Sunset glory | Inquirer Opinion

Sunset glory

/ 09:26 PM January 16, 2012

Front-page photos and TV footage focused on maroon togas and initial skirmishes when the first-ever impeachment of a Supreme Court chief justice began Monday. History’s   “deep-running currents” below the surface, however, have shifted. They don’t eddy about embattled Renato Corona, 64, who predicts that he will be vindicated. Instead, they swirl about 88-year-old Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who presides over the trial. His rulings and guidance could spur—or derail—judiciary reforms in decades ahead.

Today’s robes improve on black togas, grabbed off the rack, when President Joseph Estrada was impeached in December 2000. “Costly thy habit … but not expressed in fancy/ Rich not gaudy,” Polonious counsels in “Hamlet.” “For the apparel oft proclaims the man.”

“To thine own self be true,” he adds. “And it must follow as the night the day/ Thou can’t be false to any man.”


Unlike the aborted Impeachment of 2001, will impeachment 2012 be fair?


Manicured hands on the Holy Writ, senators swore to ensure justice, not realpolitik. Would Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. recognize justice if he bumped into it? You wonder.

Marcos Sr. got a lapdog Batasan to wastebasket impeachment charges. “But the matter did not end there,” constitutional scholar Joaquin Bernas, SJ, recalls. People Power intervened.

“Is Estrada ready for a return of Edsa?” Cebu Daily News cautioned in a prescient editorial  on Nov. 29, 2000. Eleven jurors, however, sealed on Jan. 11 the second envelope against Erap. Sen. Tessie Aquino-Oreta sashayed on the Senate floor. Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Vicente Sotto III, Gregorio Honasan and others savored “victory.”

It was short-lived. Minutes after, People Power II erupted, sweeping away a degraded impeachment trial. The “Craven Eleven” biased judges were trashed at Edsa, site for selfless heroism. That added to the sting.

Today, Corona protests “unfair publicity.” The World Bank fire-bombed his leaky oversight of a $21.9-million grant for the Judicial Reform Support Project. Malacañang questions his luxurious condos from Bellagio to Blue Ridge. “If you find them, you can have them,” he snapped.

Who hit the replay button?


The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism traced in December 2000 Estrada’s holdings in 63 corporations and five houses, from a P58.9-million mansion in Wack Wack to the P328.6-million Boracay Mansion at 100 Eleventh St., New Manila (which was abandoned in the aftermath of Edsa 2).

Impeachment 2001, which spotlighted such sleaze, morphed into a unique tutorial. People  snacked before TV screens. They tracked debates over jeepney radios. In the pre-Tweets era, many texted comments to newspapers. This morning-to-dusk “seminar” enabled Filipinos to see institutions interact with knaves, heroic citizens and venality in the highest office.

Truth transforms. People were changed, as values trounced head counts. Catholic “liberation theologians” dub this tutoring of a people, handcuffed by unjust social structures, on their rights as “conscientization.” Citizens demanded accountability.

Beyond the legal issues, Impeachment 2012 will boil down to restoring institutional integrity. Justices cartwheel whenever former Justice Secretary Estelito Mendoza dispatches a postman to their chambers, grouse city mayors, flight attendants and shipyard officials.

A Corona victory won’t expunge doubts “about [the] appropriateness of his continued leadership,” wrote columnist Boo Chanco. “He is damaged … and will be unable to lead the Supreme Court in a way that a respected chief justice could.”

Corona is  intelligent and street-wise. He doesn’t need a crystal ball. However the decision reads, it will also be an obituary, even implicit, for the country’s 23rd chief justice’s rocky career.

Against his better instincts and counsel, he accepted a midnight appointment, given two days after the 2010 elections. That was a month before President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stepped down from Malacañang, en route to arrest for plunder and other charges, it turned out.

Corona’s capacity to lead the Supreme Court died then. His impeachment by 188 congressmen last month merely confirmed the “dead-on-arrival” notice. His 19-0 decisions  coddling his now embattled patron form a postmortem footnote.

He will battle at the Senate for “the independence of the judiciary,” Corona vows. Filipinos, however, don’t muddle persons with institutions. The latest Social Weather Stations survey  shows a net +24 or moderately positive rating for the Court, but citizens ticked off Corona at a cellar level of net -14.

“There was a correlation between satisfaction with Corona and trust in (Gloria Arroyo),” Mahar Mangahas wrote in the Inquirer over the weekend. “The great majority who distrusted her gave Corona a poor rating of -21.”

Enrile is a brilliant lawyer and legislator. His record is mixed, to say the least. He faked a Wack Wack ambush to enable Ferdinand Marcos to clamp on martial law. Thousands were killed, “disappeared” or tortured under his watch. He played a key role in People Power 1 which restored freedom. That was smudged by  his “God Save the Queen” plots against Corazon Aquino, who fired him.

Providence grants very few people a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to alter history with sunset glory. From the impeachment court’s presiding chair, the bright and once-penniless lad from Gonzaga, Cagayan, has a chance to do just that.

Enrile’s finest hour could just be around the corner. Not so for Corona.  Sayang.

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TAGS: corona impeachment, featured columns, Juan Ponce Enrile, opinion, senator-judges

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