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Twin tracks

Even before the impeachment court ruled on Chief Justice Renato Corona’s case, questions flooded in. They ranged from courtroom detail to policy issues.

“The robe Chief Justice William Rehnquist wore at US President Clinton’s impeachment is displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History,” e-mailed Leonor Lagasca of Iloilo. “What will Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile do with his toga?”

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Barring glitches, the impeachment court will issue its decision on Day 44 of the trial. The US Senate took 21 days to wind up. The impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada was aborted after the “Craven 11” sealed the second envelope on Jan. 16, 2001. After prosecutors stalked out, People Power II erupted.

Completing the Corona trial is an accomplishment. Who says we Filipinos don’t take lessons of history to heart?

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Sex, graft and abuse of power sparked these trials. Congress impeached the 42nd US president for perjury and obstruction of justice. These stemmed from 10 sexual encounters with 21-year-old White House intern Monica Lewinsky over a 16-month period.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” President Bill Clinton told media. Months later, Clinton backtracked. Admitting his relationship with Lewinsky was “wrong” and “not appropriate.”

From Day 1 to Day 39, Chief Justice Corona parried charges by text messages, press releases and speeches—outside the court. On the witness stand, he admitted nothing in a three-hour soliloquy, then walked out sans court permission. “The Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused.”

No such excuse was forthcoming. “Detained” on orders of enraged Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Corona pleaded illness. On reappearance, he apologized, then signed a waiver to open his dollar accounts—after both defense and prosecution rested their cases.

Nobody bothered. “The court is not a producer of evidence but a hearer of facts,” Enrile pointed out. Smart legal whip that he is, Corona knew that. Yet, he forgot baseball ace Yogi Berra’s warning: “It gets late early out there.”

There were crucial turning points. Was it the leaked phone tapes of Monica Lewinsky in the Clinton case?

“I was a foot away” when President Estrada signed a P500-million loan as “Jose Velarde,” banker Clarissa Ocampo testified. The Jose Velarde stash once crested at P3.2 billion. Panicked attempts to assign the account to Jaime Dichaves, a presidential crony, followed. “I refused to certify it,” Ocampo recalls. She testified at the plunder trial of Estrada and received threats. Ocampo joined ABS-CBN Foundation last year. This body oversees the foundation’s public service projects. “No regrets,” she says.

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Corona had the Ombudsman subpoenaed and Conchita Carpio Morales obliged. She submitted an Anti-Money Laundering Council report on 407 Corona transactions from April 2003 to February 2012. They covered more than P242 million.

Enrile squelched defense protests by noting: The Ombudsman didn’t volunteer to testify. It was the defense who put Morales on the witness stand. “Since she is your witness, you are bound by her testimony.”

Corona had until Day 42 to demolish the AMLC data and Morales’ testimony. He did not do so. Instead, he frittered this last window of opportunity to needle Morales about being sore over reduced retirement grants, without proof. That window has slammed shut. “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late,” Shakespeare wrote.

A vote along party lines failed to garner the two-thirds majority required for conviction. Clinton beat the rap. People Power overruled a Senate majority that favored Erap.

“Consequences are unpitying,” George Eliot wrote. A day before leaving the White House, Clinton agreed to a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license. This meant automatic suspension from the US Supreme Court bar. He chose to resign. Corona knows these “precedents.”

Estrada left Malacañang on Jan. 19, 2001, as People Power II demanded. The Armed Forces, a day earlier, had withdrawn its support. The Supreme Court declared that the presidency was vacant and swore in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

We have “serious doubts about the constitutionality of her proclamation,” Estrada said before leaving Malacañang to burrow into his San Juan fiefdom. “I do not wish to prevent the restoration of unity and order… to begin the healing process…”

President Arroyo pardoned, in October 2007, an Estrada sentenced to life by the Sandiganbayan for plunder. The first Philippine president ever convicted campaigns today for election as mayor of Manila.

Corona admitted on Day 42 that $2.4 million and P80 million were not recorded in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, despite two previous Supreme Court decisions. In May 1997, court interpreter Delsa Flores was fired for failing to include a market stall in her SALN. In January 2011, the Court convicted government employee Nieto Racho for smudging P5 million in bank accounts from his SALN.

The 23 senators judging Corona form one track. Their decision cannot be appealed. Effects will ripple beyond a dysfunctional judiciary to the whole bureaucracy.

The second track is less visible: the Filipino people judging the 23 judges. Did the 23 measure up to their oaths? Seared by past betrayals, people won’t abide for more farce. Their decision, too, is final. Fairness would prevent a dies irae or “day of wrath.”

(Email:  [email protected])

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TAGS: Bill Clinton, featured column, impeachment trial, monica lewinsky, opinion, Renato corona, Senate
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