His own worst witness

To a question posed by Sen. Franklin Drilon about his assets, Renato Corona curiously responded that he did not understand certain financial matters: “Pardon me, hindi po ako nakakaintindi ng asset-debit na yan.”

Call him the incredible shrinking Chief Justice. Every time he emerged from his sanctum sanctorum at the Supreme Court and addressed the public, one thing was progressively and inevitably confirmed: He was a letdown. Supposedly the embodiment of the majesty and authority of the Philippine judicial system and ultimate arbiter of truth and fairness in legal affairs, he came off, instead, as a small—and small-minded—man. The nation’s highest magistrate turned out to be a man given to gutter language, melodramatic flourishes, a shockingly self-serving appreciation of the law, and, worst of all, a facility for lying.

Take that statement he gave Drilon, that whatever omissions his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth might show, it was all because he is a simple man unversed in the ways of accounting. This, from someone who had also bragged at his impeachment trial, by way of explaining his millions in undisclosed peso and dollar deposits, that he was a “matagumpay na abogado” before he entered public service. And that successful career in law included, among others, a long stint as an officer in the tax and corporate counseling divisions of SyCip, Gorres, Velayo—the Philippines’ largest accounting firm; 17 years as lecturer in commercial, taxation and corporate law in his alma mater, the Ateneo School of Law; several years as one of the top officers of a commercial bank; an MBA again from Ateneo, and a master of laws degree, focusing on the regulation of financial institutions, from Harvard University.

Given that all such information has long been public knowledge, one wonders at Corona’s mindset. What on earth was he thinking, testifying so brazenly to such patent, and easily verifiable, untruths even as he was under oath on the witness stand? Such ease in double-talk must have taken years of practice. In the end, Corona’s attempt at passing himself off as a simpleton to duck the requirements of the law he was sworn to uphold only reaffirmed how undeserving he is of the august position he holds, which isn’t called “primus inter pares”—first above all—for nothing.

Even his now much touted “unconditional” waiver, brandished by his supporters as proof of his honesty and good faith, had to be pried out of him after the dead-end humiliation of his walkout from the court, which saw the unprecedented sight of the Senate President sternly lecturing the Chief Justice on the fine points of court decorum. Cut the drama, the appeal to emotion and the grand invocation of a “moment of truth,” and what the public got with his original non-waiver waiver was a cheap smoke-and-mirrors act that, in its primary version—before his chastened return to the court two days later—basically tried to pull a fast one over the country.

Had Corona comported himself with dignity and nobility in facing the charges against him, perhaps the public would have regarded his case with greater sympathy. But his piddling, uninspiring performance before the court, consisting of a meandering narrative of sordid family feuds, extra-spartan living (“wala kaming hilig sa mamahaling bagay”—this, despite official records of posh condominium units in his name and Supreme Court reimbursements of pricey meals and purchases), and alleged government vendetta against his person, was a revealing window into the psyche of a Chief Justice who interpreted the law with a self-serving bent and wasn’t above resorting to dishonesty and lame-faced excuses (what Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas aptly termed “palusot” in the prosecution’s closing argument) to try to get away with it.

These are not the actions of an honest, upright person—and what misfortune for the country that they happen to be the prevailing behavior of the one man mandated to guard the truth and seek justice for every Filipino. Though his case appeared to rise and fall on clear-cut legal issues, he himself wrote finis to his so-called “calvary” with his peevish, devious, manipulative defense of himself, in ways that disgraced and vastly diminished his position.

The Chief Justice was, in the end, the worst witness against himself. The tale he told, to quote a certain dramatist wise to the follies of men like Corona, was one “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

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Tags: editorial , opinion , Renato corona , Supreme Court Chief Justice

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