Form over substance

THE lawyers of Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment trial opposed the prosecution’s attempt to show that he amassed ill-gotten wealth during his tenure as member of the Supreme Court.

Noting that the allegation of ill-gotten wealth is not included in the eight-point Articles of Impeachment, Corona’s lawyers asked the Impeachment Court to stop the prosecutors from bringing up the issue of ill-gotten wealth. The court seems to agree with the defense lawyers as they announced that they won’t allow the introduction of evidence pertaining to Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth until the prosecution panel had laid out evidence to support their claim.

The defense posture of insisting close adherence to the Rules of Court and the Rules of Evidence is understandable from the point of view of legal enthusiasts but rather unfathomable for someone who is not trained in law, an overwhelming majority of whom are the masses witnessing the proceeding through their television sets.

This posture of Corona’s lawyers is a classic example of giving importance on the form and technicality of the rules over the substance and intent of the proceeding. It is a commonly used tactic by defense lawyers in difficult criminal trials where their client is most likely to be convicted.

Lest it be forgotten the impeachment process is not a court proceeding nor a criminal trial therefore the Rules of Court and Evidence need not be strictly applied.

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, acting as the court’s presiding officer, explained at the onset of the impeachment trial that the Rules of Court would only be used to supplement the Senate rules. Unfortunately everybody involved in the proceeding seems to have forgotten Enrile’s reminder.

Impeachment is a procedure where the honesty or credibility of an impeached official, in this instance Corona, is challenged to determine whether he is fit to remain in office. None of the three basic rights – the right to life, liberty and property – would be affected should Corona be proven unfit for his high office.

The only objective of the proceeding is to know if Corona has the honesty and credibility to remain in office. Any hint of dishonesty is enough to bar him from continuing his work as the chief magistrate of the republic. This is why there is need to keep the proceeding simple and understandable for the common folks.

It is essential for the people, through their representatives in the person of the senator-judges of the Impeachment Court, to know the truth in a language they understand through a technicality lenient proceeding. Being a stickler to form won’t accomplish that.


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