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If we read Rule III of the Senate Rules of Procedure on Impeachment Trials, we will be informed that “[s]enators shall observe political neutrality during the course of the impeachment trial.” The rule then proceeds to define political neutrality as the “exercise of public official’s duty without unfair discrimination and regardless of party affiliation or preference.”
This is the only provision in the Rules that touches upon the Senate’s duty to exercise the judicial counterpart of “the cold neutrality of an impartial judge.” But note carefully how the Senate’s Rule qualifies “neutrality” as “political neutrality,” which underscores the nature of an impeachment as not a judicial process, but a political one.
To put things in perspective, let us compare the Senate’s Rule with its equivalent in the New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary.
Canon 3 of the Code stresses that impartiality “is essential to the proper discharge of the judicial office. It applies not only to the decision itself but also to the process by which the decision is made.” Section 4, in particular, states:
Judges shall not knowingly, while a proceeding is before, or could come before them, make any comment that might reasonably be expected to affect the outcome of such proceeding or impair the manifest fairness of the process. Nor shall judges make any comment in public or otherwise that might affect the fair trial of any person or issue.
Again, we shall have to return to the principle that impeachments are political, not judicial.
This will explain the behavior of the senators, whose actions and voiced sentiments would have been unacceptable and would have been grounds for disqualification, had they come from a judge.
For example, the browbeating administered like vitamins to the prosecution by Miriam Defensor Santiago, while fleetingly comic, is obvious to many as senatorial bullying. Had her tirades been in a courtroom, they would have been ground for disciplinary action, given that lawyers take the slightest umbrage at being made to appear stupid, incompetent, or both, in front of their clients and are ever-ready to complicate judges’ lives with administrative complaints.
But Santiago is only one senator, and while she is a major character in the impeachment, she is not the face of the Senate.
That role is being played by Juan Ponce Enrile who, as the impeachment drags on, has become testier and testier with every passing day.
This week, as presiding officer, Enrile disallowed the testimony of Enrique Javier, the vice-president for sales of Philippine Airlines, who would have testified as to the alleged perks enjoyed by Chief Justice Renato Corona and his wife from 2010 to 2011.
During that period, Corona supposedly availed of a “platinum card” to finance international trips that took him to Hong Kong, Singapore, Guam and Hawaii; Mrs. Corona, in turn, allegedly used the same privilege to travel to Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Guam and various local destinations.
The prosecution intended to offer the testimony of Enriquez to prove Article 3 of the Articles of Impeachment. Article 3 accuses Corona of failing to meet the constitutional requirements of “proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.”
The trouble is that the articles mention zilch about the Coronas’ jet-setting, and according to the Rules of Court which, according to Rule VI of the Senate Rules, can be applied suppletorily whenever applicable, a party is not allowed to prove what he has not alleged. This is a reasonable rule since it is one of the ways procedural rules observe due process.
Hence Enrile’s disallowance.
Enrile’s ruling can be easily explained as enjoying legal support. His outburst at the prosecution, however, cannot.
Consider this rant directed at Rep. Sherwin Tunga:
The court has already ruled. You are wasting the time of this court. My God! You have to have discipline here! You make allegations and you are going to expand it without making the proper changes in your article 3.
When Niel Tupas tried to step in, Enrile had this to say:
Mr. Counsel, I do not know how you learned the art of pleading, but I’m basing my ruling on your allegations and nothing more. If you are going to insist on your position, I say I will not change the ruling. You want me to order you to amend the articles and send it back to the House? You have a choice.
The prosecution’s dismay over Enrile’s ruling is understandable, considering that the Coronas’ travel perks, if true, to my mind, seem proscribed under the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.
But again, this is an impeachment, not a courtroom proceeding.
Despite the prosecution’s prayer for liberality, the rules can be stretched only so far.
Enrile’s impatience, however, is another matter.
At this stage, we can all agree that the impeachment complaint needs a lot of fine-tuning, and the senators have not let us forget that. This gives us a fair indication of how the vote is going to go when decision-time arrives.
But as presiding officer, Enrile should have reined in his temper and avoided berating the prosecution and the complaint. That is the job of the defense.
Compare Enrile’s performance with that of Hilario Davide during Joseph Ejercito Estrada’s impeachment trial.
See what I mean?