deliberate.

        If they say that violating the SALN law does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense then they have lowered the bar and made a mockery of the SALN law.

        Finally, nobody comes out clean in a political fight because mud is indispensable in politics. But mud washes away unlike scars from telling wounds.