Reflections on Chief Justice Corona

Corona might as well resign and run for senator on the Kampi slate come 2013. – Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada’s reaction to Chief Justice Corona’s December 14, 2011 speech

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Chief Justice Renato Corona is not a bad guy. He is a nice guy who made the unfortunate mistake of running with the wrong crowd. He lost his bearings as a result. He now holds the distinction of being the first chief justice to be impeached and the first chief justice to deliver a blatantly partisan political speech on the steps of the Supreme Court.

Corona disparaged President Aquino and the congressional coalition led by the Liberal Party for his speedy impeachment. “Sa isang iglap, nasampahan po ako ng isang impeachment complaint ng mababang kapulungan na kontrolado ng Liberal Party ni Ginoong Aquino at ng kanyang mga kaalyado. Sa sobrang bilis, parang wala po yatang naka-intindi o nakabasa man lang ng halos animnapung pahinang reklamo o habla.”

He has no reason to complain. Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno recounted that the Court voted on the status quo ante order that stopped the impeachment of Ombudsman Merceditas Gurtierez “without the benefit of a genuinely informed debate, since several members of the Court, myself included, had not yet then received a copy of the Petition.” (A Supreme Court delivery receipt proved Sereno’s account to be true. It showed that three justices received their copies of the 60-page Gutierrez petition one day after they voted to grant it. Members of Congress at least got a PowerPoint briefing before they voted to impeach Corona.)

Corona attributed his predicament to President Aquino’s “kasakiman na magkaroon ng isang Korte Suprema na kayang diktahan, na nakukuha sa tingin, at magkakandarapang ipatupad ang kanilang bawat hiling. Tila yata’y napipikon at hindi sila makapagtalaga ng kanilang punong mahistrado kung susundin ang ating umiiral na Saligang Batas. Kaya pati ang inyong lingkod, hadlang daw sa kaunlaran ng bayan at pagpapatupad ng mga ipinangako sa kampanya!” Further into his speech, he said, “Marami po tayong problema. Nandiyan po ang mabagal na takbo ng ekonomiya, kawalan ng trabaho, kahirapan at kagutuman. Mukhang hindi po niya (Pres. Aquino) naintindihan.”

That type of attack is alright for the opposition but not for the Chief Justice. The scales of justice cannot be held by a partisan.

Corona displayed a lack of self-restraint and delicadeza when he accepted his midnight appointment, “Paano po naman naging kasalanan ang pagtanggap ng isang dakilang karangalan tulad nito?”

He demonstrated the same qualities when he welcomed his wife’s appointment to five positions in John Hay Management Corporation. Worse, he resorted to “truthiness” to defend his wife’s appointment, “Lingid po yata sa kanilang kaalaman na si Ginang Corona ay una pang naitalaga bago ako naging mahistrado.”

Indeed Mrs. Corona’s appointment came in 2007, three years before Mr. Corona became Chief Justice. However, Mr. Corona omitted mentioning that he was already a mahistrado in 2007. (Gloria Arroyo appointed Corona to the Supreme Court in 2002.)

Corona’s comparison between the nature of the executive and the judiciary is another example of “truthiness”.“Ibang-iba po ang palakad sa gabinete, sapagkat doon, lahat ng miyembro ay mga alalay, alagad at utusan ng pangulo. Sa loob ng gabinete, ang utos ng hari, hindi nababali. Dito po sa Korte Suprema, ang pananaw ng punong mahistrado ay isa lamang. Gaya nga ng sinabi ko, kami ay patas at pare-pareho lamang na nagbibigay halaga at respeto sa opinyon ng bawat isa. Wala po kaming tungkulin at balak na maging sunod-sunuran sa isa’t-isa.”

A court holiday was declared on the day of Corona’s speech because of a text message enjoining all courts to show their support for the embattled Chief Justice:

    “From the office of the court administrator: A court holiday is declared tomorrow, Dec. 14, 2011, in solidarity with Chief Justice Corona, who will be addressing the nation regarding the impeachment complaint filed against him. All judges and court personnel are therefore expected to suspend court sessions and office work the whole day tomorrow. For inquiries get in touch with OCA [Office of the Court Administrator]. Please pass.”

Court Administrator Midas Marquez denied sending the text. Okay, but if Marquez was telling the truth then it proves the Chief Justice has enormous power and influence. It rivals the power of the president over his cabinet. One text message, origin unverified, was enough to cause courts all over the land to close shop, right? There were also at least half a dozen justices who attended Corona’s speech. Were they “invited”? What does their attendance say about their independence and impartiality? Talk about utos ng hari and maging sunod-sunuran sa isa’t isa.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, in an opinion piece for the Business Mirror, asked, “wouldn’t it be more prudent to invite the parties to come to a settlement even before a painful, divisive impeachment trial begins?” I agree with the good senator. Corona must put country above self and resign. Resigning now and shooting his speechwriter is the best way out of his predicament. Not only will he redeem himself, he will also elevate discourse by ridding the world of a moron, his speechwriter. Corona should revisit Gloria Arroyo’s noble “I will not run” speech for guidance in writing his resignation speech.

Manuel Buencamino

Buencamino was a weekly columnist for Today and Business Mirror. He has also written articles in other publications like Malaya, Newsbreak, "Yellow Pad" in Business World, and "Talk of the Town" in the Inquirer. He is currently with Interaksyon, the news site of TV5. MB blogged for Filipino Voices, blogs for ProPinoy and maintains a blog, Uniffors.com. Game-changers for him, as far as music goes, are Monk, Miles, Jimi, and Santana.