Category Archives: Impeachment

The Next Chief Justice

By Romel Regalado Bagares

Forty four days after it commenced the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Coronado Corona, the Senate handed down a guilty verdict on a 20-3 vote, marking for the very first time in the history of our Republic that its highest magistrate was removed from office through an impeachment.

Under the leadership of Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, the Upper House stayed the course through the many distractions occasioned by the trial and showed to Filipinos that the constitutional design for its institutions can indeed work – and how.

An overwhelming majority of senators, crossing party lines, agreed that Attorney Corona had indeed violated the public trust when he failed to declare in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN) some US$ 2.4 million in four dollar accounts and another P80 million in five peso accounts.

As the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC) – the constitutional body tasked to nominate to the President candidates to judicial vacancies – begins its deliberations to look for a Mr. Corona’s replacement, many informed sectors of society are asking whether President Benigno Aquino III will be appointing as the next Chief Justice someone affiliated with The Firm.

Just as quickly, media were awash with items defending the record of The Firm –and its former partner, Attorney Corona’s arch enemy at the High Court, Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, perhaps one of the more intellectual occupants of the High Court in recent years, and now its  most senior magistrate.

In fact, one of the arguments put forward by supporters of Attorney Corona to the general public was that his conviction would mean the return of the Firm into the high places, by way of Carpio’s ascension in the former’s stead to the post of Chief Magistrate.

Attorney Corona’s supporters wished to remind people that until recently, the Firm was up there in the corridors of power, until it had a falling out with the Arroyo administration in the last few years of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s reign of political terror.

There too was the yarn on Hacienda Luisita – stated for the record by Attorney Corona himself on the witness stand at his impeachment trial – that President Aquino wanted him removed from his office in retaliation for the Supreme Court’s ruling awarding much of the Cojuangco-controlled Hacienda Luisita to farmers.

Another tact was to link the outcome of Transportation and Communication Secretary Mar Roxas’s election protest against Vice President Jejomar Binay now pending before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal – which happens to be chaired by the Chief Justice – to a guilty verdict in the impeachment trial.

If Corona lost, so the argument went, Mr. Roxas, who is represented by The Firm in the protest proceedings, is sure to win his protest against the Vice President, because that would mean President Aquino, who supports his party mate’s electoral protest, will now be able to appoint as Chief Justice Mr. Carpio. Presumably, Carpio will take it from there and maneuver the proceedings in the PET to Mr. Roxas’s satisfaction, or that at least, is how the argument went.

But Vice President Binay’s allies in the Senate were unconvinced, as all of them voted to convict Attorney Corona. If some pundits were to be believed, they weren’t looking farther than 2013, when the midterm elections takes place. In other words, they were paying more attention to what the public was saying about the disgraced Chief Justice here and now than to an event that is still far into the horizon.

For its part, Malacanang has repeatedly stated that President Aquino is open to appointing a court outsider to the Office of the Chief Justice.

President Aquino now has an opportune chance to prove all his critics wrong and he would do well not to waste it. Already, his two most recent appointments to the High Court were seen as uninspired by many observers who wanted heavy weights, or at least, appointees of the intellectual and moral caliber of his very first appointee, Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

By tradition, Associate Justice Carpio has the edge over other potential candidates. And he is not without his supporters outside of his former Firm, who say that the President will do better to follow this time the rule of tradition in the High Court.

But “tradition” this time around carries with it a darker meaning, given the current political configurations. It would mean putting into the post of Chief Justice someone who carries a lot of political baggage with him that it could wear down President Aquino himself.

But the day he appoints a Chief Justice who has no ties to any of the political parties is the day we will have moved farther towards a polity where what counts most of all is not political or familial ties but the public interest. With one stroke, he will have silenced his critics on all three issues: Hacienda Luisita, Mar Roxas, and the Firm.

Of course, judicial independence should not solely be defined by the lack of any political leanings or connections on the part of a magistrate. Instead, our notion of judicial independence must be founded on the conviction that judges owe fidelity to no one else but the norms of justice.

In the words of the late Dutch jurist and philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, our courts’ proper functioning must be measured according to how they’re able to meet the demands of “public justice. ”

It is of the kind not dictated by private interests or political affiliation or political patronage but by genuine regard for what properly and rightfully belongs to the different spheres in society.

Where we are right now, this all sounds like utopia.

But come to think of it, we’ve already done the unimaginable: impeach, try and hold guilty of violating the public trust a sitting Chief Justice. From there, our next bold step into the future should be a little easier.*

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This essay first appeared in my weekly column for the Iloilo City-based The News Day.

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The unraveling of Chief Justice Renato Coronado Corona

By Romel Regalado Bagares

Whatever public  sympathy Chief Justice Renato Coronado Corona may have won by his unprecedented testimony in his defense at the Senate convened for his impeachment trial  Tuesday, he promptly lost by his tu quoque  plea – and yes, his unceremonious walkout.

Addressing the all-important question of  his dollar accounts, the Chief Justice dramatically signed a waiver  allowing access to all his assets,  only to say in the next breath that he will submit it to the court if and only if the 188 congressmen who  signed the impeachment complaint against him and Senator Franklin Drilon did likewise.

