A turning point for Aquino presidency | Inquirer Opinion
Analysis

A turning point for Aquino presidency

/ 10:45 PM December 29, 2011

Ahead of the commencement of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona in the Senate on Jan. 16, the Aquino administration is building up pressure on Corona to step down under threat that he faces a punishing trial that could subject to microscopic scrutiny his official acts and private life “inside out” and might cause him and his family considerable embarrassment.

This apocalyptic version of the trial is emerging from shrill calls of non-official civil society quarters perceived to be rabid supporters of President Aquino’s anticorruption campaign, which focuses on sending to jail officials of the Arroyo administration for wrongdoing during their watch. This scenario—of possible embarrassing consequences for Corona, if he insists on fighting his impeachment to the bitter end, through legal means, at the Senate tribunal—was drawn for me during an off-the-record interview with lawyers in the know of the developments on the case. In that interview we discussed the issues that are expected to be the center of contention at the trial.

This pressure to make Corona step down through a method that appears like political blackmail became more evident on Tuesday, during a news briefing by presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. He said the President directed his legal advisers to list possible replacements for Corona, even though the impeachment trial is yet to take place next month. This action suggested that the President was convinced that strong pressure had piled up on Corona to step down and he was anticipating the Chief Justice’s withdrawal, averting a brutal and humiliating trial in which the President could not escape being politically damaged.

In ordering the search for possible replacements for Corona, the President showed he was not confident of mustering the two-thirds vote to convict Corona in a chamber whose members are known to be more independent than the members of the House, who surrendered their autonomy to the President, in voting to impeach Corona, bowing to the blandishments of the Executive. Failure to convict, in a trial where it appears uncertain at this stage that the President could line up the number of votes needed to convict, could be a political blow to the capacity of the President to carry out his political reforms no matter how zealously he promotes it as the mandate of heaven, which justifies his heavy-handed method of prosecuting past government officials and functionaries closely associated with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, especially Corona.

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From this perspective, there is basis to believe that the Corona trial could be a turning point for the Aquino presidency, and acquittal of Corona could be the beginning of the decline of the Aquino presidency and its conversion into a lame-duck government.

This is why he is apparently pushing for the resignation of Corona, as a face-saving solution. The longer the impasse remains unresolved, the more he will spend his political capital in internecine warfare with the Judiciary and with the bar associations.

The Senate is similarly under test. After the abject surrender of the House of its independence with its impeachment vote against the head of the Supreme Court, the Senate is fully aware that its independence is also at stake and it faces the heavy responsibility to hold the line against the onslaught of the Executive to dominate all of the branches of government.

Lacierda tried to understate the intentions of President Aquino when he ordered the search for possible replacements so as not to alarm the public on the continuing encroachments by the President on judiciary functions and procedures.  “We’re just preparing for a contingency,” he said.

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Lacierda even went as far as defining the qualifications of the next chief justice. Lacierda said the President “needs someone of the likes of Justice [Maria Lourdes] Sereno,” who dissented from the majority decision in November granting a temporary restraining order on the travel ban on Arroyo. She has been cited by the President for defending the administration’s position against allowing Arroyo to travel abroad.

Lacierda said the President would “look into the qualifications” of those listed to determine if there are people who are worthy to be members of the Supreme Court, “making sure that they are men and women of probity, integrity and independence.” He did not say whether the President was looking for a person who can be a candidate for beatification or sainthood.

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Lacierda made it clear that the President was not interfering with the function of the Judicial and Bar Council, which is mandated by the Constitution to screen nominees to the Judiciary. He said the JBC was independent of the Executive, adding that “the President did not instruct the JBC. He instructed his legal advisers in case there will be a removal of the chief justice, to look for a chief justice.” Of course this would be according to his specifications.

With indications of pressure from civil society forces being incited by the President into lynch mobs that will watch the trial, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago reminded everyone that people “would judge if the Senate would follow the right procedure in convicting Corona or not.” In other words, she said, “this is a question of whether the law has been applied correctly.”

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TAGS: corona impeachment, featured columns, opinion, Senate

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