“Renato Corona is a liar.”
It is not a particularly damning sentence, attached to any other name. It is an easy enough statement. “Mo Twister is a liar.” “Rhian Ramos is a liar.” “Nadia Montenegro is a liar.” “Annabelle Rama is a liar,” and so are the shamefaced men confronted by their shrieking lovers in TV5’s “Face to Face.” Ali Atienza said it, and charged Mayor Alfredo Lim with libel after Manila’s Dirty Harry called the son of the environment secretary a drug addict. Mon Tulfo continues to say it in the same sentence as the names Claudine Barretto and Raymart Santiago. Everyone lies, and the lying and fibbing and all varieties of narrative gymnastics barely make a ripple in the national consciousness.
To call the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines a liar is an altogether different statement. The Aquinos and Arroyos and Estradas can be burned in effigy to the sound of several hundred leftists howling about hypocrisy and deceit, but never the Chief Justice. The poor deluded schmuck who writes it, the newspaper that prints it, the network that airs it, all of them become guilty of swaying their collective behinds in front of the sanctified pillars of the Halls of Justice, a metaphorical mooning that has no other conclusion than libel charges announced by a properly grim Midas Marquez.
And still, “Renato Corona is a liar,” and to listen to him speak is all that is necessary to see it. The ease is what is terrifying. A chief of the country’s judiciary should be beyond reproach, so says the men who have filed charges against him, and the possession of property beyond his means, and his failure to admit ownership of funds in his name will tarnish a court whose power lies in its probity and credibility. The Chief Justice denied all accusations of false declaration and excessive ownership, but he did not stop there. He is, after all, the same robed man who stood before a crowd of cheering supporters, declaring his love and pumping his fist in a manner much like a politician about to dance at a political rally. He gives speech after speech and interview after interview, the same way he did in the weeks after his appointment as Chief Justice. Corona does not only need to be believed, he needs to be loved, and the pursuit of that love has him painting himself in the image of a man of the masses.
That he has essentially lied in his statements of assets and liabilities—he has admitted to an undeclared $2.4 million stashed in four bank accounts—is still a matter of debate to some. His lawyers say he did not lie, he simply did not declare the totality of what he owned because dollars are a different matter and protected by bank secrecy laws. It is an odd reason, and one that subverts the purpose of the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, whose purpose is to compare a public official’s property against what he can legitimately acquire within his declared income.
But it is in the small matters that he makes mistakes, in questions not of legality but of simple honesty. He lives, he said, a simple life. “Our lives and home are simple. We don’t even use the air conditioner because we become easily ill in the cold. The food we eat in our home is simple.
Believe it or not, we do not have maids at home.” In 43 years, he said, he “has never purchased large properties or expensive properties. All of our money is in cash.”
His defense team has admitted to Corona’s ownership of five high-end properties—in Bellagio, Bonifacio Ridge, The Columns, Xavierville and Burgundy Condominiums—an admission that Corona himself supported last Tuesday. Perhaps the Chief Justice has a different definition of what counts as expensive, and it is a definition that he does not share with the rest of the Philippine population. Yet even if the properties are ignored, this same simple man with a simple life also spends more than P15,362.37 for a meal with his wife at Century Tsukiji restaurant, up to P24,000 each for a pair of barong Tagalog purchased at Rustan’s, and a hundred thousand for the purchase of Christmas gifts. A Rappler.com investigative report details these purchases, as well as the fact that all of these and many others were reimbursed by the Supreme Court. It is difficult to construe a shirt that costs more than a semester’s college tuition as simple, but perhaps the Chief Justice was merely attempting to uphold the image of the Supreme Court in his choice of atelier.
This is the narrative told by the Chief Justice: Renato Corona is a good man besieged, an underdog, a struggling hero pressed on all sides by the might and will of a juggernaut determined to remove the last obstacle to evil. In his statement on the witness stand of the impeachment court last Friday, he talked about persecution and harassment, about the damage to his good name and the pain his family has endured. He has fought with dignity and with courage, as befitting a gentleman of the Supreme Court.
“Perhaps,” he told the court, “you have witnessed yourselves the many times I have been insulted in public by our President. And yet I have said not a single word, because that is not my nature.” He added: “Hindi ako bastos.”
On Feb. 17, 2012, Chief Justice Renato Corona delivered a statement as a response to a speech by President Aquino again pointing to Corona’s alleged lack of moral ascendancy, urging the Chief Justice to step down from the judiciary.
“Perhaps, it would be much better, Mr. President,” said the man who had not uttered a single word against the President, “if you disclose your SALN and explain it to the people. Maybe you should include your bank accounts and psychological records that have been a nagging issue.” Unless Renato Corona believes that his demand that Benigno Aquino III should have his psychological records checked is a compliment to the President of the Republic of the Philippines, he is a liar and a hypocrite, and he is still chief of the Supreme Court.
The Chief Justice has apologized for any perception of arrogance or high-handedness. He has fought the good fight, he said. His name has been tarnished with malice and insult, his family has been dogged by questions, his colleagues have been forced to watch him at the center of controversy. He is an honest man fighting a dirty war. He has wept on the stand and shown he can forgive, he has called out his enemies and demanded his due.
He is the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines, and he wishes to be excused.