That said, he excused himself, and without waiting for Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to discharge him from the witness stand, headed for the door, followed by his loyal and faithful servant Midas Marquez and members of his family.

A quick thinking Enrile, though he took about 15 seconds to realize Corona had already left the witness stand and was already out of the session hall, promptly ordered Senate security to seal all exists from the Senate building.

His escape thus blocked, the Chief Justice came back in a wheelchair feigning an episode of hypoglycemia – an all too-familiar play.

It all had the tell-tale marks of a stage-managed performance, captured on television cameras for posterity:

First, in his long-winding speech, he repeatedly referred to himself as a diabetic, as if to prep people on what will happen next.

Second, he read a prepared speech, and he was evidently reading its last line when he uttered, “the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused” before heading for the door without leave of court.

Third, the cameras showed members of his entourage rising from their seats as if on signal as soon as Corona stepped down from the witness stand, and following him to the door of the session hall.

Fourth, he did not so much as raise a whimper that he was not feeling well. He could have told his lawyers to make the manifestation for him but did not. In fact, cameras caught him in a brief chat with defense counsel Judd Roy as he was on his way out.

Fifth, the speed with which he made for the door belies the claims of someone who was sick.

Sixth, from media reports, it appears that he was intent on leaving the premises of the Senate and only headed for the clinic when he was prevented from taking an elevator on his way out by Senate security personnel.

Evidently he had no plans to submit himself to a cross-examination; his plan all along was to say his piece at the senate and, knowing that his tu quoque – “you too” argument – will not be answered, he will then say he does not anymore expect a fair trial at the senate, and then play the health issue card for good measure.

Brilliant, except that the ploy didn’t work.

For a moment, I thought the moment of truth had come, as he waved for all to see a general waiver allowing access to all his assets; but when he dared Senator Drilon and the members of the House of Representatives who had impeached him to sign a similar waiver, I knew then and there that he did not have any intention to open himself to public accountability.

It was an insult to the Senate impeachment court as much as it was an assault on the bedrock constitutional principle that a public office is a public trust. Public office is not an entitlement that one may wager for one’s personal benefit.

For all his protestations to innocence and personal courage in the face of unjust adversity, he only proved to be a hollow man, bereft of the kind of moral courage befitting the primus inter pares of the Highest Court of the realm.

He does not deserve to remain in office a second longer.

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What we’ve learned thus far from the Corona trial

By Romel Regalado Bagares

Thirty seven days into the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Coronado Corona and we witness a bombshell of a testimony whose reverberations are sure to be heard in the corridors of power in this country for years to come.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, taking the witness stand Monday at the impeachment trial as a “hostile witness,” revealed that the Chief Justice, who only has a declared net worth of f P22.9 million in his 2010 statement of assets, liabilities and network (SALN), owned 82 bank accounts containing at least USD 12 million in deposits.

As I write, the Ombudsman is again on the witness stand, laying down the shocking details of more than 700 dollar transactions involved in the Chief Justice’s bank accounts with five banks, namely the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank), Allied Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank.

Her testimony is nothing less than monumental in the history of efforts to enforce accountability to the public of public officers in the Philippines and occasions the following reflections:

An activist Ombudsman. Of course, an individual is not the institution. But it takes a leader with a clear vision and firm resolve to revitalize a moribund institution. In our experience, governmental institutions have often become giant bureaucracies of lethargy, bereft of energy to carry out their constitutional and legal duty to dispense public justice.  For far too long, the Ombudsman has failed to perform its constitutional and legal duty to safeguard the interests of the public against official corruption and malfeasance under the cornerstone principle that “a public office is a public trust.”

The Ombudsman was at its lowest during the long dark reign of the Arroyo administration, where Merceditas Gutierrez transformed the Tanodbayan into a preserve for the protection of her benefactor and all her political allies from public accountability. But the appointment of Conchita Carpio-Morales as Chief Ombudsman has shown that the right person at the helm, an institution can and will work.

The singular importance of an independent Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). The Chief Ombudsman’s revelations at the Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona has also placed on the spotlight the AMLC,  one of whose purposes was precisely to serve as an anti-corruption arm of the government. Under the law which created it, the AMLC is composed of the Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) as Chairman and the Commissioner of the Insurance Commission (IC) and the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as members.

In her testimony, the Ombudsman said that a 17-page document she obtained from the AMLC showed that  Chief Justice Corona kept more than USD $12 million in “fresh deposits” in five banks where he owned 82 dollar account over an eight year-period, from April 2003 to early this year.

All this time, we heard nothing from the AMLC about these accounts purportedly owned by the Chief Justice when under the law, it was its duty to investigate suspicious bank transactions and prosecute those behind it if needed.   Apparently, all it did was make a file of these transactions and put it away – that is, until Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was booted out of power.

The only explanation I can think of for the inexcusable inaction of the AMLC in the case of the bank accounts of the Chief Justice, assuming the Ombudsman’s report is true, is that its members, who were all appointees of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were simply beholden to their benefactor that they could not lift a finger to touch one of her closest allies, Chief Justice Corona.

