In Pari Delicto

Miriam Defensor-Santiago (Left) and Vitaliano Aguirre (Right)
Miriam Defensor-Santiago (Left) and Vitaliano Aguirre (Right)

Much has been written about the spectacle between Senator Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Private Prosecutor Vitaliano Aguirre.

The Senate, acting as an impeachment court, has cited the Private Prosecutor in contempt of court. Last I read, the Senators are mulling a penalty of 24-hour imprisonment. Some Senators are “playfully” suggesting an additional punishment of forcing Aguirre to listen to tapes of the feisty Senator’s speeches.

In citing Aguirre for contempt, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile reiterated the importance of respect. He added that any sign of disrespect to the court or to any of its members, “can’t be allowed to pass and must be dealt with according to the rules.”

Aguirre’s behavior is indeed contemptuous. However, the rules should apply equally to all parties involved.

The Code of Judicial Conduct, a set of rules governing the conduct of judges in the Philippines, clearly stipulates that, “a judge should be patient, attentive, and courteous to lawyers, especially the inexperienced, to litigants, witnesses, and others appearing before the court. A judge should avoid unconsciously falling into the attitude of mind that the litigants are made for the courts, instead of the courts for the litigants.”

The Canon of Judicial Ethics also calls on judges to, “be temperate, patient, attentive, impartial, and, since he is to administer the law and apply it to the facts, he should be studious of the principles of the law, diligent in endeavoring to ascertain the facts.”

Santiago’s tirades and insults directly contradict with, and is in clear violation of the aforementioned rules.

In cases where both parties are mutually or equally at fault, the court usually will not involve itself in taking one side over the other. This doctrine is called, in pari delicto.

The impeachment court should, at the very least, admonish Santiago to be prudent in her choice of words.

If the impeachment court does not see a need to reprimand Senator Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago for labeling the prosecution team as ‘Gago‘ (fool), then in the interest of fairness, Aguirre’s penalty should be waived as both the Senator Judge and the Private Prosecutor were disrespectful of the impeachment court and to the parties appearing before it.

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