MANILA, MAY 26, 2012 (INQUIRER) Impeachment trial? No, call it a telenovela.

In uniquely Pinoy fashion, yesterday’s hearing at the Senate had all the elements of a blockbuster boob-tube production, primarily tears (Chief Justice Renato Corona once again breaking down on the stand), suspense (surprising everyone, Corona takes back his conditional waiver and offers an “unconditional” one—but only after his defense has rested, flummoxing the senator-judges and sending them into a caucus of nearly 45 minutes) and, the most spectacular, reconciliation (without warning, the feuding Basa and Corona families embracing in front of the cameras).

What to make of this…daytime soap?

The cynical will be quick to ascribe the Coronas’ sudden humble demeanor—the Chief Justice repeatedly apologized to the impeachment court for his haughty walkout from the court two days ago—and their telegenic gesture of reaching out to their estranged relatives, to their need to win public sympathy after the Chief Justice’s disastrous Tuesday performance.

And there is reasonable ground for such a belief. Corona being a lawyer, and assisted as well by a crack defense team, he presumably knows strategy, how to bob and weave and feint and jab, in order to wring maximum empathy from the watching public.

He’s no fool, he said on Tuesday, and it would be naive to think that not a single one of the picture-perfect developments that seemed to be happening all at once in yesterday’s proceedings was not, in some way, vested with self-interest, or designed to put him in the best possible light.

On the other hand, when it came to the decades-old Basa-Corona tiff, perhaps those involved have indeed found themselves exhausted by the hostilities and were only waiting for an opportune moment to make up. Reconciliation between warring parties is always a welcome sight.

We can only hope at this point that the Basa and Corona families’ embraces are as heartfelt as they looked on TV.

Nevertheless, yesterday’s melodramatic scenes should not detract from the very real case against the Chief Justice and the ultimate question of his fitness for his lofty office.

(As Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has noted, the Basa-Corona tiff is still mostly a sideshow to the issues against Corona.) Quite apart from the unanswered gaps and contradictions in his testimony on his assets, Corona’s confounding actions in the last few days have pretty much reinforced what many see as his worst traits—his vast sense of entitlement (encapsulated in that now-classic “And now the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused”), his questionable tack of defending himself (that conditional waiver was, in effect, but a crafty formulation of the trademark gangster’s dictum: If I go down, you’re all going down with me), and his fundamentally warped appreciation of his role as the nation’s highest arbiter of truth and justice.

His defense panel has asked: Why must the Chief Justice be held to a higher standard?

That’s a question that should reduce the nation to weeping.

If these reputedly brilliant lawyers and their client—all products of the best law schools—are unable to grasp the idea that a judge, let alone the Chief Justice of the Republic, has only his unassailable moral authority to bank on to be able to sit in judgment of the rest of us, then the nation’s judicial system is, for all intents and purposes, doomed.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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