Sunday, September 16, 2007

Erap and the Catharsis of Justice

CATHARSIS is an emotion experienced by the audience or spectator in a Greek or Roman dramatic tragedy that is also experienced in real life by the public in high profile criminal cases when (1) they see that the wicked are punished based on the truth; and (2) that the Justice system works in a fair and lawful manner.

Catharsis is a rare feeling we get whenever "Justice is done!" -- legally, poetically and with finality. But it is distinctly absent for many people in the case of Joseph Estrada's removal from office and trial on crimes considered to be common and even petty under the dispensation of his successors.

I call this emotional effect the "catharsis of Justice" because a society is exposed to, or deprived of, its dramatic effects develops a more fastidious and sophisticated sense of Justice as both a RESULT and a PROCESS. The catharsis of Justice, the feeling that justice has been done, is the effect of seeing the Good winning out over the Evil in a real life case that has been resolved truthfully and fairly according to Rules of Law and Order that apply equally to all parties.

Justice as a result of what is TRUE, is therefore the result of Justice as a process that is FAIR.

Now in every "real life case" there is a party accused of a crime who must be adjudged guilty or not guilty by a Court of Law. Sometimes an accused person who actually IS "wicked" and has committed the crime alleged, must nevertheless be acquitted and allowed to go unpunished by the Justice System.

For example, if the Justice System cannot prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for a crime like plunder, it MUST acquit the accused, even if we just KNOW that he is guilty. Acquittal must also be given if the evidence needed to prove guilt was acquired illegally, for example, if it is based on a confession extracted by torturing the accused, or through an illegal wiretap. A person cannot be arrested and evidence gathered against him without a proper Warrant of Arrest or Court Order to seize papers and possessions as evidence of wrongdoing, otherwise that person cannot be properly convicted of the crime.

Since any form of human justice is bound to be imperfect, we have adopted the principle that we would rather see ten guilty men go free than for one innocent man to be unjustly punished. Because of this, persons accused of, and formally charged with crimes like plunder, are given a presumption of innocence that must be overcome by evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in the formal process of a properly conducted criminal trial. In addition, persons who fall under the Constitution's mandate as Officers of the Republic, must first be impeached, tried, convicted and removed from Office, BEFORE they can be charged with and tried for crimes like plunder.

Thus, the "wicked" can only be punished and Justice be done in a Democracy, if the Justice System works and does all the things it is required to do for both Law and Order to prevail, and not Chaos.

In any particular instance, Society itself cannot arrive at the feeling that "Justice has been done" UNLESS (1) the Wicked really are punished; AND (2) we, the Public see that the System actually worked.

There are actually four possible results of any criminal prosecution in which we may assume for the sake of definiteness that the accused has actually committed the crime alleged and may be properly if melodramatically referred to as "the Wicked".

(1) The Wicked are not punished AND the Justice system did not work fairly and lawfully.
(2) The Wicked are not punished EVEN IF the Justice system worked fairly and lawfully.
(3) The Wicked are punished BUT the Justice system did not work fairly and lawfully.
(4) The Wicked are punished AND the Justice system worked fairly and lawfully.

Scenarios (1) and (2) can reasonably be said to apply to the Marcoses and their cronies. Definitely Justice has NOT been done in those cases.

Scenario (3), in my opinion applies to the case of Joseph Estrada, because I do believe he committed various crimes of graft and corruption, (as well as personal foolishness), but the means by which he came to the Court that convicted him of the crime of plunder was entirely unconstitutional and illegal.

The Case of Joseph Estrada will set many legal and political precedents about how we as a nation go about punishing serious crimes like plunder and graft and corruption committed by our highest public officials such as the President, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the Members of the Constitutional Commissions like the Comelec. Ultimately, the important basic principle at stake here is that of Public Accountability, which is addressed in the Law as follows:
1987 Constitution ART XI (Public Accountability) Section 2. The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment.Section 3. (1) The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.
. . .
(6) The Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment. When sitting for that purpose, the Senators shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the Philippines is on trial, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court shall preside, but shall not vote. No person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two-thirds of all the Members of the Senate.
Constitutional officers such as the President, the Chief Justice and Comelec Commissioners, must first be validly removed from office before they may be prosecuted for serious crimes like Plunder and graft and corruption. Otherwise, such important officials would be too busy to do anything else but defend themselves from nuisance suits. There is a strict two step process required by the Constitution:

(1) Step One: The Constitutional Officer must be impeached by the House, tried and convicted by the Senate and removed from Office. [Exclusive and Sole jurisdiction belongs to the Congress]

(2) Step Two: After removal from office, the former official may be tried under criminal and civil statues like an ordinary citizen accused of the same violations of the law. [Exclusive jurisdiction belongs to the Judiciary].

