Miriam makes her point

Emphatically, as always. In taking to task the prosecution team in the C.J. Corona impeachment trial for their scattershot approach which led to the sudden and unceremonious withdrawal of 5 of the 8 articles of impeachment, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago let loose with a few choice and colorful words.  Just Miriam being Miriam, the other senator-judges seemed to say, until Atty. Vitaliano Aguirre signaled his displeasure by a contemptuous act which he defiantly stood by. An even bigger uproar ensued.

Which led to Fr. Catalino Arevalo, S.J., in a homily at the EDSA Shrine, to denounce Miriam as worthy of the fires of hell for having called the members of the prosecution panel “fools”. This according to the Bible. Never one to suffer fools gladly, Miriam was quick with a retort. The Constitution provides a wall of separation between Church and State, said she, and a priest cannot violate the law in the guise of criticizing a senator-judge with the ulterior motive of promoting his own (presumably anti-Corona) political agenda. Moreover, the Bible can be interpreted in an almost infinite number of ways. Even the devil can quote scripture to suit his ends, she might have added.

Although in truth, there was no law violated by Fr. Arevalo’s words. The Constitution guarantees that every citizen has the right to comment upon and criticize the actuations of public officers. This right is not diminished by the fact that the criticism is aimed at a judicial authority or that the criticizer is a Catholic priest known to be close to the Aquino family. Moreover, the separation of Church and State is an ideal not yet fully realized in our country. Various religious hues and political views are woven into the fabric of Philippine society. We take it for granted that religion and politics are forever intertwined.

Even if she might well be worthy of the fires of hell, Miriam is also willing (and no doubt capable) “to march into hell for a heavenly cause”.   In this instance, protecting the integrity of the impeachment process.

Even staunch supporters of the prosecution panel decry their lack of preparation as far as building a solid case versus Corona is concerned. They were prepared to face the cameras and present their case before the public. But not quite as ready to make a case before the impeachment tribunal. By doing so, they appeared to be toying with the impeachment process in the hope that the chips will fall their way. Such a cavalier attitude to an undertaking that has seriously impacted our democratic institutions should not be tolerated.  This was simply the stark and inconvenient truth Miriam was pointing out. Unfortunately, her manner of delivery drowned out the message.

Note that even the most virulent anti-Miriam commentators, like Randy David and Conrad de Quiros in their Inquirer columns, did not attack the substance of what she said, but merely the way she said it. Which was, admittedly, dreadful. The  “cold neutrality of an impartial judge” , a cliché by this time, has not been the demeanor exhibited by her honor against the prosecution panel. It remains to be seen whether the defense would likewise be capable of incurring Miriam’s wrath.

That said, the conduct of Atty. Aguirre was equally deplorable. His antics underscore how the whole thing has degenerated into a circus. It seems to me he thought it “cute”, although I was embarrassed for him in view of his age and supposed stature. “WHA….?!? ” This is how members of the bar and officers of the court should behave, by taking a vaguely simian stance during a hearing and when called to explain, defiantly declare that yes, he did it his way ?

It is a well-recognized precept that a lawyer, both as an officer and as a citizen, has a right to criticize in properly respectful terms and legitimate channels the acts of courts and judges. But lawyers are also bound to maintain at all times the respect due the courts and judicial officers. This includes abstaining from offensive conduct, in and out of courtroom, towards judges personally for their judicial acts. The lawyer’s duty to render respectful subordination to the courts is essential to the orderly administration of justice. This was set forth in the case of “ In Re: Proceedings for Disciplinary Actions against Atty. Almacen, L-27654, February 18, 1970.

As Randy David pointed out, the law is nothing if not a culture of restraint. Would that some restraint, borne out of simple good manners, would now be exhibited by the dramatis persona in the impeachment trial.



1 thought on “Miriam makes her point”

  1. Hi. I suppose the answer is that lawyers have a lesser freedom of speech than ordinary folk. That is, to the question of whether, since there is such a thing as defensive libel, can Atty. Aguirre’s act qualify as speech.

    But under Equal Protection, if a sanction applies to the errant lawyer, shouldn’t there also be one on an errant judge? Just a quaere.

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