Citizenship and sound practical reason

26 January 2012, The View From Taft, BusinessWorld

The Senate has started the difficult but essential process of finding out if the Chief Justice deserves to continue in his post as head of the Supreme Court after he has been accused by the House of Representatives of various constitutional sins. This puts the democratic checks and balances envisioned by the Constitution to a critical test.

As the trial is displayed on national television for all to see, all Filipinos will be challenged to make up their own minds about the fitness of Renato Corona to head the judiciary. The Constitution states that “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” It is, therefore, the duty of all citizens to think along with the Senators who, after all, merely represent them.

It will not be easy to follow the trial. Even now, it has already produced a flood of claims, arguments, and legal technicalities which only the most patient citizen will dare to wade through. In addition, media commentators tug at our minds in many different directions.

While lawyers have helped to clarify some processes and rules related to the trial, they should not be the main source of guidance for evaluating the claims and reasoning presented during the trial. Remember that it is the trustworthiness of the Chief Justice in the eyes of the public at large which is the ultimate concern of the impeachment. I certainly do not rely on lawyers to judge whom I can trust.

To sift through the mind-boggling amount of claims and arguments coming from the trial and the media, we must rely on sound practical reason. We do this every day when we combine principles, relevant facts and valid logic to decide on our actions. What school should we put our kids in? Where should we live? What should we buy and from whom? For these and other important decisions, we do not consult a lawyer but rely on sound practical reason to make good decisions.

As citizens following the trial, sound practical reason leads us to ask specific questions which we will need to answer for ourselves.

First: “What principles apply?” The Constitution was approved by ordinary citizens and should have been studied by any high school graduate. It gives an important principle for the trial: “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.” Are we willing to trust a Chief Justice who fails to observe this principle?

Second: “What are the relevant facts?” Among other accusations, the Chief Justice is accused of a “culpable violation of the Constitution” on the basis of the claim that he failed to properly disclose a number of properties in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). Would such a failure to disclose be a relevant basis for our trust towards the Chief Justice?

Even if we were to say “yes” to the last question, we still have to verify whether the Chief Justice indeed failed to disclose properly. Copies of the SALNs of the Chief Justice have already surfaced on the Net. Examining these copies and the circumstances of their release, are we convinced that the Chief Justice really failed to properly disclose the said properties to the public? We must suspend judgment on the facts until we have carefully checked the information in the SALN copies for ourselves and have heard the arguments of the defense.

Third: “Is the reasoning logically valid?” Sen. President Enrile, as presiding officer for the trial, has explained that their basis for deciding the case will be “clear and convincing evidence that would allow a reasonable mind to conclude the guilt or innocence” of the Chief Justice. When the facts and arguments are all in on the matter of the SALNs, we will need to ask: Are we convinced that based on the applicable principles and the verified facts, the Chief Justice has violated the Constitution and is no longer fit to head the Supreme Court?

This question will be hardest to answer. Many side issues will be raised by the opposing sides as well as by the media. Not all of these will be relevant to our conclusion, however, and we must stay focused on the question of whether Renato Corona is fit to remain as head of our justice system.

A democracy is not created merely through a paper constitution. It is created by the history of a people struggling together to use sound practical reason and to act accordingly.