On its 34th day, the Senate acting as trial court on the impeachment case against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, suspended its proceedings as Congress takes recess and a number of senators already have booked flights for trips abroad. Trial resumes on May 7 when Congress resumes regular session. By then, senators, hopefully, have arrived from trips –happily or officially. The question now posed is: Is it still possible for the impeachment court to come out with a verdict before the 15th Congress closes session in June? What will the verdict be – convict or acquit Corona? What factors will influence the senator-judges in coming out with a verdict especially that they are not required to explain their position. Political grapevine abounds with talks that one factor that would play significant influence is the upcoming mid-term elections in 2013. Of course, the immediate personalities involved are the re-electionist senators and former ones wanting to make a comeback in the Senate. It is no wonder the presence of former senators Maceda and Webb in the nationally-televised trial.
Given the slow pace of the trial since it commenced in mid-January, the defense seemed successful in making the hearings go around the bush by dragging the court with legal and technical arguments in the name of due process and fair trial for its client. It was a bigger victory for the defense when it successfully evaded the call of the Senate for Corona and his wife to testify personally and hurdle the cross-examination of the prosecution panel and senator-judges.
It is in the hands of the impeachment court especially its presiding officer, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, when the trial resumes in May 7, to demand the defense panel to present CJ Corona and his wife. It is also up to the court whether to conclude the trial before Congress officially closes session in June. Both actions will define the disposition of the Senate acting as impeachment court. These acts will lay down the political act of the senator-judges – to convict or acquit Corona. Unlike the impeachment trial of then President Estrada, which was concluded by a people power, the current tribunal is fully in control to determine the endgame of the trial.
While the endgame remains to be seen, the impeachment trial already achieved unintended milestones. First, seven out of 10 Filipinos monitoring the trial have learned, however vague to them its legal and technical discourse, impeachment 101 as an institutional mechanism in determining the moral fitness of public officials in high post. Second, government officials – elected, appointed and career – would make sure they file their Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs) accordingly come April lest the barrage of scrutiny by media and the public bombards their normal lives. Third, the trial re-energize people’s confidence in public spaces to actively engage government policies, programs and projects - such as the critic movement of the mining industry, urban informal settlers engaging in the shaping of government housing program in the cities, community and civic organizations involved in local poverty reduction planning and budgeting, workers demand for higher wages, reform advocates pushing for transparency in government contracts and strengthening of political party system and election campaign finance, etc.
While it is expected that the conviction of Corona would keep up the momentum of the anti-corruption campaign of the Aquino administration, his acquittal will clearly draw the line between the administration and the opposition especially that the mid-term national elections draws nearer by the time the impeachment court comes out with a verdict. It is in the hands of the senator-judges to define the political configuration of the immediate future of Philippine politics. And this could be defined by just the number of ayes and nays. The prosecution has to muster 16 votes from the senator-judges while the defense has to get the nod of seven.