It is not very surprising behaviour coming from the parties that seek to oust Chief Justice Renato Corona from the Supreme Court. Even before the 16th of January impeachment trial to be conducted by the Philippine Senate, efforts to sway public opinion by demonising Corona are already underway. The most obvious among these is disclosure to the media by Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr of a luxury penthouse owned by Corona — a move that was denounced by several Senators who will be serving in the impeachment trial.
The Inquirer.net for its part also exhibited a rather revealing enthusiasm in the way it published a “report” of another property owned by Corona in Taguig. Said “report” was based on information provided by an anonymous source who “lack[ed] clearance to speak on the matter.”
The whole trial-by-media circus against Corona had started even earlier; back, for example, when “investigative journalist” Raissa Robles posted an article on her blog (a link to which is given prominent space on the ABS-CBN News homepage every now and then) detailing “shocking” revelations of impropriety on the part of Mrs Cristina Corona related to Board and executive management positions she held at the John Hay Management Corporation — revelations that fail the “So What?” test when taken in the context of the impeachment case against her husband.
More recently, Rappler.com “online journalist” Marites Vitug also attempted to make a big deal about Corona’s being granted a doctorate degree by the University of Santo Tomas (UST) in a “report” she published on the self-described “social news network” site. A similarly revealing overzealousness in what turned out, on closer scrutiny, to be sloppy investigative reporting on Vitug’s part all but brought to light the question of who the financial backers of this new “social news network” could be — a piece of crucial information that, as far as I know, Rappler.com has so far been silent about.
Thus is evident the trouble with a trial overseen by the Senate — a political body composed of officials elected by popular vote, many of whom routinely act with careful consideration of their re-election prospects. In effect, it is actually possible to campaign for a desired outcome in such a trial — because the officiators of said trial are beholden to a public, composed of a majority who are blind consumers of mass media. A public sentiment bent towards a certain notion may as well be a firm twist on the arm of one Senator or another.
If, for example, the publicity machine of Malacañang succeeds at turning Corona into evil personified before the Filipino public, Senators who perhaps would have wanted to do the right thing would be placed in a difficult position. They will be faced with the prospect of ruling in favour of a perceived demon if the evidence against Corona proves to be flaccid. Indeed, Corona’s lead counsel Serafin Cuevas sees this as an indication that the prosecution could be scrounging around for evidence at the eleventh-hour, further highlighting the hasty rail-roaded nature of the way the impeachment complaint was filed in early December last year. “I thought they were very well prepared. Why are they still looking for evidence now?” Cuevas was quoted as saying in reference to the way the House prosecution panel is presenting evidence to the media “piecemeal”. Rule XVIII of the “Rules of Procedure on Impeachment Trials” stipulates that…
The Presiding Officer and the Members of the Senate shall refrain from making any comments and disclosures in public pertaining to the merits of a pending impeachment trial.
The same shall likewise apply to the prosecutors, to the person impeached, and to their respective counsel and witnesses.
Then again, this is the Philippines, a society where even the simplest guidelines cannot be followed and where the media jump upon even the most lurid stories even at the expense of the well-being and safety of human life all in the name of the scoop.
It’s called “the Philippines”.
[Image courtesy Alrroya.com.]