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Mad, mad Miriam!

Leandro DD coronelBy Leandro DD Coronel

MANILA

The prosecution rested its case on the seventh week of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona after presenting only three of its eight articles of impeachment. But that was not the big news here.

The headline news was the confrontation between Sen. Miriam Santiago and a private prosecutor over courtroom behavior.

Santiago is a loud and rude lawyer who had been haranguing the prosecution lawyers for their alleged incompetence and ignorance of courtroom rules. A self-proclaimed expert on the law, Santiago takes unbounded pride in her grasp of the intricacies of the law (and probably everything on the face of the Earth) and never hesitates to tell even those who don’t wish to listen.

On this eventful day, Feb. 29, she was at the Senate podium berating the prosecutors, as she had been wont to do, at the start of the day’s hearing. She typically uses crude and distasteful language when she speaks, especially when she’s out on a rampage against someone, something or anything. She is not above calling people names.

And indeed, on this particular day, she did call the prosecutors a name; she called them gago, a Filipino word for fool or dumb.

All throughout Santiago’s tirade against the prosecutors, a private lawyer assisting the public prosecutors (who are congressmen; impeachments emanate from the Lower House of Congress and are prosecuted by congressmen) was cupping his ears so as not to hear the woman-senator’s rant.

Apprised of the private prosecutor’s “hear-no-evil” pose, Santiago raged at the lawyer, Atty. Vitaliano Aguirre, with an angry voice and angrier eyes. Aguirre admitted that, indeed, he had cupped his ears because Santiago’s voice was “shrill,” and that he didn’t want to hear her latest harangue because he had had enough of her rants.

The impeachment court declared Aguirre in contempt and was scheduled to announce the lawyer’s sentence when the court reconvenes on March 12 (so by the time you’re reading this, the Senate will have imposed Aguirre’s penalty). Senate rules impose a fine of two thousand pesos and a lock up of up to 10 days. A senator jokingly (or perhaps seriously!) suggested that Aguirre’s penalty should be to be locked up and be forced to listen to tapes of Santiago’s speeches non-stop! That would be ultimate hell.

Days before, whenever Santiago would rise to deliver her daily rant, I had wondered when the public prosecutors would say “Enough is enough!” to Santiago’s insults and scolding. The public prosecutors are, after all, members of a co-equal body of the Senate and had been elected in their own right by the people. I had wondered who would have the balls to face up and confront her. I had in mind one or two of the congressmen on the panel, like the fearless Rep. Rodolfo Farinas from Ilocos Norte province. But no one among the congressmen stood up to challenge mad Miriam.

Of course, the congressmen had to be careful to not antagonize the senators because, after all, it would be they who will hand down the verdict on Corona’s guilt or innocence. This was the reason the congressmen were loathe to get on Santiago’s bad side. They just swallowed their prides as well as anger and tucked their tails between their legs and meekly stomached the mad woman’s wild rantings.

And it took an unassuming private lawyer to mount a quiet but telling protest against Santiago’s insults. He put his hands over his ears and chose to not hear a deranged woman’s hurtful words.

Santiago has her fans. Many people sided with her in the controversy. Among them are her colleagues in the Senate who unanimously voted to declare Aguirrre in contempt.

It’s interesting to note that, as all the senators closed ranks around Santiago, one particular member of the Senate, Pia Cayetano, rose to move that Aguirre be cited for contempt. Cayetano, is a member of a sibling act in the Senate (her brother Alan is also a senator; why on earth does the country need two senators from the same family?) Pia is an eager-beaver among the younger senators, trying hard to ingratiate herself to the old-timers in the chamber.

The closing-of-ranks among the senators provides a hint of what I’ve written before in this space, that the country’s power elite will watch each other’s back to maintain the balance (or, more accurately, the monopoly) of power in the country. They will pretend to carry on democratic discourse and even appear to go after each other’s throat. But it’s only for show, for the entertainment of the multitude, of the bored public. In a crunch, the  power elite will take care of the power elite, lest “outsiders” and “usurpers” will gain a foothold in the corridors of power.

The power elite will engage in entertaining debate to show the people that democracy thrives in their country. But it’s all a sham. The debate is just noise. Quietly and behind the scenes, the holders of power have their tacit arrangement to protect one another.

This impeachment is part of the show. The power elite will kick out from their closed society the perceived interlopers. They will help and protect those they deem cooperative and who don’t rock the boat.

The irony in this is that those outsiders who somehow got their foot in the door and whom you expect to lend their voices and advocacies in support of the masses sooner or later get seduced into the silent society that dictates the nation’s fate. In this category of outsiders whom you would logically expect to not countenance Santiago’s objectionable behavior I would include Sens. Sonny Trillanes, Tito Sotto, Ping Lacson, even Jinggoy Estrada. But they’ve tasted the perks of power and they seem to have succumbed to its blandishments, causing them to forget their beginnings as outsiders and their potential as the people’s advocates. Witness the circling of the wagons among the senators around Santiago when someone, an “outsider,” stood up to her.

I’ve written before that Santiago is what’s called in the Philippines as “kulang sa pansin” or KSP, referring to someone who constantly seeks attention because he or she thinks no one appreciates him or her. Or because he or she is insecure. Santiago appears to be that and, thus, her frequent calling of attention to herself.

Many Filipinos are convinced that Santiago is bonkers. Her latest outburst hasn’t disproved that.

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