In the room where the chief of the truth is to be tried, the chairs are blue, the air blasts cold, and grim-faced Senate employees stalk between gallery rows to tap the shoulders of the sleeping public interest. This is where the pompous pontificate and the howling is hysterical, and if the howlers wear robes instead of overused suits, it is an acceptable sideshow to the circus of the surreal. The respondent, one Renato Corona, is given the gift of prosecutors so oddly incompetent that judges scramble to take their places. The 45 pieces of property allegedly undeclared by Chief Justice Corona is reduced to maybe 20, to maybe five, to maybe it was someone else who said 45. Documents of bank accounts appear magically under garage doors, and along Senate hallways wearing cloaks of invisibility.
The President of the Republic claims there is nothing personal in his crusade against Corona. He is fighting for justice, and because he seeks enormous changes, it is only natural that his enemy is a juggernaut. A blindfolded woman carrying scales, he says, symbolizes justice. Our duty, says Benigno Aquino III, son of saints and heroes, is to return the blindfold to Lady Justice and once again balance the scales.
I write this after five weeks of listening to my government announce my future is dependent on the men who have done all that is possible to trivialize what they call a crusade against injustice and corruption. Corona’s supporters have called the exercise a political attack, the result of one man’s attempt to wreak vengeance and wrest power from the Supreme Court. They claim that much has been wasted in the convoluted attempt to prove that Chief Justice Corona is not fit to lead the Philippine Supreme Court.
And of course they are correct, that it could have been done better, that the prosecutors are presenting perhaps the worst of examples to the legal community, that money and time and political will are being squandered on questions of improper procedure and unethical practice, that there are vital issues being ignored for the sake of the administration’s pursuit of Corona’s crown, and that this may be little more than one President’s attempt to maintain approval ratings that have shot up in the last two months’ march to mayhem. All this could be true, but it is also true that this political exercise is necessary, more necessary now than at any other time in the weeks since it was clear Corona would stand trial.
This is the Chief Justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, the hero who waves from balconies and pumps his fist with the balloon-carrying crowds in the manner of a television evangelist desperate for ratings. This is the man in whose wisdom questions of right and wrong depend on, whose moral fiber is supposed to be above the muck of politics and gossip, the man whom the Constitution describes as one whose “integrity, probity and independence” should be unquestionable. There is a reason why the gentlemen of the Judiciary are asked to conduct themselves in a manner far more restrained as that of the politicians who bounce to the “Papaya” at national elections, and why the brotherhood of the robe is asked to submit themselves to lifestyle checks that will leave the public without questions. That probity and independence mean they are independent from the influence of politics and money and personal interests, because they are aware their decisions have far more impact than the word of God himself.
It means Renato Corona is not permitted to play politician while wearing his black robe. Let the President roll in the mud with the rest of the madding crowd, let the congressmen bleed and the senators scream, let the media frenzy he was elected for his biases and in spite of his sins. When Renato Corona stands before the Supreme Court and demands the stopping of the impeachment trial, he puts the entire court in the dangerous position of interfering in a political process that it is not mandated to decide, and forces a crisis that is meant to be determined by the constitutionally mandated votes of the impeachment court. The court that Corona has repeatedly claimed as his court becomes a pawn, and the attacks against him become an attack against the same court that has until now kept its silence. And when the same Supreme Court chief begins deriding the President of the Republic with the same malicious rumor-mongering he himself is attacking, there is little to set him apart from the candidate who wailed on national radio in 2010 that his interviewer was a nobody who was abused as a child. This is not behavior that is acceptable for a presidential candidate, and it is certainly unacceptable from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
“Maybe it would be better if you also make public, Mr. President, your SALN and explain it to the people,” said Corona in a statement to Mr. Aquino. “Maybe you should also include your bank accounts and psychological records, which have been an old issue. We have an obligation to show the people that we are of sound mind.”
This is the man whose conscience and moral fortitude are supposed to correctly decide on issues of human rights, economy and governance, whose answer to attacks on his credibility is an ad hominem attack on his adversary’s mental health. He has decried the trial by media while feeding that same media. He has filed a petition at the Supreme Court to stop his impeachment at a time when his questionable wealth and more questionable concealment are now a matter of public interest.
If the proceedings stop now, there will be a sitting Chief Justice whose every decision will be viewed through the lens of accusations made against him in the blue-carpeted room at the second floor of a building in Pasay City. He does not need to be proven innocent; he believes his word is enough. To Corona, the weight of his robe is all that is necessary to continue on as chief justice, not his character, not his morality, not whatever image of probity or independence or integrity is demanded by the Constitution. He is willing to risk his court and all his justices as well as the Constitution for no other reason than for the best interests of one Renato Corona.
This is what it means to betray the public trust, and why Corona has done more damage against himself than even the gentlemen of the prosecution.
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