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Corona’s original sin

/ 11:23 PM December 15, 2011

The “original sin” of Chief Justice Renato Corona was agreeing to be nominated by the Judicial and Bar Council and then accepting his “midnight appointment,” as chief justice, by outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

He took his oath—not without irony in the wee hours—despite the stormy conditions surrounding his appointment. The Constitution was pretty clear about the timing of any appointment done before a presidential election, a clear prohibition the Supreme Court at the time chose to ignore when it in effect allowed Arroyo to go ahead and name the next chief justice.

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Even as a candidate, President Aquino had already declared that he would not recognize Corona as a “legitimate” chief magistrate. This position he underscored when he asked then Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales to administer his oath when he took office. Corona scored points for civility when, despite the snub, he showed up at the Luneta Grandstand for the inauguration. And P-Noy responded in kind, shaking hands with Corona.

To skeptics, Corona begged: “Watch me.” He pleaded with critics to give him the benefit of the doubt, saying that he would prove by his subsequent actions and the conduct of the Supreme Court he headed, that he was capable of ruling impartially and obeying the rule of law despite his perceived loyalty and favors owed to the former president who appointed him.

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Well, it seems President Aquino and his political allies held him to his word. They watched and waited and pounced when the opportunity presented itself. Corona shouldn’t be surprised or shocked at the impeachment. What started out as an uneasy relationship soon turned testy and nasty, and from there deteriorated into active hostility and conflict.

The Chief Justice—and the other justices appointed by Arroyo—showed their hand too soon. What people only assumed was loyalty to their patroness soon developed into a pattern. And with the hasty granting of a TRO that would have allowed the Arroyos to flee the country, the “Coronarroyo” court was unmasked.

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IN HIS “fighting” speech before Supreme Court and lower court employees the other day, Corona took his critics to task for what he called their “relentless persecution, intimidation and bullying.”

But if you followed the sequence of events, it would seem that the “persecution, intimidation and bullying” began only after that controversial TRO, revealed to have been defective or unenforceable since the Arroyos had yet to fulfill all the conditions set by the high court.

Before this, despite reversals like the declaration that the formation of the Truth Commission was unconstitutional, the Aquino government seemed willing to give the Corona court its prerogative. But in hastily granting the Arroyos permission to leave the country, in moves that to many among the public looked suspiciously like a coordinated game plan, the majority among the Supreme Court finally revealed themselves to be Arroyo partisans, and not the impartial and disinterested jurists they were supposed to be. And Corona, being chief justice and thus leader of the institution, became Suspect Number One.

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IS it true, as Corona asserted, that the impeachment is meant not just to remove him from office but to “destroy the judiciary, undermine democracy and enforce the rules of the King”?

When last I checked the impeachment of an appointive official—even of one occupying the exalted position of chief justice—is constitutional. And despite the breathtaking speed with which the necessary votes were garnered, the impeachment of Corona followed the procedure laid down by law. The equality among the three branches of government is meant to ensure a working system of “checks and balances” among them, not to insulate any one or all of them from accountability to the people.

I’m afraid Corona equates himself with the entire Supreme Court. And not only that, he sees his travails as constituting an attack on the entire judiciary—from the justices in Padre Faura to the humblest RTC judge in, say, Tawi-Tawi.

Even the inclusion of his wife Cristina, who is herself a public official being a member of the board of the Camp John Hay authority, in the articles of impeachment he takes as a personal affront. I have heard many derogatory stories about Tina Corona’s stint in this position, but even if her husband was not yet chief justice when she was appointed to Camp John Hay, at the very least delicadeza dictates that she should have resigned her post when he was named. After all, her continued service at John Hay was due to Arroyo’s patronage, and it could not but influence her husband’s decisions.

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SEN. Miriam Defensor-Santiago has crowed that her appointment to the International Criminal Court, which tries cases of war atrocities and crimes against humanity, is a “victory for the Philippines in the international legal community.”

But she undermines her unique position as the first woman judge from Asia and from a developing country with her rants against Social Welfare Secretary Corazon “Dinky” Soliman. Her objections to Soliman’s confirmation were based on suspicions of Soliman’s political ambitions and the possible use of the “4 P’s” funds for her campaign, and on Soliman’s record as a leader of the Black and White Movement (BWM).

One would think that as someone who would sit on an international tribunal protecting and promoting human rights, Santiago would understand the valuable role played by civil society groups such as the BWM, in a democracy. Or does championing the rights of people stop where it clashes with one’s own personal and political interests?

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TAGS: Dinky Soliman, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Renato corona, Supreme Court
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