HAWAII, FEBRUARY 26, 2012 (BLOGGER WATCH) FROM HAWAII-FILIPINO CHRONICLE - The current impeachment trial of Renato Corona, the Philippines’ Supreme Court Chief Justice, is extremely rare even in a country with a flair for politics.

The trial has raised eyebrows not just in the Philippines, but also among Filipinos locally and across the U.S.

Supporters of Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III say he is making good on a campaign promise to root out corruption and promote good governance.

After assuming the presidency in June 2010, Noynoy has aggressively gone after top leaders in the previous administration. He has filed corruption charges against Corona and accused former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of electoral sabotage and other alleged wrongdoings.

Events Leading Up to Impeachment

In October 2011, the Philippines’ Department of Justice (DOJ) barred Arroyo, who won election in 2010 as a representative of Pamapanga, and her husband from leaving the country. Arroyo appealed the DOJ’s order and claimed that she needed to travel abroad for medical treatment.

A few weeks later, the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) allowing the couple to leave the country under certain conditions.

Arroyo’s allies in the House of Representatives asked the Supreme Court to enforce the TRO but DOJ officials refused to budge. In mid-November 2011, an arrest warrant was served on Arroyo, which she received during confinement at a posh hospital in Taguig City. She was later transferred to a veterans medical center in Quezon City and placed under hospital arrest.

In the following weeks, rumors spread of a plot by President Aquino’s allies in the House of Representatives to impeach the chief justice.

On December 12, the House initiated an impeachment complaint signed by 188 members against Corona who was accused of eight counts of graft, corruption, betraying the public’s trust and violating the Philippine Constitution. The complaint was filed the next day in the Senate. The Senate began the impeachment trial against Corona on January 16 with designated members of the House of Representatives serving as prosecutors.

Arroyo is a close ally of Corona, who served as her chief-of-staff before she appointed him to the Supreme Court in April 2002.

Shortly after Aquino won the presidency, Arroyo appointed Corona as chief justice, a “midnight appointment” that was seen by some as an effort to derail efforts to bring her and others in her administration to justice. Impeachment allegations against Corona include corruption and biased rulings that favored Arroyo.

Corona Fires Back

In response, Corona has accused Noynoy of targeting Arroyo-appointed Supreme Court justices and filling it with his own appointees, which would give him control of the presidency, congress and the courts.

The truth is, it’s not easy to boot sitting justices and appoint one’s own nominees to the bench. Supreme Court justices can only be replaced upon retirement or by vacancies brought about by resignation, death and conviction after impeachment.

Some observers feel that the Corona camp, being the accused and on the defensive, was offering rationalizations for President Aquino’s actions.

“I think the president’s motives are more along his stated priorities on his fight against corruption and cleaning up the public bureaucracy, rather than along the more political expedient of being able to appoint his own men to the High Court,” says Dr. Belinda Aquino, a retired University of Hawaii-Manoa professor and renowned expert on Philippine affairs.

Corona’s supporters have also criticized Noynoy for chasing corrupt officials when he instead should be focusing on economic growth policies. However, many say in defense of Noynoy that rooting out corruption would in fact result in economic gains since corruption is one of the reasons why investors are reluctant to do business in the Philippines.

Toy Arre, former president and CEO of the Filipino Community Center, agrees that rooting out corruption would have a positive effect on the Philippines’ economy.

“Economic growth is difficult for the Philippines, even under ideal conditions,” Arre says. “It’s exponentially more difficult under a corrupt system of government.”

Ramifications of Impeachment

Noynoy’s initiatives against corruption is seen as a cleansing process which, if successful in higher levels of government, could have an effect on the citizenry when it comes to weeding out graft.

“The problem has been rooted so long in the Philippine body politic that it will be extremely difficult to eradicate,” says Dr. Aquino. “But the attempts of the current administration are welcomed news in a country that has been so long mired in corrupt practices.”

Dr. Aquino was surprised that Noynoy openly and aggressively targeted a “big fish” like Corona, instead of using a more subtle, low-key approach.

“He comes from a younger generation and less constrained I would imagine by the traditional niceties of Philippine politics and the possibility of being hit back.” Aquino says.

Others like Visayan community leader Jun Colmenares say it was a good idea for Noynoy to go after a “big fish” like Corona.

“If the president is serious about going after government corruption, then a big fish (like Corona) is a good choice,” he says. “It shows that he intends to root out corruption at the highest levels of government. What the Philippines needs is moral regeneration. It has been so mired in corruption for the past decades that it is high time to root it out. We need good and honest government leaders.”

State House Rep. Joey Manahan hopes that the Aquino administration treads carefully—for its own sake.

