Whatever the outcome of the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, it is already evident that he is not only the one in trial. Other SC justices perceived to be with him, the institutions of the Supreme Court and the judiciary, and even the Senate and senators, will all be under the lens of the people’s scrutiny during the impeachment trial.
Of course, the focus will be on CJ Corona. However, the articles of impeachment can very well apply to the majority of the associate justices of the Supreme Court. It is in this sense that the impeachment trial may well be the trial of the institution itself.
However, the nature of an impeachment process is one of a corrective measure, targeted at those officials at the top of the power chain who otherwise cannot be removed. In this case, the cleansing of the ranks of the SC justices is being done in order to regain the trust of the people in the institution. It therefore is well within the accountability principle in a democratic governance regime.
It is not true that impeachment weakens the Supreme Court or the judiciary. Nor does it constitutes a constitutional crisis or–more far-fetched–a return to a dictatorship. Precisely, an impeachment process, as a constitutional process, is a democratic instrument that provide a check on the powers of the highest officials–including the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Impeachment also provides a rare opportunity for people to really get to know the lives and behavior of these officials and decide for themselves whether they are fit or not for the powerful jobs they were elected or appointed to. The people remains the ultimate actor and judge in the process.
CJ Corona has a slim chance to survive unscathed the impeachment trial. The more probable outcome–whatever the vote of the senators–is that his credibility before the people will be damaged beyond repair and there is no choice but to leave the institution. This also goes for those justices who voted with him on crucial issues enumerated in the articles of impeachment.
The truth of the matter here is that the impeachment process is essentially a political process. Not really the partisan politics one associates with the latter but a more fundamental process associated with the exercise of people’s sovereignty in a democracy.
I think CJ Corona and his cohort in the Supreme Court are at a crossroad. They face a hostile public going into the impeachment trial and they face an uphill battle to convince the people of their fitness for their SC positions. The plunge to negative ratings (-14% in the SWS polls) seems to indicate a certain conclusion. They have one choice–to go now before an impeachment trial starts or go later because of the failure to convince the sovereign people.
Whatever, the judges will have been judged.