Day 26 (Feb. 28, Manila time) of the impeachment trial of Philippine Chief Justice Renato C. Corona was expected to be boring. In fact, at the start of the trial, at least two persons in the gallery were seen yawning.
But as the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, was about to finish the business of the day, the supposedly civil proceedings turned into some kind of circus clowns’ quarrel. And, at one point, a tooth-and-nail clash in the supposedly august hall seemed ominous.
The ugly incident started when Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago stood up and once again gave a stinging lecture to the prosecutors, this time on the rules of procedure governing the resting of the prosecution’s case. Delivered in her usually imperious, angry tone and high-pitched voice,
Her Honor’s lecture deteriorated to a peroration which was singularly notable for the use of the curse Tagalog word “gago.”
As in past trial days when Miriam delivered her diatribe, most of the members of the prosecution panel composed of solons (who are all lawyers) and private law practitioners – just grinned as they suffered the insult and humiliation.
But on Day 26 of the trial, one of the volunteer private lawyers, Vitaliano Aguirre, was unable to take the embarrassment any more, and this caused him to cover his ears with his hands.
Aguirre’s action did not escape the attention of Senator-Judge Allan Cayetano who, using his iPod’s camera, took a photograph of the lawyer covering his ears.
Later, Congressman Rudy Farinas (1st district, Ilocos Norte) stood up and requested the court to strike the word “gago” off the records, saying the cuss word would be a perpetual embarrassment to the prosecutors if it were not deleted from the journal. Miriam said she is not interposing objection to the request.
But that was not the end of it; in fact, it was just the lull before the storm. Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada stood up and asked the prosecution panel to identify the lawyer in black suit, pointing to Aguirre, who stood up and gave his name. In an acrid tone, Jinggoy asked Aguirre why he was covering his ears with his hands when Miriam was “lecturing.” Jinggoy branded the lawyer’s action as “kabastosan” (disrespect) to the honorable lady senator from Iloilo.
Aguirre replied that he covered his ears because his eardrum was hurting due to Miriam’s shrill voice. Saying he has been a law practitioner for the last 40 years, he disputed the lady senator’s legal contention on withdrawal of charges filed with the court. Then he said that he could no longer stomach the insult thrown at the prosecutors.
Hearing the reply, Miriam went ballistic, moved to cite Aguirre for contempt and demanded that he be ejected from the courtroom. To restore order and ease tension, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, presiding judge of the impeachment court, banged the gavel and ordered a recess.
Shortly afterwards, Miriam approached the prosecution’s podium and tried to confront Aguirre. This prompted the other prosecution lawyers and the senator-judges to intervene, thwarting what could have been a hair-pulling kind of fight.
Aguirre, who was a defense counsel in the sensational Vizconde massacre case, was taken to the prosecution’s room, where some of the staff were heard cheering for him for courageously standing up against the irascible senator.
A few minutes later, Aguirre was whisked out of the building, escorted by a handful of Senate security personnel.
When the proceedings resumed, Senator-Judge Pia Cayetano seconded Miriam’s motion to cite Aguirre for contempt. Hearing no objection, Enrile banged the gavel to signal the approval of the motion.
Farinas, speaking on behalf of the prosecution panel, apologized to the court for the disrespectful action of Aguirre.
The court did not immediately penalize Aguirre as it scheduled discussion on the penalty to be imposed in a caucus set the following Tuesday. A senator-judge said Aguirre could be penalized with detention of up to 10 days and/or a fine of at least 2,000 pesos.
Later, Miriam was seen grinning, a picture of a happy warrior who had just vanquished a foe in a sword fight. Some of her fellow senator-judges hugged her and tapped her on the shoulder, apparently showing their support for or admiration to her.
In doing so, her fellow senators seemed to have tolerated her action of humiliating the prosecutors. In the regular courts, there are some judges who are abusive, but lawyers usually take the abuse in stride, Senator-Judge Pia Cayetano said, explaining her move of seconding the motion to cite Aguirre for contempt.
From our standpoint, though, we see Miriam’s arrogant attitude towards the prosecutors as totally unbecoming of a high public official. While we have always been impressed by her legal savvy, we cannot simply tolerate her misbehavior which, in our view, makes her unfit to serve as a public official.
In the event she will run again for public office in the future, the people should no longer vote for her. The nation is better off without officials whose ego is gargantuan.
As for Aguirre, he has to be disciplined. If he does not respect the Iron Lady, he should at least respect the Senate as an august body.
We support Senator Allan Cayetano’s suggestion that his penalty is detention for three days in a room where a recording of Miriam’s shrill voice and peroration is played full-volume 24/7. After three days, he should already be well disciplined – that’s if he has not lost his sanity.