This article is based on my 2012 article for BusinessWorld (“The Importance of Rules”). It’s used here mainly to remember and then provide points of reflection on the moral and legal outrages that took place during Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial and their relevance to a possible trial of another sitting Chief Justice:
A truth universally acknowledged is that winners never cheat. It is the mediocre that do. And it’s the losers that whine for the rules to be skewed (mid-game) in their favor. These dictums apply to lawyers as much as it does to athletes.
In the context of the impeachment proceedings, the past days have seen loud calls from certain sectors for a distancing from the so-called technical or legal or judicial approach. Such are misguided at best.
While indeed there may be merit in a more “liberal” interpretation of the rules, this nevertheless presupposes the application of rules itself. What some call “technicalities” (i.e., the Rules of Court) are but means to attain the “truth” that people say they want.
It must be emphasized that lawyers don’t resort to rules because they want to confuse people. They resort to those rules because experience and logic (and the rules themselves being the product of experience and logic, including the evidentiary rules in full display currently at the impeachment proceedings) have shown that this is the objective, impartial way to arrive at that truth against the mere passions of the crowd (or incompetent lawyers).
Some lawyers (and not a few crusading journalists) have harped on not letting the rules get in the way of finding the truth. But the rules, the evidentiary rules, were precisely there to help people arrive at that truth.
Who is there to say that a particular document or testimony is to be admitted or is irrelevant? Not all documents are correct copies or relevant, some witnesses may only be indulging in gossip or are biased — the rules are there to help us sift through the evidence that should be considered and that which should be discarded. The main reason why the Rules of Court (which includes evidentiary rules) are so important is because they exact objectivity.
And people should remember this: the rules are there precisely for situations that we have at this moment.
Let me repeat: the rules are there precisely for cases like the impeachment trial that we have now — when there are loud, angry calls that have ostensibly no presence of doubt that an individual should be punished for a crime he is supposed to have committed.
The rules are helpful in ordinary cases, when there are relatively cooler heads that are fighting over an issue or rights. But the rules simply become necessary when unthinking but powerful people are terrifyingly certain that a fellow human being must be punished for an act he is alleged to have done. Because it is at that point that we then must exercise restraint and the rules are there to help us impose that restraint.
This is also all the more important now that the House prosecution team has proven themselves to be not above lying, fabricating incredibly weird stories that border on the insulting of normal people’s intelligences, or using fake documents to advance their dubious cause.
The rules are all the more important now that we’ve seen that not a few senator-judges have proven themselves as either being without any sense of shame in flaunting their bias or being so unbelievably arrogant (and perhaps also lacking considerable IQ points) in thinking they are the supreme power in this country.
People should not confuse the matter of admissible evidence with the standard of proof necessary to attain judgment (for a fuller discussion on the latter, please see my 2012 blog article “Technicalities Matter” at jemygatdula.blogspot.com).
Interestingly enough, during the impeachment trial of then president Estrada, with a House Prosecution Panel that included former Supreme Court justice Antonio Nachura, assisted by private lawyers (and then later ombudsman and solicitor-general) Simeon Marcelo, nobody complained about the impeachment trial procedures (which were practically the same as they are today). No member of the prosecution team at that time whined about the rules. And, it must be emphasized, they were prosecuting a president who, unlike a Supreme Court chief justice, has the entire resources of government at his disposal.
In the end, calls to disregard the law or rules just to convict CJ Corona only betrayed the lack of respect that some self-righteous people have for the law and of their inflated sense of moral superiority.
Now that another Chief Justice is potentially on trial, these same self-righteous people — so blasé about the rule of law and political restraint during Chief Justice Corona’s ordeal — are so worked up today regarding Chief Justice Meilou Sereno’s issues.
It’s interesting really to see that things do go around and that Nemesis will eventually have her way.
Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.