Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's the law, student!

published in the Manila Standard Today, Feb 15 2012, page A5

This is perhaps one issue on which I agree with presidential sister Kris Aquino. Obtaining a declaration of nullity of one’s marriage is never truly a cause for celebration. Why should we celebrate a failure? I believe it is safe to assume that nobody gets married in the hope of being separated, legally or not. Instead, people embrace marriage as an affirmation of their love for each other and their desire to build a future together. So when a relationship does not work out despite efforts to save it, and ends in a separation, dreams are shattered. There is disappointment, anger, regret, sadness.
When a marriage is declared null and void it means that it is as if they did not get married in the first place. The logical conclusion is that, if the couple has children, these children were born into a non-marriage which makes them, in turn, illegitimate.

Are they?

Fortunately, the crafters of our law defied logic on this one in the interest of compassion. “Illegitimacy” is a word that stings, especially in the Philippines where people like to say they adhere to strict moral and societal standards. Being illegitimate means you did not quite make the cut, even if you had nothing to do with it.

Thus the legitimate status of children born out of a marriage that has been nullified remains. This is illogical, but right. This prevents legal acrobatics like parents initiating a move to adopt their own children so that they would now be legitimately adopted. Preposterous!

These are mere labels. All children, regardless of the circumstances under which they are born and raised, are their parents’ flesh and blood, born into the world through no choice of their own.

***

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago always manages to light up a room. In recent months, she has been known for spewing pick-up lines, cheesy as they might be, before an audience of young people. Her pick-up lines have been immortalized in the social media. She herself chuckles when she reads them aloud from a piece of paper. There is something engaging about an intelligent woman, an authority in the law, reaching out to the masses this way.

This Valentine’s Day, however, Senator Santiago became known less for her romantic lines than for her hyperventilating on the Senate floor.

On Tuesday, a visibly upset Santiago castigated the prosecution for submitting spurious documents on impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona’s bank accounts. Members of the prosecution, whose second article of impeachment hinged on Corona’s non-disclosure of his true assets, liabilities and net worth, said that the documents pertaining to these bank accounts, containing amounts far too great to obtain from his government salary, were given to them in an envelope by a “small woman.”

But a branch manager of PSBank had said the documents submitted in court were not the ones they had in their files. Thus, they were likely fake.

Santiago cited jurisprudence that showed lawyers should be held accountable for submitting questionable evidence, whether they did it on purpose or acted in good faith. She also berated the prosecutors for burdening the impeachment court with unsubstantiated allegations and media reports.

She left the Senate hall soon after, huffing and puffing.

The previous day, Monday, Santiago took great pains subjecting lead prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. to some sort of a law quiz—on national television. Tupas tried to make a show of taking Santiago’s questions good naturedly. He did not succeed; it was evident he was frazzled. In the end, she gave him a 3—“I pass you, but I warn you.”

Without these scenes, however, nobody would be watching the impeachment trial anymore. People are beginning to tire of the patterns that have emerged since the start of the hearings almost a month ago. It would have been great to see a battle of wits, hard evidence, brilliant arguments—all make for riveting courtroom drama.

No such luck. All we have seen are duds, and innuendoes, and shameless politicking and grandstanding. Imagine the scare they put the country through over the weekend—the threat of a constitutional crisis. I was personally relieved we did not have to go through that route.

At this point, the sentiment is “get it over and done with.” The best should have come in the first few days. It’s been a month…and many other things demand to be attended to.

The lessons in law are instructive, amusing, even, but in the end we are aware we want a solid trial, so we can all move on.

adellechua@gmail.com

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