Thirty minutes after suspending the legislative session and shuffling out of the session hall to put on their robes, all 23 senators trooped back in behind the Senate mace carried by Sergeant at Arms Jose Balajadia Jr.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV then administered the oath to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, binding him to “do impartial justice” as presiding officer of the impeachment court, an oath that Enrile then recited with the rest of the Senate.
And just like that, the Senate became an impeachment court and not the collection of “independent republics” it usually is. Days–even minutes–before, some senators had been labeling either impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona or President Benigno Aquino III a threat to democracy and good government.
Corona had just given a speech accusing the President of having him impeached to grab power and create what Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago called a super executive. Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., to whose father’s dictatorship the Aquino administration has been compared in recent days, said the President is redefining the government into three co-equal branches with the Executive being the “more equal.”
Senator Joker Arroyo, just the day before, said the President has done what the senior Marcos did without having to declare Martial Law. He said the President’s support for the impeachment eroded the separation of powers and would give the President control over the entire government.
Senator Franklin Drilon, who has been critical of Corona’s perceived bias for Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, said the chief justice should be “dignified in his responses” and told him to “keep his equilibrium.” This after being attacked by the President in scathing speeches, including one with Corona himself in the audience.
Drilon will not inhibit himself from the impeachment trial. The senator said he has not prejudged Corona on eight articles of impeachment lodged against him. Senator Francis Pangilinan, another Corona critic, will also participate in the impeachment trial.
“There are as many senators who have been critical of the Corona court decisions as there have been defenders. If the rules of inhibition are strictly adhered to in a political proceeding, then all the political positions taken by all the senator judges could be made basis of inhibition and there will be no one left to try the respondent,” he said.
With the impeachment court convened, the senators are now expected to forget political ties, personal feelings, and things said before today. They are also supposed to keep quiet about the merits of the case. Asked for comment on Corona’s speech Wednesday, Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said, “Uy, hindi puwede yan (You shouldn’t ask me that).”
If it were up to Enrile, everyone should keep quiet about the case. Or, at least, try to use their inside voice. “The political rhetoric is rather heated so we better tone down our comments. I hope that they will exercise circumspection in their statements and conduct in this time because tension is mounting in the country,” he said.
Just minutes before, in the gallery, a lady had to fight the urge to pee that the air conditioning in the session hall always brings on. Her friend told her to hold it, “this is historical.” The instinct to ogle trumped her more primal but mundane call of nature.
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