BY THEODORE TE, RAPPLER.com
February 6, 2012
At the rate it’s going, it might boil down to definitions.
The past week saw the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice being occupied by the mundane task of defining terms, a task which could actually have been done outside the trial not only by the parties but by the senators themselves.
When the senators asked the panels (defense and prosecution) to define terms such as “dissolution,” “revocation” and the like, it not only wastes valuable time and effort, it also indicates that the senators are not too sure themselves of what it is they are looking for.
At one point on Day 11 of the trial, the Presiding Officer and Senate President Enrile asked prosecutor Elpidio Barzaga if being untruthful in a SALN entry was a high crime and when he got the answer that it was not, Enrile then said that only high crimes were impeachable offenses.
Taking their cue from the Senate President, other Senators (Joker Arroyo and Francis Escudero notably, both asking about the “level” and “gravity” of the crimes alleged) asked questions along the same line, i.e., the offense not being a high crime.
That, for me, was a defining moment for both the prosecution and the Senator-Jurors.
Clearly, the commission of “other high crimes” is an impeachable offense under the Constitution and the Senate President was correct in pointing that out.
But, it was certainly an irrelevant comment as none of the grounds raised in the Articles of Impeachment alleged that the Chief Justice had committed “other high crimes.” The 8 grounds alleged revolved around only two of the grounds for impeachment: betrayal of the public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
Unfortunately for Barzaga, he never pointed that out and it took a very belated riposte from prosecutor Niel Tupas to put on record what the entire Senate should have been very clear about from the very start—that the trial is not about the commission of “other high crimes” but about “betrayal of the public trust” and “culpable violation of the Constitution.”
To Tupas’s comment, the Senate President simply then said that the Senate will discuss what “betrayal of the public trust” means—again indicating that there is no fixed or clear understanding of what the term means to the Senator-Jurors 11 trial dates into this impeachment trial.
So, what exactly does “betrayal of the public trust” mean?
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