Aquino’s soft coup


In pushing the House of Representative to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, President Aquino deployed all weapons  in  the arsenal of the presidency to attack Corona as head of  the third independent pillar of the Philippine Constitutional system, except to call in the army to raid the Court and arrest Corona and the offending  justices his administration has identified as appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Such a final solution to the conflict between the presidency and the Court, their most serious clash since the founding of the post-war Republic,  would have required the proclamation of a national emergency and the imposition of martial law, like Ferdinand Marcos did it in 1972.

Mr. Aquino averted such a drastic solution, apparently because it was uncertain that the army would carry out such a risky political adventure without adequate preparation to ensure success. It took more than a year for Marcos to prepare the ground for martial law after the August 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing.

It appears that Mr. Aquino, who is not famous for  doing meticulous homework, decided to take the easier option  of staging a soft coup on the Corona Court. It was less messy than a coup involving the army and the police. Besides, there was the risk that the army might turn its guns towards Malacañang and stage a coup on the President instead.

Mr. Aquino didn’t have to be told that the army had given his mother plenty of trouble with their recurrent coups from 1987 to 1989.  So he initiated the impeachment project, marshaled his allies in the House of Representatives and backed them with the most powerful non-military weapon at his command: the patronage resources of the pork barrel.

The Corona Court, packed with Arroyo appointees, was an extremely vulnerable target. Its prestige had been undermined by a series of decisions starting with the midnight appointment of  the Chief Justice and decisions perceived to be biased for Arroyo and which Corona was accused in the Articles of Impeachment of allegedly masterminding.

Because of the Court’s decisions that are seen as biased for Arroyo, its public approval and trust ratings have fallen sharply.

The aggressive manner by which the Aquino administration  has been pursuing the impeachment of  Corona to remove an obstacle in its battle against corruption in government has been  criticized by bar associations and civil liberties groups as  heavy-handed, vindictive and full of shortcuts in violation of due process of law. The attacks on Corona have been criticized as an attempt to remove not only Corona and other Arroyo-appointed justices to enable Mr. Aquino to  pack the Court with his own appointees and eventually take control of it. For example, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, warned, “This is not the first time a complaint has been filed against an impeachable official, but this is the first time time that this has been done with despicable haste and arbitrariness.”

The Articles of Impeachment were put together within a few days after the conflict between the Court and the President heightened to a flash point following the Court’s decision to issue a temporary  restraining order  on a Department of Justice hold order blocking the travel of Arroyo abroad to seek medical treatment. The operation to build up an impeachment case was one of the biggest trawl fishing mounted by the government. It cast a wide dragnet that sucked in fish, big and small, and compressed the catch in the Articles of Impeachment consisting of 57 pages. This was immediately rushed to the Senate for trial.

Certain legal circles have pointed out several issues that could trigger fierce debates during the impeachment trial. One is Article II, which says the respondent committed culpable violation of the Constitution and or betrayed the public trust when he failed to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth  as required under Sec. 17, Art. XI of the Constitution. The President has demanded that Corona show his SALN to the public.

Corona has said he complied with this requirement, but disclosure of his SALN was governed by rules promulgated by the Court during the term of Chief Justice Andres Narvasa.

The purpose of this article is to pin down Corona on allegations of unexplained wealth. The administration is hoping to find evidence to support these allegations by comparing his assets and their sources against his declared income.

On this issue alone, the trial is expected to be a brutal exercise aimed at stripping Corona bare. It is not going to be a surgical exercise marked by gentlemanly legal arguments, but Corona appears determined to fight up to the end.

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Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • miriamquiamco

    My other comments have been deleted here, this paper is really something. . .

  • Manuel Biason

    Armando Doronilla’s age as a journalist did not teach him well. This man is stupid. He doesn’t  seem to  realize and  see what is happening around him. He can not see that the President is moving heaven and earth to fix a broken, dysfunctional system of government. Why can’t he understand this? It does not matter how fast or  slow the impeachment process has been initiated. What counts is the substance. Is there a real need to impeach the SC Justice? The answer is a big yes. So what if one or two or three congressmen did not read the impeachment complaint? Do you know what public or judicial notice is?  Does a congressman need to read the complaint to discern why the SCCJ  is being impeached?  Mr. Doronilla, you are a veteran journalist but I think you should go back to school and get some continuing education in journalism.  The media is fraught with all stories focusing on the impeachable acts of the CJ and you don’t seem to notice them? Where are you hiding? How about the lighting speed by which the SC issued a TRO without oral argument – leading to the squashing of the DOJ circular 41. Did you have a say on this?  I think most of your opinions are a lot of hokum.  

  • thinkthru

    How can any branch of government be truly independent?! They are all peopled with individuals riddled with warts and all. When society begins to point them out, it’s time for thorough soul searching, Hiding behind “independence” is immature. As a democracy we must be forthright and correct our weaknesses. Columnists like Doronila and his kind are not saint-makers. They simply perpetuate the myth of independence and cover up the real culprit: greed for power and the machinations to avoid accountability.

  • miriamquiamco

    Many are still dumbfounded at the lower house’s action. But what’s in a name? It’s precisely called lower house because it is composed of low-life political prostitutes who are willing to get laid as long as they will get paid.

  • Melmina

    It all boils down to popularity…do you mean even without reading the 57page impeachment case against CJ corona pipirma kana kasi yun ang gusto ng amo mo para mataas padin ratings niya…eh dun palang alam mo na kung anong klaseng tao ang mga nasa congress at nakakapikon man sabihin eh baka maging mga senador pa balang araw…sabi nga ni boy pick up…boom

  • miriamquiamco

    I think the mass media should bring up for public discussion the issue of Hacienda Luisita which is the cause of all these mad actions by the executive.  Why, with Sereno demanding that the hacienda which was paid for by the loans guaranteed by the Philippine government, on the condition that the land be distributed to the tenants, with Sereno’s partial opinion that the Cojuangcos be paid 2.4 million pesos per hectare (simply ridiculous considering other landowners were paid a lot less than this under CARP) is simply unacceptable.  The peasants who are still poor and the rightful owners of the land. remember all these years, 50 years to be exact, the Cojuangco-Aquino further enriched themselves through the labor of the rightful owners, cannot possibly pay for the billions of pesos which the greedy family wants in exchange for the return of the land to the peasants.  Will the government then pay the Cojuangco-Aquino the 6 billion pesos that they want.  This is a matter of national interest since it has caused so much trouble already to the Filipinos.  There should be open discussions on how to distribute the Hacienda to the rightful owners without destroying the integrity of the Supreme Court.  Why are our media practitioners shierking from the duty of bringing this issue up for rational discussion.  There should be sustained debate on the issue, with Aquino determined to cow the SC and staff it with people sympathetic to the greed of his family, I see that the peasants will be the end-losers of this brouhaha involving the honorable Chief Justice.

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