Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philipppine Chief Justice Renato Corona's walkout from the impeachment court last Tuesday showed exactly what he thought of it: beneath him. His very words at the end of his opening statement, "the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused," were nothing but imperious and indicated the lowest regard for the impeachment court, its presiding officer, and the senators serving as judges.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who had extended to Corona the highest courtesies to the point of overruling the protest of the prosecution against the witness' hours-long narrative and harangue at absent persons, was correct to order a lockdown and demand that the defence bring its client back to the stand. The witness had not been properly discharged, after all; he should not expect to continue to be treated with kid gloves.
Now the man is in hospital and, his doctors said yesterday, would be unfit for direct and cross-examination for 48-72 hours. There goes his longstanding promise to explain himself in the impeachment court (although he can still spring a surprise and make an appearance tomorrow).
His narrative, in itself highly irregular even to those without benefit of a law degree, being a long and uninterrupted recitation of claims and statements, emotional remarks marked by a dramatic pause to restrain tears, an irrelevant aside on his wife's relatives, and generally a reiteration of all that he and his lawyers had been saying these past months, is hardly a fulfillment of that promise despite his declaration that it was addressed to the people. (The language he employed-a mishmash of Filipino and English that was as ineloquent as it was lacking in gravitas, particularly in contesting Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales' testimony on his purported 82 dollar accounts and in discoursing on his wife's family members-was presumably in deference to the same people, but it should be pointed out that he did them a disservice by presuming that they appreciate inelegance. Dressed formally, he behaved in a manner that demanded royal treatment but his language was appropriate for a gangster and decidedly incongruous with that of a top magistrate. Can anyone conceive of, say, the retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide speaking thus?)
But the bizarre development in Corona's effective "disappearing act" is that it has not elicited a formal protest-not from Enrile, not from the senators (not even the trigger-happy Miriam Defensor-Santiago), not the members of the prosecution-and a corresponding sanction. Has a precedent been set? May a witness, particularly of a lofty stature like that of the Chief Justice, be within his/her rights to leave the stand and walk out of the courtroom even without permission from the judge or presiding officer?
Corona's camp denies that Tuesday's high drama was premeditated, but the circumstances are quite revealing. Enrile told the protesting prosecution early on in the hearing that the Chief Justice was fully aware of the protocol. Apparently, the Chief Justice was not, or he did not see himself bound by it. His camp's announcement that he was suffering a low blood sugar condition and needed medical attention came across as an attempt at damage control after it became clear that Enrile, who had ordered the
Senate's exits blocked, would not condone his behavior. At any rate, the Chief Justice did not appear to be on the brink of fainting, as his camp had claimed; he walked out of the session hall and toward the rear exit on steady feet, exhibiting no hint that he was nauseous or approaching collapse. Indeed, it is reported that when he and his family were barred from leaving by Senate security personnel, he was well enough to inquire if he was being arrested. But when he returned after a lengthy interval, he was on a wheelchair.
At that point, it did not seem like the Chief Justice had any intention of explaining himself at his impeachment trial, meaning that he would submit to questioning by the prosecution, as he had been promising. His sense of royalty, of entitlement, appeared absolute. That he was subsequently taken to hospital, after his chief defence lawyer explained to Enrile his sudden malady, seemed to take on the contours of a script. His physicians have put him in ICU, but why is public sympathy not forthcoming? And why does last year's dramatic attempt at departure for parts abroad by former President Gloria Arroyo, then also in a wheelchair, come instantly to mind?