Impeachment as Excommunication: Corona, del Castillo and Congress

Impeachment is not a light punishment.  It’s crucifixion.  You’re crucifying a Justice who worked his life to the pursuit of law and justice, and earned a living being the sentinel of the State and the Nation.   And you’re doing it in a callous way.   This is not the proper road for an inquiry.   This is the road to a witch hunt.

I have a few notes to make first in this blog post.   One, I heard of the Del Castillo impeachment before I heard of Corona’s.  I saw in the newspaper about its being filed for the case of plagiarism, and I rushed to tell a friend about it.  He sighed, shrugged and said, politics.  I didn’t understand at first that he was talking about something else—which made the effect of the news of Corona’s impeachment all the heavier when it splashed on the papers—but thought that at the heart of the plagiarism case was a political issue.

 My second note is that you may notice that most of my analyses nowadays are rants or near-rants.  My last post, though it tackled the Corona impeachment, put the burden squarely on the chessmaster and my “devil incarnate”, Gloria Arroyo.   While I still hold my ground in saying that she has been a brilliant player who survived a decade of Presidency and is still hanging for her dear political and personal life, my method of exposition was not a proper one.   It is obvious that the Arroyo camp is behind the support of the embattled Chief Justice, as he is the key to her continued survival, but my explanations were still a bit off.

 (If you want a concise, formal, detailed and authoritative account of the impeachment of Corona, read Manuel L. Quezon III’s blog.   For the war buffs out there, he’s been using the ancient Chinese treatise of the “Thirty-Six Strategies” as analogy of the tactics of the defense. I liken Corona to Hermann Goring lashing out at his prosecutors during the Nuremberg trials in ’45, but that’s just me)

 I apologize, but I have not recently had time to give a more formal position, nor have I brushed off on my Tocqueville.  And this will be just as informal as the last one. I will, however, be clearer to my point.

The House of Representatives has made a grievous error when they chose to impeach Justice Del Castillo.   The Senate is involved in a brutal and harrowing judicial exercise in the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, and the mere trial has put the different branches of government torn asunder.   It was always the case that the three branches worked together.   There were checks and balances, and though in the end the Supreme Court played the final arbiter, it was decided that the system was as impartial as it could get.

 Then the Congress decided to impeach a Chief Justice as a consequence of the war between the Aquinos and the Arroyos (while the public nestled it as Arroyo standing trial before the nation).   They inadvertently made a precedent.   Future presidents, not satisfied with a Supreme Court decision or wanting to make the Judiciary pliant, will prosecute and impeach a Chief Justice.   Our problem was always that the President had too much power, and this action was added to the list.   The President’s allies simply go the works of impeaching a Chief Justice.

 Adding fuel to the fire is the Chief Justice’s appeal to the Supreme Court to halt the proceedings, inadvertently pulling the Supreme Court to the personal-political war between Corona (as proxy of Arroyo) and Aquino.  Again the rift grew between the branches of government.

Where does the impeachment of Del Castillo fit in?  Sorry, guys, but you may have the purest of motives; the impeachment may have legal basis, but it’s just the wrong time.  It looks bad when you impeach a second Supreme Court justice at the time when the politics is still murky.   It will look as if you’re sweeping the Supreme Court of all opposition to the Legislature’s (and the President’s) will.  It may not look that way to you, but what of future Presidents?  Not everyone can be an Aquino.  Marcos created fans.  Arroyo created fans.

 The Senate impeachment court at one point scolded the prosecution for its filing of the impeachment.   An impeachment, they explained, was a last resort.  An official who was caught lying on his SALN, or committing a criminal offense, is liable to a criminal procedure, or an administrative one.   Impeachment is like bringing nukes to a conventional war.  It’s just too much.  That’s the case with Corona, and that’s the case with Del Castillo.

 Plagiarism, guys, really?  The academics would be cheering you, maybe.   The professors will give you commendation.   But plagiarism is a crime against the State?  An unforgivable offense to the nation?   But I might be wrong.  Maybe it’s just not plagiarism.  Maybe it’s another cheating of the SALN, more undeclared assets.   And maybe he abused his powers.   All these offenses are actually administrative offenses that can give suspension, but impeachment?

 Impeachment is not a light punishment.  It’s crucifixion.  You’re crucifying a Justice who worked his life to the pursuit of law and justice, and earned a living being the sentinel of the State and the Nation.   And you’re doing it in a callous way.   This is not the proper road for an inquiry.   This is the road to a witch hunt.

I’m finally reminded of another instrument used in the Middle Ages to keep kings in tow: excommunication.   Back then the Europeans were a pious folk, and if the pope held a kingdom in interdict, they would turn against their king.   Excommunication was like the impeachment, the final punishment for an unforgivable Christian offense.  A heavy sin has to be committed, that tore one’s final bonds of loyalty to Christ and the Church.   Heresy and apostasy were excommunicable offenses.

 The popes used excommunication as a political tool.   They warred with emperors for control of the dioceses and provinces (back then the two were the same entity) of Italy and Germany.  The pope excommunicated a king, and supported the rival (who was hailed defender of the Faith).   At some point excommunication was so used up that when it finally came to excommunicate a real heretic like Martin Luther, it had lost all its weight and the Protestant rebellion gained a mass following.

Impeachment is excommunication.  It is no lighter than this.  Once you are impeached, you are scarred for life.  You are politically exiled, your image is forever destroyed.   Only ones with a popular base can jump back from impeachment to a triumphant return (you know Erap would have won if Noynoy didn’t run for office).   Do not use the impeachment as a political weapon, or it will be used as a political weapon for future generations.   Sure, you think now this is a crusade for truth, and justice.   But the popes also had the best of intentions when they excommunicated German emperors.  And they had a more hallowed cause.

 If you really want to impeach Del Castillo for plagiarism (come on, are we professors in here?), okay do it.   It’s just not the right time.  You don’t do mass crucifixions.  You don’t excommunicate left and right.  It takes time and deliberation.   It takes desperate times.   We’re not living in a period of want, are we?