Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Search for Truth & Accountability: Moral Perspective on Corona Impeachment Trial

(I am sharing here an article which I wrote for my column that will be published in the CBCP Monitor this week)

How does the Church view the current impeachment proceeding of Chief Justice Renato Corona? One of the questions raised in many discussion forum in the internet is why the Church is silent about it. On the other hand, there is an impression that Corona has the support and blessing of the Church. The novena-masses in the Supreme Court in support of the chief justice nine successive days before the start of the impeachment proceeding contributed to this impression. Ordinarily, novena-masses are celebrated only in churches and chapels before the fiesta of a patron saint and before Christmas (misa de gallo). Holding novena-masses in a government building and in support of a government official accused of betrayal of public trust and corruption has never been done before and is highly questionable. It leads to questions about separation of Church and State and about the abuse of the Eucharist.

At the start of the Corona Impeachment trial, Senator Gringo Honasan appealed to the CBCP “to provide the people with moral guidelines about the trial to help them reflect on the current issue from the light of the Christian faith.”

The CBCP as a body has not come up with an official statement or pastoral letter about the impeachment proceeding. Many bishops see this as a purely political process which does not involve any matter regarding faith and morals. From this perspective there is no moral evil involved, so there is no urgent need to exercise a prophetic function or come up with moral guidelines. Thus, the most prudent position is to remain in the sidelines and allow this impeachment process to run its course. The bishops hope for a speedy impeachment trial that would redound to the common good. Many bishops expressed concern that a drawn up impeachment proceeding would distract the government’s attention from addressing the pressing problems of the people – especially poverty. Thus, according to the CBCP monitor: “The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines stressed that while they support government’s campaign against corruption, it must not also forget its obligations to the Filipinos.”

In an interview, Archbishop Jose Palma, the CBCP president said: “We exhort the people to give their respect and trust to the senator-judges and, of course, our respect and trust in the Constitutional processes…We exhort our brothers and sisters, fellow Filipinos, to pray, study and to do whatever is legally or morally possible so that truth and justice will be attained or realized. We exhort the people to pray especially for wisdom and guidance.”

The CBCP president focuses on the key themes: (1) Respect and trust to the senator-judges and the constitutional processes. (2) The attainment of truth and justice.
All these must be done in the context of the support for the campaign against corruption and the attainment of the common good. Besides truth and justice, accountability should be stressed.

The CBCP several years ago came out with a pastoral letter which deplored corruption in Philippine society as a moral evil that needs to be eradicated. In my opinion, the impeachment proceeding should be seen from this broader moral perspective. There is a clamor of the vast majority of the people to root out the cancer of corruption that has permeated all levels of Philippine society, to search for the truth about the involvement of government officials involved in corruption and to hold them accountable. This is the mandate that the people has given to the present administration. The Church must support this campaign to eradicate the culture of corruption and impunity – the moral evil which has perpetuated poverty, injustice, inequality, destruction of the environment and violence.

The impeachment proceeding against CJ Corona can be viewed as an effort to search for truth and accountability. It is not an attack against the independence of the judiciary. The chief justice stands accused of being beholden to the former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – placed by her by midnight appointment to protect her when the time of reckoning comes. He also stands accused of betrayal of public trust and of corruption. He should face these charges. If he has nothing to hide, then he should allow the impeachment court to see his dollar accounts.

Any attempt to stop the impeachment proceeding by a TRO imposed by his supportive colleagues within the Supreme Court should be opposed and condemned. The Supreme Court does not have the moral high ground at present. It is not only the Chief Justice who is suspected of being corrupted and compromised by the former president.
The search for truth and accountability should go beyond the impeachment proceeding. This will include former government officials as well the present ones in all levels – from the judiciary, to the legislative and the executive branches, in the government bureaucracy from the highest to the lowest levels, in the police and in the military. In the end, even the prosecutors themselves and our president should see to it that they are beyond reproach. This will require a moral transformation and reformation in our society. In supporting this moral crusade against corruption, the Church must also make sure that she is beyond reproach.

The Lord will not abandon his people; he will not desert those who belong to him. Justice will again be found in the courts, and all righteous people will support it...
You have nothing to do with corrupt judges, who make injustice legal...
He will punish them for their wickedness and destroy them for their sins; the Lord our God will destroy them
. (Psalm 94:14-15, 20-23)

(p.s. this column expresses the personal opinion of the writer as a citizen and a priest-theologian)