Nota bene: Nowhere else in the Constitution is the Principle of the Separation of Powers more clearly seen than in the absolute separation between the two Branches of the Government to which the exclusive jurisdiction is given while undertaking Steps One and Two, which must come in lock-step one before the other.

The Constitution clearly provides that no Constitutional Officer may be removed by impeachment except by the lawful action of the Congress first by the House to initiate, next by the Senate which has "the SOLE power to TRY and DECIDE all cases of impeachment." The decisions of a duly constituted Senate Impeachment Court is always final and executory and cannot be appealed to, or reviewed by the Supreme Court, which has NO JURISDICTION whatsoever in impeachment cases, which is entirely and exclusively assigned to the Congress. The above conclusion can be reached by a plain and direct reading of the Constitutional provisions on Public Accountability and on the Judiciary.

Notice however that although Joseph Estrada has just been through Step Two with his recent conviction for plunder by the Sandiganbayan, there is ample reason to wonder why Step One did not involve the Senate Impeachment Court and the trial he was undergoing before Edsa Dos happened.

Whether you choose to believe that then President Joseph Estrada resigned to avoid bloodshed (including his own, I suppose!) or that he was illegally ousted by the Chief Justice acting in concert with the AFP Chief of Staff, the Vice President, the Media and a Hooting Throng assembled as "Civil Society"--it cannot be denied that he underwent Step Two without going through Step One in a clear and unequivocal way.

Just on the face of it, there is something highly anomalous about the fact that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court played such a decisive role in the Regime Change that occurred at Edsa Dos, and that the Supreme Court en banc later also played a decisive role in affirming that role acted in by the Chief Justice.

What role did the Chief Justice and Supreme Court play in that drama which climaxed with the swearing in of the Vice President on 20 Jan 2001? The role they played was that of USURPER, for the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court in effect OVER-RULED the Senate Impeachment Court's clear intent to acquit the impeached President Estrada in the impeachment trial.

There appears to be an INJUSTICE of historic proportions at the heart of the overthrow of Joseph Estrada on 20 January 2001. It is an institutional injustice committed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and later blessed by the same, against the Senate of the Republic, sitting as the highest court in the land, convened as a Senate Impeachment Court trying to decide the Case of President Joseph Estrada.

When Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide Jr. swore in Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, backed by the mutinous AFP Chief of Staff Angelo T. Reyes, he effectively aborted the Senate Impeachment Trial, made the trial moot and academic, and effected an illegal REGIME CHANGE.

That is how Joseph Estrada came to the Bar of Sandiganbayan "Justice" to be tried for the crime of plunder: on the carcass of Separation of Powers and the clear breach of the oath of office of the Chief Justice to faithfully uphold the Constitution and the Rule of Law.

No wonder there is no catharsis in the plunder conviction of Erap. He may be wicked, but the process used against him was most unfair and illegal, and the People know it and they have their priorities straight. They want the wicked punished too, and for the Truth to always be the basis of our decisions, but it is more important in the long run, that the Justice System works fairly.

There can be no Justice, when the Chief Justice and the Supreme Court will not admit to their mistakes, although the appeal of Joseph Estrada's Plunder conviction represents another opportunity for redemption.


Manila Bay Watch said...

"There appears to be an INJUSTICE of historic proportions at the heart of the overthrow of Joseph Estrada on 20 January 2001. It is an institutional injustice committed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and later blessed by the same, against the Senate of the Republic, sitting as the highest court in the land, convened as a Senate Impeachment Court trying to decide the Case of President Joseph Estrada."

This should be one for history and good for the lawbooks.

Unfortunately, there's always attempts to revise history as we often read about today.

I will always see the process with which Estrada was overthrown as a grave injustice not so much to him anymore but to the Republic.

Not one to believe that breaking the law can be corrected by breaking the rule of law. That to me is injustice of monumental proportions.

DJB Rizalist said...

I am hoping that his appeal will be a chance for the supreme court to mend its putschist ways.