Wise words from Corona | Inquirer Opinion

Wise words from Corona

/ 09:37 PM January 31, 2012

In asking for the “recusal, inhibition or disqualification” of Sen. Franklin Drilon from the impeachment court on grounds of partiality and bias against their client, the defense team of Chief Justice Renato Corona waxed eloquently outraged. “The conduct of Senator-Judge Drilon,” said their motion, “has drawn the attention of the public, casting doubt on the integrity of the impeachment trial process and even the impartiality of the judges themselves. A judge must take every effort to avoid even the appearance of partiality. This rule is the rule of thumb for all manner of judicial conduct and comportment, and it is well-entrenched in jurisprudence… It is beyond cavil that this turn of events has put in question the integrity of the proceedings and members of the Impeachment Court.”

Defense lawyer Jose Roy III put it more succinctly:  a judge “must not only be impartial, but must also appear impartial,” and Drilon, by his conduct, had lost his “cold neutrality as a judge.”


Let’s set aside for a moment whether it was indeed unfair that Drilon’s questioning of Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal compelled her to produce the confidential statements of assets, liabilities and net worth of Corona, and that it was he who established that the Chief Justice acted as attorney-in-fact in his daughter Charina’s purchase of a McKinley Hill property in 2008. It’s interesting to note that, to go by the defense lawyers’ exacting prescription of how judges should comport themselves during trials, the first person who would fail the test would be their client, the Chief Justice.

Recall how Corona conducted the cross-examination of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima when she defended before the Supreme Court the government’s action to bar former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband from leaving the country despite a temporary restraining order issued by the high court. Did Corona confine himself to neutral, clarificatory questions? No. He framed his argument in the most partial – in fact, political – way possible. The Arroyos weren’t merely respondents in a case, they were victims of persecution by the government. “Imagine six or seven years from now,” he said, “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?”


What was it again that Roy said? A judge “must not only be impartial, but must also appear impartial.”

So, was Drilon really being partisan in his actions? Only if you think that what he did, which was to help ferret out the facts, was out of line. Only if you think that the truth doesn’t matter in this case, but only the parts of it that could be artfully spun, rearranged and twisted into an alternate version, then presented to the senator-judges and the public as the whole shebang and nothing but.

Consider that what the defense is most livid about is the fact that Drilon got Corona’s SALNs disclosed. Those documents were the subject of a subpoena by the impeachment court, so whether the senators got their hands on the SALNs via Drilon’s alleged maneuvering or not, one way or the other they were bound to come out. What, in effect, is the defense saying – that had Drilon, or any other senator, not asked Vidal to surrender the SALNs, they were prepared not to produce the papers despite the court order? And yet, when the SALNs were finally made public, Corona’s lawyers – at a snap and in the face of the relentless objections they had raised earlier – spun around and began claiming with straight faces that, hey, since the SALNs have now been disclosed, why bother proceeding with Article 2 of the impeachment complaint?

The disingenuousness, the willingness to try to trick the public with crafty legalese, is frustrating. Rather than help uncover the truth, the proceedings are reduced to a cheap game this way. But, as a Supreme Court justice once wrote, “A litigation is not a game of technicalities in which one, more deeply schooled and skilled in the subtle art of movement and position, entraps and destroys the other. It is rather a contest in which each contending party fully and fairly lays before the court the facts in issue and then, brushing aside as wholly trivial and indecisive all imperfections of form and technicalities of procedure, asks that justice be done upon the merits.”

The author of that sage advice? Renato Corona. At his own trial, let him reap the wisdom of his own words.

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TAGS: chief justice renato corona, corona impeachment, Editorial, opinion
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