From his Medical City hospital room, ex-Chief Justice Renato Corona e-mailed his, well, sort of “Mi Ultimo Adios.” Did it rise to the level of what Jose Rizal wrote then hid in a small alcohol lamp in his Fort Santiago cell before he was executed? It did not.
“I now accept the calvary we endured,” Corona wrote after the Senate impeachment court cashiered him by a 20-3 vote. “I was ready to lay [down] my life for the nation.”
Living for the country would have sufficed. Among other things, that required Corona to declare, in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth a hidden $2.4 million and P80.7 million, the impeachment court ruled. He did not.
It is hypocrisy for Corona to be impeached, erupted a livid Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. “That is kagaguhan (stupidity).” Scores of employees fudge their SALNs and get away with it. “Lord, give me another life so I could investigate the wealth statements!” she perorated.
No, disagreed the court interpreter fired by the Supreme Court in 1997 for not including a Davao del Norte market stall in her SALN. “I was very happy that even a rich and powerful person like the former chief justice could be punished,” 63-year-old Delsa Flores told the Inquirer. “Not just poor and common people like me.”
Flores pinpointed the canker of impunity that shields the powerful. The mastermind of the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. at the airport tarmac in August 1983 has never been unmasked. But 16 soldiers were convicted. Three died in prison. Others served their terms and were old men when released in 2009.
The Sandiganbayan found Dinagat Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr. guilty of graft. And the Cebu Regional Trial Court sentenced him to 20-40 years for killing his wife Alona. Ecleo scrammed, as did former Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan. The House of Representatives still retains Ecleo on its roll. (Speaker Feliciano Belmonte announced Friday that he had ordered Ecleo dropped from the House roll effective May 31.—ED.) And Palparan keeps a step ahead of a less-than-keen posse.
Corona did not stop at saying adios. He went on to accuse President Aquino of throwing Congress, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) and the kitchen sink at him. He said public funds were harnessed so the media would smear him and family, and that these resulted in martyrdom. “I accepted all of these for the independence of the judiciary… Bad politics prevailed. I am not guilty.”
Just before exiting Malacañang, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Corona’s midnight appointment. He accepted. Audits of judiciary funds turned up P24,000 Rustan’s barong and a P15,362.37 dinner at Century Tsukiji restaurant, a Rappler investigative report shows. What Corona thought was the Mount of Transfiguration turned into the hill of crucifixion.
In England in 1848, Lord Palmerston weathered a House of Commons vote on charges of pocketing a bribe for signing a secret treaty with Russia. Eight articles of impeachment were lodged against US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in 1804. He treated defendants and counsels unfairly, the rap sheet read. By lopsided margins, the US Senate acquitted Chase in March 1805.
Impeachment is “a closed chapter in my life,” Corona said. That pulled the plug on those prodding that he dash to the high tribunal—where Arroyo-appointed justices still constitute the majority—to reverse the impeachment court’s judgment. But Corona insisted he really meant his “Mi Ultimo Adios.”
This pulled everyone back from the brink and averted a clash against which Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile warned. “We will defy them,” he said. “If [the justices] want a constitutional crisis, they will have one.”
Proverbial cooler heads have prevailed. “By my own estimate, [a Corona appeal] will not succeed,” constitutional scholar Fr. Joaquin Bernas of Ateneo has said. “Ambiguity” in provisions of the Constitution offered elbow room for a challenge. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over cases involving “grave abuse of discretion by any agency,” Article 8 provides. On the other hand, Article 11 states that the Senate has the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment. “The Supreme Court will have to deal with this, not purely on a legal basis but also on the basis of what is best for the country.”
As seen from the impeachment court’s rostrum, “the fire went out of control” when Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales testified, as sought by the defense, Enrile recalled. Morales documented 407 Corona dollar transactions from AMLC reports.
What if Merceditas Gutierrez or Aniano Desierto were the incumbent Ombudsman? Some ask with a shudder. “Let her alone,” then President Arroyo’s husband, Mike Arroyo, said of Gutierrez. “She’s doing a fine job,” including curbs on SALN releases of the President’s family. The late Sen. Lorenzo Tañada refused to even address Desierto directly due to his less-than-sterling record.
The verdict on Corona has opened a window of opportunity for reforms in the judiciary and elsewhere. This will falter if P-Noy doesn’t hold himself to the same standard.
We failed to follow through on breakthroughs that People Power had wrested. Our grandchildren will read in history books of the first ever Chief Justice impeached, and ask: What was it all for?
For now, we reread, perhaps with newer insights, what Omar Khayyam wrote in 1858: “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, / Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit / Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, / Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
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