Anatomy of two impeachments — nuances and repercussions

Anatomy of two impeachments — nuances and repercussions Featured

THE acquittal of former president Donald Trump by the US Senate is now part of its Congressional Records, an indelible historical blight that will haunt America for generations. That this trial doesn’t follow the conventional “trial by jury” enshrined in the jurisprudence of the US justice system is somewhat confusing. Let me elucidate.

The 100-member Senate is the sole body constitutionally mandated to try an impeached president, his “…removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor.” The senators sit as jurors while the “congressmen-managers” prosecute the case. Trump’s trial saw overwhelming evidence, which was never refuted by the defendant. But the outcome was never in doubt.

Guilty! But not guilty!
To convict, two-thirds of the jurors were needed. Fifty-seven went for conviction, shy of 10. Trump was acquitted. But was he innocent? Yes and no, implied the Senate Republican Leader Senator Mitch McConnell. He confirmed Trump’s role in inciting the mob to insurrection and attack the Capitol on which this impeachment and trial was based. His unequivocal declaration: “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty… There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.” By these precepts, Trump should have been convicted.

But no. In an elegant sleight of semantics, McConnell propounded that the US Senate “…is not invited to act as the nation’s overarching moral tribunal… If President Trump were still in office, I would have carefully considered whether the House managers proved their specific charge… We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen.” So there. They are not arbiters of morals sitting in judgment on a president’s criminal act committed while in office.

The impeachment trial is a highly partisan “political exercise,” where power politics and numbers rule. Although the jurors are deemed impartial having sworn an oath, Trump’s Republican jurors helped his incompetent lawyers map out his defense — publicly. Damn the oath and damn the system! McConnell further stated that Trump “didn’t get away with anything yet,” insinuating that Trump can still be criminally prosecuted — said after he voted to acquit. This was McConnell’s way of having his cake and eating it too, appeasing his conservative Republican allies and the “money-bags” who want Trump out but terrified of him and his mob.

Chief Justice Renato Corona
While Trump’s trial was ongoing, the Philippine Supreme Court in some peculiar way vindicated the late CJ Renato Corona, saying his impeachment and conviction had been “…tainted with bribery allegedly initiated by then-President Benigno Aquino 3rd.” But the high court did not overturn Corona’s 2012 conviction, thus his reputation is still left in tatters.

To recall, the chief justice was impeached and removed from office and disqualified from ever holding any public office stripping him of all “…retirement benefits and other allowances, including the survivorship benefits of his widow, Ma. Cristina, [for an] alleged non-declaration of his bank accounts in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN)” (The Manila Times, Jomar Canlas, Feb. 28, 2021).

The real transgression of Corona was locking horns with President Aquino 3rd (PNoy) when his court ruled to assess to a much lower amounts by billions of pesos the payment for the crown jewel of the Cojuangco family holdings, the Hacienda Luisita, that had earlier been litigated under the land reform program. This sugar plantation has been in the hands of the Cojuangco clan (President Cory and President PNoy) for generations and is the primary asset and the political base of this oligarchic family.

President PNoy and his allies were the dominant political grouping when the Senate moved to avenge the family. Unlike the two-party system in the US, the Philippines is a composite aggrupation of politicians fused out of pure self-interest, ideologically undifferentiated, passing off as “political parties.” These were borne out of generations of political patronage that were at that moment under President PNoy’s tutelage. The chief justice was impeached practically on a minor slip-up, the non-declaration of his dollar deposits in his SALN (which the law says could be corrected), something over which senators and congressmen have been cavalier in the past.

Honorable rogues’ gallery
What was despicable was that the conviction was secured through bribery. Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada revealed in a privilege speech in 2013 that his colleagues who voted to convict Corona were given an additional P50 million in discretionary funds — through the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was subsequently declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Senator Jinggoy’s declaration against interest was fatal but credible, admitting to receiving a bribe himself. Sheepishly, the senators who received the funds denied these were bribe money while keeping the amounts. The three who voted “not guilty” did not receive any: Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor Santiago, now both deceased, and Bongbong Marcos.

The rest of the 20 senators received from a low of P30 million to an average of P50 million to a high of P100 million. All voted “guilty”: Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, TG Guingona, Ralph Recto, siblings Peter and Pia Cayetano, Antonio Trillanes 4th, Manuel Villar; Jinggoy Estrada, Greg Honasan, Juan Ponce Enrile, Francis Escudero, Panfilo Lacson, Serge Osmeña, Lito Lapid, Bong Revilla, Loren Legarda, Tito Sotto, Edgardo Angara and Koko Pimentel.

Similarities and differences
The US and Philippine impeachment process are similar as the Philippine version was merely an American copy. The difference could be in the nuances of execution and protocols. In Trump’s case, the Senate tries to hide its moral bankruptcy behind a thin veneer of pretense, obfuscation and blah-blah, citing exoneration of an immoral president as an act upholding the primacy of the US Constitution.

No such motherhood statements coat the Philippine impeachment trial and consequent verdict — just simply a blatant abuse of presidential power playing on the greed of the “honorable” senators. The apt colloquialism is “garapalan talaga.”

Victims
President Trump, a narcissistic psychopath who built up his cult of “baskets of deplorables,” was a vengeful leader bereft of ethical anchor. His own enablers, sycophants and spineless Republican caucus in fact were terrified by the wrath of this mob and his political clout more than the judgment of history and their better angels. In this impeachment, the American people and their justice system were the victims.

The Corona impeachment in May of 2012 was a crass, personal and petty display of naked political power by President PNoy. Aside from Corona’s decision against the Cojuangco estate cited above, Corona was also caught in the middle between the veiled fight for control of the Supreme Court and disdain of PNoy toward his predecessor. Corona was appointed by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo within the two-month period before the presidential election that PNoy won. PNoy considered this as a “midnight appointment,” one that should have been his prerogative. The Supreme Court decided otherwise. GMA, Corona’s sponsor, was later incarcerated during the PNoy regime.

What was despicable about the Corona affair was the process was a personal vendetta by a sitting president against the chief justice and the former president, using public funds to pervert institutions of government. Currently, nine of those who voted to convict still hold the title of “honorable” senators. The rest are in various high government positions of trust.
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Read 163 times Last modified on Wednesday, 24 February 2021 11:18
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