GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/March 2, 2012) – Last Wednesday, February 29, prosecution lawyer Vitaliano Aguirre “quietly objected” to the verbal abuse from Impeachment Court judge Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, incurred the senator’s ire for the “quiet objection” and was cited for contempt despite his apology to the court. But hemadehispoint.
HowdidAguirrequietlyobject? With elbows on top of his desk, he rested his cheeks in his palms with the five fingers pressed to his ears for the court and television audience nationwide to see.
Whatpointdidhemake? GMA News (February 29) quoted what he told the court when asked to explain: “Dapat po lamang na kahit ang senador ay judge at kami’y hamak na prosecutors, ang pinakaimportante sa isang tao ay respeto (It’s just proper that while the senator is a judge and we are only poor prosecutors, most important to a person is respect).” Themaxim: A person who does not respect another loses respectability.
And more: “Kung nakakasakit ang actuations ko po, I really did it purposely because totoo naman po na shrill ang voice, nasasaktan ang tenga ko (If my actuations hurt, I really did it purposely because it’s true that her voice is shrill and it pained my ears.”
Other media on-line or in print carried the same sentiments of Aquirre – and, obviously, that of the prosecution team long suffering from Santiago’s tirades and scolding.
Adding to the last GMA News quotation above, INQUIRER.net (February 29) restated Aguirre: “If the senator-judges want to be respected, they should also respect the prosecutors.” Then quoted him: “Yung [This] human dignity, wala pong katulad yan [there’s no comparison].” To this Santiago responded: “Now you’re lecturing me.”
WhatdidSantiagosay? She castigated the prosecution for dropping five of its eight complaints against Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. Not contented with the similar insults and ridicule she had subjected the prosecution in the past for its perceived faults, she said – as ABS-CBNews. Com (February 29) reported – “the prosecutors were ‘anyayabang, anggagago (conceited, stupid)’.”
In Filipino sensibility, “gago” is more offensive than its English translation “stupid”. It’s more than a curse; it’s divesting man of his dignity, more so if said in vehement mockery. In the same report above, ABS-CBNews stated as its lead sentence, “The curse word “gago” was the last straw for the prosecution.”
Howdidtheimpeachmentcourtreact? By the silence of most and the declaration of two or three, Aguirre had insulted the court. Enrile asked Aguirre to explain and accepted his apology. However, Santiago tried cutting short Aguirre, “Nanghahamon ka, ah (You are challenging me)” then later moved to declare him in contempt. With no one objecting to the motion, Enrile declared Aquirre in contempt.
WhywasAgruirre’spointtimely? It raised the mirror for the IC to see itself.
First, the IC should review Article XVII, the only one of the 28 articles of “The Rules of Procedures of Impeachment Trials” (Senate Resolution No. 39, Approved: March 23, 2011) that pertains to the conduct of senator-judges toward the witness, prosecutor and counsel during the trial proceedings.
Article XVII: If a Senator wishes to put a question to a witness, he/she shall do so within two (2) minutes. A Senator may likewise put a question to a prosecutor or counsel. He/she may also offer a motion or order, in writing, which shall be submitted to the Presiding Officer.
Santiago or any other senator could question the prosecution about it articles of complaint and evidence.
Question: What in this article or rule grants Santiago the privilege to scold, berate or lecture the prosecutors? If it is not within the Rule, she was out of order every time she did. Yet, the presiding officer allowed her unrestrained freedom.
Second, it does not have to be a written rule. Dignity, respectability, courtesy, and the like are the unwritten rules of conduct in court and legislature. These include the language spoken, the manner of speaking, attire and personal behavior. Inappropriate language is stricken out of the records. Any violation invites contempt.
Questions: In the IC, are the unwritten rules not binding to the senator-judges? Was Santiago’s verbal abuse in keeping with the unwritten rules? Could she not “have said it in a better way” – to borrow from chief defense counsel Serafin Cuevas? Aguirre might have been too bold for Santiago’s comfort; but, was he wrong when he told the court, “If the senator-judges want to be respected, they should also respect the prosecutors”?
Interviewed in [email protected] (ABS-CBN News Channel) last March 1, Aguirre, while apologizing to Santiago “for bringing her ‘discomfort’ for his action”, “insisted … there is nothing to apologize for … covering his ears” and “it was not a sign of disrespect of the impeachment court”, stressing that “sometimes you have to make a small mistake to convey what you want to convey”.
Has the IC seen Aguirre’s point? Santiago should see the point. After the impeachment trial, she will join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, to serve as one of the 18 judges for nine years. She will not be in a world of “poor” prosecutors. If she fails to rein her pride, she will run into more contentious Aguirres to raise higher her blood pressure. (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews)