Accounts and Accountability

After successfully pinning down the discrepancies in Renato Corona’s SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth), the House prosecution panel quickly switched to a higher gear and aimed its sight at its next target: Corona’s dollar accounts.  The move was deflected however by Pascual Garcia, president of the Philippine Savings Bank, who testified that the said accounts were untouchable by virtue of the bank secrecy law. His position sat well with the defense but constrained the prosecution. To buttress its position, PS Bank went to the Supreme Court and prayed for a TRO. The Supreme Court acceded to its plea, effectively curbing albeit momentarily any attempt to make Corona account for his dollar accounts. The Senate found itself in a bind when it confronted the question whether or not it should abide by the Supreme Court’s order. On one hand, it is acknowledged that the Supreme Court is the final authority on questions of law; on the other hand, the Senate is assured by the Constitution paramount and sole power as impeachment court. Overnight, the Senate which handles the impeachment trial suddenly becomes the subject on trial, that is, on trial before the public eye.  Viewers of the impeachment hang on for the Senate’s decision. In the end, with a vote of 13 against 10, the Senate deferred to the Supreme Court in a gesture perceived by some as a calibrated response to avert a possible constitutional crisis and at the same time, to preserve the Senate’s image as custodian of the rule of the law.  The majority chose to sustain “absolute confidentiality” of Corona’s dollar accounts over the matter of absolute accountability for which he is being tried.

The stance of the majority jibes with that of the defense and is patent among lawyers.  Most lawyers share the same tendency to reduce a question of justice to a question of law and a question of law to a question of the text of the law. In a recent column, Professor Randy David (Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 18, 2012) referred to this as the lawyers’ Umwelt, the ability to read the world, for better or for worse, as their vistas dictate. Oftentimes however, such vista is conditioned by a dogged idolatry of the text even if it stands against public reason. They adhere to the facticity of law blindly and conceal the infirmities of their arguments by spewing Latin phrases, conjunctions, adverbs and legal citations meant not to uncover the truth but to throw their hearers off balance. Sometimes, we become unwitting victims of this verbal exhibitionism when we assent to a point they make however far it is from common sense.  In a memorable scene towards the end of the movie “Devil’s Advocate”, Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) confronted John Milton (Al Pacino), the devil incarnate, and asked him why he chose lawyers to be his surrogates. Milton explained: “Law is the ultimate backstage pass. There are now more students in law schools than lawyers walking the streets.”  The movie of course is fictive but it does tell us how law and lawyers may be drawn into the dark side.

Given the situation, the people remain vigilant and critical.  Optimism is strong for the senator-judges to be discerning enough to see through the fortifications of technicalities the defense lawyers have erected in order to blur perception of Corona’s guilt.  We can’t blame them though; they were recruited and paid to do that dirty job and by the looks of it, Renato Corona is getting every ounce of his penny’s worth.  His lawyers’ gift of judicial gab never fails to wow the impeachment audience.  Added to this, he has likewise firewalled himself through a memorandum enforcing confidentiality of records of Supreme Court justices and another instruction barring any Supreme Court personnel from testifying at the impeachment trial. He has also filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to stop the ongoing impeachment. And now this, a help from thirteen senators – the sheer number of them leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

It was a fortress Corona built for his defense; law after all is his turf.  Had he shown the same readiness for defense as a graduate student, he would have legitimized his doctoral degree with a dissertation.  Had he chosen to be just rather than a justice, he would have been truly honorable.  Had he known ethics better than law, he would have not cowered behind judicial cloak.  Had he upheld accountability rather than his accounts, he would have restored respect for public office.

He has not done, has never been any of those.  Corona sucks up to a faded Glory whose legacy now weighs him down like a monstrous crown of ignominy.

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First Philosophy

Philosophy is a government-mandated course in Brazil.  Not only is it a mandated course, the law requires it for all high school students.  So even before they take up philosophy in college, Brazilian high school students have had three-years worth of studying philosophy.

I read this interesting fact from Carlos Fraenkel’s article “Citizen Philosophers: Teaching Justice in Brazil” published in the January/February 2012 online issue of the Boston Review. The webpage said that the article will be part of  Fraenkel’s forthcoming book entitled Teaching Plato in Palestine. The bottomline, as written by Fraenkel, is that the government believes philosophy is crucial in propagating citizenship education. Brazil believes that its citizens will be better off when they are able to think critically, to form well-reasoned judgments, to be conversant in social and political issues and to be engaged in the pursuit of justice through the discipline that philosophy provides them. The program has had its own of critics but one cannot deny the overwhelming support it enjoys particularly from the economically-challenged sector of Brazilian society.

Those among us who grew up in the 80’s will probably remember how it was for Brazil during those years.  Like the Philippines, it also suffered under an oppressive regime, the economy was bankcrupt, poverty rate was at rock bottom and peace and order situation always threatened the country with collapse.  Like the Philippines, Brazil was also able to shake off the dictatorship which used to rule it but unlike the Philippines, it has outgrown by lightyears the poverty and instability of the past. Brazil is part now of the so-called G20, an informal alignment of the top 20 economies worldwide.  Global rankings have always given Brazil the highest rating in terms of human development, governance, education and employment. As an exclaimation point to what it has achieved, Brazil was recently likewise bestowed  the honor of hosting of two major global events: the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

This is Brazil.  What we find at the other side of the continent, in Northern America, is exactly the opposite.  In the same Boston Review, published on its April 5, 2011 issue, Todd Edwin Jones, Chair of the Department of Philosophy of  University of  Las Vegas, Nevada, decried in his article “Budgetary Hemlock: Nevada Seeks To Eliminate Philosophy” the university decision to phase out the entire philosophy deparment of  ULVN due to budget cuts.  This is no isolated event. British philosopher AC Grayling of University of London and Oxford University established his own College of Humanities in the face of the same funding reduction for humanities imposed by the administration of David Cameron.  We find here a rather curious juxtaposition between philosophy and economy.  Societies on the rise are more friendly with philosophy. Societies in decline are the ones who think it is superflous. Have they lost love of wisdom due to societal decline? Or does the society decline because it has ceased loving wisdom long ago? We must remember that Athens fell not because of Socrates’ death.  Socrates died because Athens has lost her moorings and the only tragic consolation it could afford was the death of the one who cared for her the most.

These things come to mind in the light of K+12 being contemplated by the Philippine government and its possible repercussions on university education  in general and philosophy in particular.  The UST Department of Philosophy is optimistic that the first university in Asia which created the first ever philosophy program the same year it was founded will not be the first to turn its back on philosophy.