AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-03-04
Sometime during the mid-1990s, a funny incident happened in a fastfood outlet in San Fernando Valley, California. Two Filipinas were having coffee when one of them remarked: “Ugly.” Now, ugly when used to describe food or drink is a literal translation of our PANGIT (ugly), a term used here when the taste is not up to expectation. In the English norm, ugly is never used to describe food or drink — unless the presentation is truly ugly.

Somehow the word ugly struck my mind while watching last Wednesday’s impeachment trial and the mind-boggling antics of Senator-Judge Miriam Santiago. Senator Santiago opened the day’s session with her usual lecture to the prosecution, which went to the point of insulting them — calling them gago (stupid). The big difference between the ugly that came to mind and the ugly used by that fastfood’s coffee drinker in San Fernando Valley is that ugly really best describes what happened at the impeachment trial last Wednesday.

In a university, when a professor resorts to similar antics, demeans the dignity of a student and even calls that student gago, that could be raised as a serious issue and the professor will have to account. Over here, because the protester — private prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre — offended a Senator-Judge by making a non-verbal protest against her insults, he ends up being held in contempt for attempting to uphold his dignity. Again, Santiago demeaned the impeachment trial by raising doubts about their sense of justice.

The tribunal should have protected their prosecutors against those unjustified assaults of Santiago, instead of citing Aguirre for contempt. All over social media, many saw Santiago’s behavior as contemptible and not Aguirre’s symbolic attempt at registering his protest to being insulted in front of a national television audience.

It is ugly when the person that instigated a bad situation gets the benefit of the law and the offended party ends up being cited for contempt. That no Senator-Judge bothered to even register a word to try to redirect the way the proceedings were going, could erode people’s faith that the impeachment tribunal is capable of rendering a fair judgment.

While your Chair Wrecker was watching the gago incident at home on television, an unusual amount of text messages were landing on my mobile phone. All of them, in their own way, expressed personal disgust at how Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE) had allowed Santiago to get away with her antics. Many had expected JPE to act fairly and censure the person in the court who is most guilty of creating an ugly situation. People may not know the letter of the law but they can sense an injustice when an injustice has been committed.

It’s not as if Santiago’s antics had been demonstrated only last Wednesday. Last Wednesday’s insulting session with the prosecution came after a series of similar incidents. Noticeably, Santiago would ask to be allowed to speak first, citing her problems with hypertension. And every time she was allowed to speak first, she embarks on her lecture to the prosecution and the accompanying castigation — verbal insults.

Santiago can only have herself to blame if by now many Filipinos form an impression that she’s working for an acquittal. Another Senator-Judge would have used subtler methods to favor one side of the legal battle. Maybe she should consult my friend, Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo.
What else can a right thinking person deduce from Santiago’s daily opening salvoes against the prosecution? It was as if she was out to destroy the prosecution’s composure, emotional and mental stability before the trial gets started. It was as if she was destroying the credibility of the prosecution before the national television audience, as if trying to seed the impression that they’re incompetent and therefor cannot win.

Only an insane person would defend it, saying: “I am seeking to improve the prosecution so that they can win their case.” Students do not improve after being subjected to daily insults and the degradation of their dignity.

Last Wednesday, Santiago made a big fuss about the prosecutors “claiming victory” based on the three articles on which they rested their case. If you saw that press conference of the prosecution where they explained why they dropped Articles 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 — what the prosecutors said was that they felt they had more than enough grounds with which to press for a conviction. Is Santiago now depriving the prosecutors of their right to express their opinion on how strong their case is? Santiago made it appear as if the prosecutors were speaking for the tribunal when in truth they only expressed how they assessed their case with just Articles 2, 3 and 7.

If Santiago was truly concerned over a legal panel prematurely claiming victory during a press conference — then she would have found more valid reasons if she listened to the pronouncements of the defense panel during these press conferences. How come we could not recall Santiago making a mountain out of that move of the defense to spread a wild gossip about Malacanang influencing the Senator-Judges with inducements just to convict Chief Justice (CJ) Renato Corona? How come the defense panel was never cited for contempt?

Contrary to what Santiago had declared during her first appearance in the impeachment trial — that the Senator-Judges should learn from the lessons of the sealed Jose Velarde envelop during the impeachment trial of then president Joseph Estrada — it would appear that she never really learned those lessons at all.

Santiago never learned those lessons at all because with her actuations — she is stirring public passion in the impeachment trial. Santiago never learned those lessons at all because she fails to recognize that it is intense public passion to exact justice, where injustice is perceived, that triggers People Power. Santiago never learned those lessons at all because she forgot that the ultimate jurors are the Filipino people, not the Iglesia ni Cristo or the Catholic Church.

In Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote: “Madness in great ones must never unwatched go.”

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