In Arroyo’s shadow
In the eyes of Chief Justice Renato Corona, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is a victim of persecution by the government, her enforced stay in the country and looming dates with the court on charges of electoral sabotage, plunder and graft nothing more than a demonstration of vindictive politicking on the part of Malacañang.
How do we know this? Corona himself said so, or at least he implied so in no uncertain terms. During the oral arguments conducted by the Supreme Court on the watch-list orders issued by the Department of Justice against Arroyo and her husband, former First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, Corona lectured Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz on the primacy of respecting and protecting a person’s rights, whatever his or her station in life. “We are a court of law and that’s our job here under the Constitution, to protect the individual rights of citizens,” he said. Which was fine—until he tried a slam dunk: “Imagine six or seven years from now, if a person is being hounded by their political enemies with the same vigor as you have, don’t you think it would be incumbent to this Court to give their constitutional right the same importance we are giving them today?”
Obviously, Corona wanted to hoist his argument on the loftier scaffolding of basic human rights, but in the process, there tumbled out for all to see the Chief Justice’s stark sympathies. Arroyo is not a former president being made to account for her alleged crimes while in office—the bedrock of the democratic contract, where leaders are elevated to the nation’s highest office on the sacred oath that they would do their utmost to work for the people’s welfare, and not screw them by stealing their vote, robbing them blind, lying to them at every turn and soiling the very institution placed in their hands in trust. No, in Corona’s words, Arroyo—his long-time boss who plucked him from the previous Ramos administration to serve as her aide when she was vice president, then made him chief of staff, spokesperson and acting executive secretary when she became president, and finally top magistrate of the nation’s highest court during the last hours of her reign—is merely “a person… being hounded by their political enemies.” This was all base politics, so why should the Chief Justice be even bothered to employ impartial language to hide his leanings? The watch list, which the Arroyo administration itself had formulated and used many times during her watch, was, in effect, a tool for harassment, and GMA was now a poor victim of it.
Could there be any clearer basis for the growing call, formally made in the last days by two senators and several cause-oriented groups, that Corona should henceforth inhibit himself from any and all Court deliberations involving his former superior and benefactor? Lesser judges have recused themselves on less compromised grounds. More than that, as detailed by Sen. Franklin Drilon, Corona’s record so far has been astoundingly, unabashedly “untarnished by a negative vote against the ex-president.” To crunch the numbers: 19-0, all in favor of the person about whom, in an interview in 2001 in the dewy aftermath of Edsa 2 when his boss was swept to power by the country’s resurgent hopes for a better deal in Malacañang, Corona gushed in this manner: “I am convinced that with a person like her [Arroyo] and who also lives by example, we have hope for this country.”
As it turned out, no un-truer words could have been said of her. That statement alone should disqualify Corona as a judge of character. But as things stand, while his words betray how partisan he can be on some of the most consequential, politically volatile cases about to reach the Court, his voting record pretty much clinches that damaging assumption.
Can Corona ever break free from the shadow of his former employer? Again, his own words inspire little confidence. In that same 2001 interview published in the
Inquirer, Corona said that when the term of President Fidel V. Ramos ended in 1998, he decided to stay with him on account of two “guiding principles” he has always followed: loyalty and gratitude. Those same principles, it must be said, were surely what made him stick it out even more fiercely with GMA, whose manifold transgressions he must now incongruously sit in judgment of. Worse, they could end up becoming the main anchors of his jurisprudence.
If Corona still cares for the reputation and the moral standing of the Court he leads, he should do the decent thing and inhibit himself.
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