“In principle, I agree with the policy of ‘good governance’ the Aquino administration is trying to put forth, but there is a balance that needs to be maintained once it is put into practice,” Rep. Manahan says. “President Aquino is walking a fine line and I hope that the end game works to his advantage. Otherwise he will appear to be just as guilty of the graft and corruption that his administration is trying to prevent.”

A Long, Winding Process

Unfortunately, the trial could take months and consume much of the Aquino administration’s time and effort. It is possible for the public to become cynical with the never-ending technicalities and legal maneuverings from both sides.

“The reality in the Philippines is that the machinery for justice is so slow, cumbersome, antiquated and in some cases, corrupt,” says Dr. Aquino. “Judicial reform is badly needed in the Philippines. Progress has not been made despite attempts in the past to overhaul the system of justice.

This long-standing structural deficiency has to be addressed but it is easier said than done because the political will is not there, among other issues.”

Senate President Enrile, who is presiding over the proceedings, was frustrated early on mainly because the prosecution team from the House had not gotten its act together in presenting its case before the Senate. It took awhile for things to get up to speed, since impeachment cases are rare and that House lawmakers needed to switch gears and become judicial entities—a role which they were not used to playing.

Sen. Miriam Santiago last week berated a member of the prosecution panel on the Senate floor regarding trial proceedings. She and fellow senators were reminded by Enrile to control their emotions during the proceedings.

“I hate to say this but soon, the whole thing might degenerate into a political circus, more as entertainment rather than anything else,” says Dr. Aquino.

The impeachment trial has been televised live and is expected to last for several months. But will the common man be interested in watching the events unfold or will he be too busy eeking out a living? For Colmenares, the common tao should follow the proceedings.

“The impeachment trial is big news in the Philippines. Given the Filipinos’ penchant for politics, I am pretty sure many people there will follow it,” he says.

Rep. Manahan disagrees and says that the high stakes political game will likely be out of the common man’s reach.

“I can’t imagine there would be too much interest in following the proceedings for the average citizen in the Philippines or even abroad, because we are so far removed from this level,” says Rep. Manahan. “It is a sad commentary on Philippine politics, and it says a lot about the disparity between the people and the officials who represent our interests.”

Dr. Aquino agrees.

“As you know, the ‘common tao’ in the Philippines is largely engaged in earning a living at the most elemental level. Their energies are spent trying to survive above water,” she says.

“I think this is a test case of Noynoy’s slogan for good governance—Kung walang Korap, walang Mahirap, or words to that effect. You can also turn it around to Kung walang Mahirap, walang Korap because as people get out of the poverty level, hopefully, they will be able to participate more in public affairs and be more critical of the way the government is run.”

Striking a Balance

With the trial headed into the end of its third week, public support for the impeachment remains steady. Things could change, however, if the government and congress focus too much of their collective efforts on what critics characterize as “vindictive politics.”

One ominous sign is the release of the Philippines’ economic growth report for 2011. According to the National Statistical Coordination Board, gross domestic product was 3.7 percent, which is less than half of 2010’s 7.6 percent and below the government’s projections of between 4.5 to 5.5 percent.

Critics may see it as proof that the government is excessively focusing on chasing corrupt officials from the previous administration, rather than working on the economy, creating jobs and alleviating poverty.

Administration officials trace part of the decrease to less government spending—a policy that Noynoy called for to ensure that government contracts were free of corruption. With reforms completed, they expect 2012 to be a much better year.

For Noynoy’s sake, Rep. Manahan hopes that he distances himself from the proceedings and lets the process take its course. He also pointed out the importance of public officials who are involved in the trial to be as transparent and unbiased as possible.

To quell his critics and maintain public support, the Aquino administration needs to strike a better balance between economic growth and other important matters besides the impeachment trial.

That is, in fact, what good governance is all about.


[PHOTO PROFILE: Chona A. Montesines-Sonido Facebook wall]

The Hawaii Filipino Chronicle has been an informative resource to the small business community. Under the initiative and direction of Chona A. Montesines-Sonido, the Chronicle has published numerous articles helping small business owners every step of the way from starting up a company to enhancing profits through effective management, finance, marketing, and tax filing.

Ms. Montesines-Sonido was recently honored by the Hawaii Filipino Women’s Club as the Woman Achiever in the field of journalism. She was also recognized by the City Council, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, Governor Linda Lingle, Mayor Mufi Hanneman, and the Kalayaan Philippines-Hawaii International for her outstanding achievement in the field of journalism. Ms. Montesines-Sonido was a recent panel speaker on the Ethnic Media, presented by the Honolulu Community Media Council, and is Honolulu’s SBA Small Business Journalist of the Year for 2006.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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