Monday, February 13, 2012

Extremely annoying and incredibly juvenile

My apologies to Jonathan Safran Foer for putting the pun on his book title.

William Howard Taft—yes, that same person for whom a long stretch of avenue in Manila was named for—was appointed Governor-General of the Philippines in 1900 by U.S. President William McKinley. Taft was elected U.S. President himself in 1909.
William Howard Taft, first U.S. Governor General of the Philippines and 27th US
President. Photo courtesy of  Life.Liberty. Taft told President McKinley that "our
little brown brothers" would need "fifty or one hundred years" of close supervision
 "to develop anything resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills."

In 1902, Taft wrote a book, Political Parties in the Philippines, where he examined the historical development of Philippine political parties and analyzed the level of political maturity of the Filipinos. In his book, Taft said that Filipino politicians have yet to learn the idea of individual liberty and the practical elements of a popular government.

The Philippine Commission during Taft’s time in the Philippines, which was the precursor of the Philippine Senate, recommended the establishment of a popular assembly, to be composed of affluent Filipino politicians, to serve as a training ground for self-government. This assembly became the Congress of the Philippines and the Jones Act of 1916 created the Senate replacing the Philippine Commission.

As oligarchic as the membership of Congress was in its early years, today’s Congress is not that all different. While learning the rudiments of self-government from American tutelage which the country had to master well during the years of independence until now, one would expect that a representative democracy would have flourished, that the country is now able to draw upon all classes in Philippine society in forming the country’s legislative body. Nothing has changed.

It was partly the fault of the American colonial rulers. The Americans did not change the Filipino social structure. They merely imposed a political system that allowed the existing social structure to gain political power. Taft’s idea of letting society’s affluent members constitute Congress resulted in the formation and circulation of elites that perpetuate their hold on political offices.

Brian Fegan, an American anthropologist described the Filipino family in his book An Anarchy of Families, as the most enduring political unit in Philippine society. The transfer of power among family members is considered normal and natural in order to preserve political continuity. Political competition is seen as a rivalry between families, whose members invest a permanent right to political office once they have claimed it.

Just look at the composition of today’s Philippine Congress. You see father and son, or mother and daughter, one a senator and the other a member of the lower house. Or siblings sitting together as senators. Or children of their once-famous or infamous father or mother who also sat in Congress before them. Point a finger to an individual member of Congress and you can trace his or her family connections: the Aquino-Cojuangco family, the Macapagal-Arroyos, the Ponce Enriles, the Rectos, the Osmenas, the Marcoses, the Cayetanos, the Angaras—almost everyone is related to each other, whether as a sibling, a parent or a distant relative.
Current members of the Philippne Senate sitting as a trial court for the impeachment
of  Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona. Please click link to view "Pulitikos:  The
Philippine Oligarchy System,"
Whatever happened to Taft’s prescription one century later—did we mature as a country or have we gone bananas? We should blame him for the oligarchic system of government we have now.

The current impeachment trial of the Supreme Court Chief Justice before the Senate doesn’t speak well about our development and maturity as a government. We have a Constitution which grants the Senate the power to try government officials for high crimes and misdemeanours. Acting as a trial court, the Senate is higher than the Supreme Court but the law is quite clear on what are impeachable offences. Some pundits or columnists of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and other media subservient to Malacanang, or even independent bloggers, they all don’t know what they’re writing about. It’s not about how sharp your pen is or how good you string a couple of sentences into beautiful paragraphs. Impeachment, although a political process, is equally about what the law is. No amount of spin and counter-spin in the realm of public opinion can change the law and the legal nature of the impeachment process.

But there is value and purpose in the impeachment process as a constitutional device for as long as it is not regarded as purely ad hominem in nature. Unlike what is happening in the Philippine Senate today when a person like the Supreme Court Justice is being vilified both by his prosecutors and by those in the public media.

If we follow American impeachment proceedings as our guide, such proceedings often start as a general inquiry and develop into impeachment as soon as the facts are disclosed which would then generate public demand for stronger action. In the case of Corona’s impeachment, the articles of impeachment were hastily drafted and the prosecution soon fast-tracked into a fishing expedition for evidence to prove the allegations against the Chief Justice, such as issuing subpoenas right and left even for persons who should not be there, like the accused’s fellow justices or financial and bank records that are protected from disclosure by law.

The motive for Corona’s impeachment is suspect. We have a president stimulated by vendetta against an earlier Supreme Court decision that was detrimental to his family’s feudal claims to lands that didn’t belong to them. Or, perhaps because the Chief Justice refused to go along with a sharing arrangement of the high court’s leadership with another fellow justice. Arguably, while some of the alleged offences by the Chief Justice could be against the law if only they could be proved, they are most likely not in the nature of impeachable crimes as envisaged under the Constitution.

Prof. Raoul Berger , a conservative Harvard legal historian and Supreme Court scholar, wrote in the 1974 issue of Harper’s Magazine an article entitled “Impeachment: An Instrument of Regeneration,” where he argued that Americans were too restrained about the use of the impeachment process. In Berger’s view, impeachment was an essential Constitutional safeguard – an instrument for regeneration for protection of our liberties and our constitutional system.

During the waning years of the Bush administration, there were talks that went around Washington about the possibility of impeaching President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney for serious transgressions of the Constitution. Bush, Cheney and the Justice Department were the focus of complaints about their abuse of authority with respect to the war in Iraq, the treatment of war prisoners, the use of torture, and the firing of eight U.S. attorneys in 2007 known as the “Gonzales Eight.” The political condition would have been ripe for impeachment as an institutional remedy as Prof. Berger had foreseen. But impeachment was taken off the table as many Americans believed it would be viewed as overzealous partisanship, and they could strike havoc at the polls whoever was running as president for either the Republican or Democratic Party. Such was a situation ideal for impeachment as an institutional remedy, as it would make a clear statement about abuse of power.

Does the Corona impeachment fall under Berger’s argument that its proper use is as a constitutional restorative? Obviously not. But the failure to use impeachment, however, could also have deleterious consequences. It could mean acceptance of the alleged felonies of the Chief Justice as permissible by any means, legally or by any form of justification.

On the contrary, however, the current Corona impeachment is destroying the delicate and careful balance between legislature, executive and judiciary as envisaged in our Constitution. We have a sitting president who appears to be interested in undoing this system of checks and balance. By the looks of it, the executive could possibly triumph as the paramount power, if this whole charade is allowed to play out. Impeachment may be a painful process, but we should consider whether our Constitution and the legal order are worth saving.

The Corona impeachment is stalling the more important legislative agenda of the Senate, and of the lower house, too, if all the 188 members who signed the articles of impeachment have nothing to do but watch the progress of the trial. It has reached a point of being a nuisance, a clumsy betrayal of our childishness and immaturity as a nation who’s refusing to grow up. Merely because we have a president who appears to be more interested in playing duck games rather than facing the serious tasks of his office.

No comments:

Post a Comment