What reforms are needed for a post-Renato Corona Supreme Court?

This glossed-over issue emerged in Tuesday’s face-off: The 23rd Chief Justice stalked out of the impeachment court without a by your leave. A fuming Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile ordered a Senate lockdown.


Guards later trundled a limp Corona back on a wheelchair. Played out on TV and in headlines, the “detention” is unprecedented. On “release,” he made a beeline for Medical City.

Some officials, on the run, turn hospitals into foxholes: That’s what “JocJoc” Bolante, Benjamin Abalos and Ampatuan father and son of Maguindanao did. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has a cell in the hospital for veterans, as Erap did….


If Corona were gravely ill, why did he not resign? If not, then this caper savaged an already battered Supreme Court. “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” the Galilean once asked.

Corona is not past tense, his supporters insist. He’ll be exonerated when 23 senator-judges rule early next week, they predict. Knock on wood.

“Those who look to the past or the present are certain to miss the future,” John F. Kennedy cautioned. A court of unquestioned integrity is crucial to our grandchildren’s future. Stagnancy is guaranteed if business-as-usual prevails.

Kapit-tuko is how some dub Corona’s aborted exit from the witness stand. The Department of Justice earlier grounded Arroyo’s flight from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The images are adhesive; they stick.

So did photos of the 13th Chief Justice trotting behind Imelda Marcos as umbrella bearer. Chief Justice Enrique Fernando’s parasol has morphed into a symbol for a subservient Supreme Court. “Fernando emphasized the judiciary’s ‘legitimizing’ function,” wrote former Justice Isagani Cruz, a former Inquirer columnist. “This was the stand-by excuse … under him, to sustain acts of President Marcos.”

The Corona Court proved a stamp-pad for Gloria. In 15 cases involving the Arroyo administration, Corona voted according to the Malacañang line. Justices gave express-lane treatment to a temporary restraining order that would have allowed GMA to fly the coop.

The judiciary is bugged by case congestion, politicization of appointments, lack of access to justice by the poor, and old-fashioned graft. Cases molder “from 10 years (average) to 24 years (extreme cases),” economist Peter Wallace notes. Ask Philippine Airlines’ flight attendants and stewards who had “final decisions” reversed thrice in 14 years.


The Integrated Bar of the Philippines claimed that impeachment had a “chilling effect” on the judiciary, before the IBP U-turned. Law deans of the Ateneo, La Salle, Far Eastern University, among others, skewered Corona’s “cop-out.”

The impeachment court has before it statements of assets, liabilities and net worth that smudge Corona’s real holdings. Corona has admitted stashing dollars. But he ducks questions on how much. Or where they came from.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council is standing pat on its report on Corona’s foreign exchange shuttles. A prima facie case has been built, former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban wrote in the Inquirer.

Hopes for long-stalled judiciary reforms piggyback on next week’s decision. Reforms come only from a credible court.

Scrap the secretive barkadahan Judicial Bar Council, former Sen. Rene Saguisag urged. That system handcuffed us to a de facto Chief Justice. Restore the open Commission on Appointments process.

Immediate reforms must begin in the Supreme Court itself. Institute transparency by repealing the resolution that prohibits the release of justices’ SALNs.

Fire the “16th justice.” Court Administrator Midas Marquez “speaks as if he is the Supreme Court.” He doubles as personal mouthpiece for Corona, and the World Bank clobbered him for less than exemplary oversight of its judiciary reform program support. The next court administrator must work as his job description says.

How well have justices implemented the “New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary” and the “Code of Conduct for Court Personnel”? Have they gone the way of the 10 Commandments, watered down to “10 Suggestions”?

So far, Enrile’s leadership has bolstered the bona fides of the impeachment court. Next week’s ballot could reinforce—or undercut—its value. Raw memories still linger of how the “Craven Eleven” senators sealed then President Joseph Estrada’s “second envelope.” That triggered People Power II.

The vote will inevitably affect judiciary reforms introduced by chief justices from Claudio Teehankee, Marcelo Fernan, to Reynato Puno. Hilario Davide crafted funding structures that gave the program clout.

Will the acquittal of Corona make judicial reform near impossible to pursue? Or will conviction repair the damage and restart the Action Program for Judicial Reform?

What will be good for our grandchildren? Corona’s acquittal, or conviction? Senator-judges have kids, too. That’s the bottom line.

The defense is down to its last  trenches. “We’re studying the option of mistrial,” chief defense counsel Serafin Cuevas said. A mistrial does not apply to impeachment, countered Sen. Franklin Drilon. Wednesday, Cuevas asked the Supreme Court to resolve his earlier petition to nullify the impeachment trial from A to Z.

“Kung patay na ang kabayo, aanhin mo pa ang damo?” Cuevas added. Of what use is grass if the nag is dead? Indeed, curtains have fallen on the Corona era. The rest is postscript.

No need to rise from your hospital bed, Chief, and ask who those bells toll for. “They toll for thee.”

(Email: [email protected])

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TAGS: chief justice renato corona, corona impeachment, impeachment trial, Juan L. Mercado, opinion, Supreme Court, Viewpoint
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