Chief Justice Renato Corona’s removal from office is indubitably President Aquino’s clear victory. But it is a pyrrhic one: its costs to him and his clan, and the damage to our institutions are so enormous, that history will show that it isn’t worth it.
For Mr. Aquino’s Cojuangco clan, Corona’s ouster came too late. Corona didn’t resign, as he was expected to do, as Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez did soon after her impeachment was initiated.
The trial unexpectedly lasted for five months, giving the Corona-led Supreme Court enough time to rule with finality—only last month—that the Cojuangcos’ Hacienda Luisita must be put under a real land reform program, which would result in the bankruptcy of the President’s clan. The close voting in that final resolution demonstrated that if Corona had resigned—and with the appointment of a new Aquino justice and the rest effectively terrorized—the Court’s earlier decision in July and November 2011 for a P196-million land compensation would have been revised, for a P10-billion payment the Cojuangcos wanted.
Corona’s ouster should put the hacienda’s farmers on alert: Will a “new” Supreme Court find a loophole to reverse its decisions on Hacienda Luisita?
Whatever happens, Corona will be remembered not as the chief justice who was ousted from office because of his inaccurate “SALN,” but as the chief justice who got screwed because he went against the President’s clan in order to implement genuine land reform.
For this, Corona endured five months of ruthless vilification. To browbeat him to resign, Mr. Aquino mobilized the entire apparatus of government, aided by mainstream media duped to slavishly support his agenda, to demonize him as a corrupt, immoral magistrate who enriched himself in the Supreme Court. Set aside, as it didn’t quite rouse the mob, was Mr. Aquino’s initial purported reason why he wanted Corona out: The Chief Justice was purportedly the protector in the high court of former President Gloria Arroyo—an ignorant accusation as the tribunal is a collegial body.
Quite ironically, Aquino’s victory over Corona has put him in a very serious quandary since it was purportedly due to a great extent to the law firm senior associate justice Antonio Carpio founded, which allegedly provided the brains, the network, and the resources to remove Corona.
Furthermore, when the case against Corona was collapsing, and Mr. Aquino became disheartened after the Court issued the final ruling last month on Hacienda Luisita, the fatal blow was made two weeks ago by Carpio’s cousin, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales who claimed that the Chief Justice had $12 million in dollar accounts. While that was a colossal canard, Corona fell into the trap of debunking it by claiming he had only $2.4 million—which gave 20 senators the easy, technical justification to convict him.
Carpio, is therefore absolutely certain that Mr. Aquino will appoint him chief justice. However, Mr. Aquino’s inner circle has told him that he should appoint instead somebody who he would be totally sure will toe his line—and that’s definitely not Carpio. Several senators who voted for Corona’s conviction also informed him in very strong terms, before decision day, that they want him to appoint “anybody but Carpio.”
An article in The Philippine Star, managed by House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte’s sons, is a Palace leak: “Justice Antonio Carpio might not be named chief justice because he does not seem to enjoy the trust and confidence of the other justices in the tribunal, sources hinted.” The article claimed that Mr. Aquino would instead appoint Liberal Party leader, his de facto political mentor, Sen. Franklin Drilon. While he has remarkably kept it secret especially during the trial, Drilon, who has been senator for nearly two decades, wants to top off his career by becoming chief justice, all lawyers’ cherished dream. Aged 66, this is his last chance—as it is for Carpio—to be chief justice.
If he doesn’t appoint Carpio though, Aquino would create an enemy far more powerful than Corona such that he would regret ever removing the latter.
In his purported crusade against corruption by removing Corona, Mr. Aquino corrupted—using that term’s meaning of debasing an entity’s integrity—the state’s institutions among them, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Land Registration Authority, the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the Commission on Audit and, most alarmingly, the Ombudsman. History has also shown that a mainstream media submissive to a president’s agenda is one of the greatest threats to a democracy.
Corona’s conviction sets a very dangerous precedent for our republican system: A President can mobilize the entire apparatus of government and break laws and, supported by media, go after his perceived enemy—even the highest official of the judiciary—with a Congress terrified of opinion polls as his accomplice.
A senator theatrically and quite naively claimed that Corona’s conviction creates a new paradigm for transparency in public office. Seriously, do you think bureaucrats would now start filing accurate SALNs when the televised trial has educated them that bank accounts can be opened only by court order or in an impeachment trial, which applies to only 31 high officials?
Do you really expect this new era to dawn when the highest official of the land, Mr. Aquino, ignored Corona and two senators’ challenge for him and his Cabinet to issue waivers on the secrecy of their bank accounts?
Do you honestly believe that grafters will change their evil ways now, knowing that Corona was ousted not because of corruption but because of an elite clan’s greed, and because of the ambition of two powerful people to be chief justice?
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