The right heads should roll over this long inaction by the people at the AMLC.

The Senate convened as an impeachment trial as democratic discipline.  What we’re witnessing is People Power expressed in the institutional, yes, constitutional way.  There is a time for citizens taking to the streets to demand reforms in government. There is also a time for citizens entrusting to democratic institutions the task of making government work the way it should.

This is the kind of state-building that requires on the part of citizens patient engagement with “slow politics.” This is democratic discipline that cannot be developed overnight. The history of democratic states around the world is one marked by a long struggle for the development of a governmental sphere where the idea of the public interest is supreme.  What we need as a nation is a legislature, an executive and a judiciary no longer captive to private or familial or clan interests. We need to engage our own institutions to develop patient and mature statecraft.

The Supreme Court and the SALN. Our High Court has carved out for itself an exemption to the requirement on public officers to disclose their statement of assets, liabilities and network to the public, making as its primary justification the danger of criminal minds using the disclosure as an occasion to foist on them some imagined blackmail. The impeachment trial of the Chief Justice only underscores the necessity of making all public officers – including the honorable Justices of the Supreme Court – accountable to the public through disclosure of their SALN.  The High Court cannot anymore hide beyond that sorry excuse.

We’re still a long way off, but the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona has shown us which way to go.

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This piece first appeared in my weekly column for The News Today.

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We are all lawyers now

The first week of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona may have opened in fits and starts, but what is undeniable is that it has now acquired a life of its own.

Note for instance is that for all the protestations of Chief Justice Corona’s defense team that the Rule of  Law is being trammeled in the whole exercise, they’re the ones who appear ready and adept at invoking its finer intricacies to their advantage.

Yet, the defense may be one step ahead right now in form but what the prosecution has in its favor is substance.

Now, I do not wish to go into the merits of the prosecution’s claim that SALNs already made public, once examined detail by detail, will show not only Chief Justice Corona’s utter failure to abide by the law’s disclosure requirement’s but also how he allegedly amassed unexplained wealth over that span of time it took him to transform himself from being a lowly chief of staff of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to being the primus inter pares of the High Court.

I shall leave it to the prosecution witnesses to testify on those points beginning today.

But once  the key to Chief Justice Corona’s SALNs has been turned over to the Senate — no less a triumph of the constitutional proposition that an impeachment court is itself a constitutional institution higher because unique in its function than the country’s highest court — the cause for public accountability has, in a very real sense, been already won.

I don’t know if the High Court can at this point still risk a showdown with the impeachment court convened by the Senate. For one, whether the high and mighty justices of the Supreme Court like it or not, the televised (and live-streamed!) historic trial is a blockbuster everyone wants to see.

After all, for the very first time, the veil of mystery that has shrouded an often misunderstood institution has been lifted. Not only that: it’s very leader, no less than the Chief Justice himself, is being placed under intense public scrutiny.

A new Temporary Restraining Order from Mr. Corona’s dependable friends in his own court, this time aimed at torpedoing his impeachment trial, is sure to backfire the way it did when the High Court tried to open the door for Mrs. Macacapal-Arroyo so she can fly out of the country and escape public accountability.

The immorality of the whole sordid affair riled the public so much; there was nothing but public ridicule for Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, whose feigned illness was so obvious that it immediately elicited devilish comparisons with the popular Japanese anime character Naruto from among the ranks of savvy netizens.

This is what agent provocateurs like Alan Paguia and Homobono Adaza are up against – a public that has, over the  years since the February 1986 revolution, undergone no less than a revolution in political consciousness.

For this reason, Messieurs Paguia and Adaza, no matter how hard they try to outdo each another in their profession of unblemished fidelity to the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice, will never get the respect they so desperately want from the public.

Your ordinary citizen has become better at reading between the lines.

It is also for this same reason that the former First Gentleman, Mike Arroyo, cannot expect to be taken seriously by your average jeepney driver, his solemn oath  to the incorruptibility of the good Chief Justice notwithstanding.

In case Mr. Arroyo has forgotten, he himself is facing a slew of corruption complaints before the Ombudsman while his wife, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the gracious benefactor to the Chief Justice, is herself in prison for charges she now has to fight off in court.

If at all, whoever was the PR guru who advised him to make public the case for the innocence of the Chief Justice should be fired for giving the utterly counter-intuitive advice to Mr. Arroyo. His public statements only serve to solidify in the public’s mind Mr. Corona’s close association with the Arroyos.

In any case, not even the prosecutors are spared from public scrutiny.And rightly so. After all, they represent the interests of the people in the impeachment proceedings. They cannot afford to commit blunder after blunder in the highly-charged atmosphere of a live trial. And they know it.

So Justice Cuevas is a necessary foil to the prosecutors. His presence in the impeachment trial means that in the end, the Chief Justice cannot claim to have been denied due process. He was given the choice to get the best defense lawyers in town. And he sure got them.

The impeachment trial of the Chief Justice is good for us.

More than a spectacle, it is an education in civic responsibility.  The lawyers may have the run of things in the impeachment court but they must realize too that the corrupt legacy left behind by the Chief Justice’s  chief benefactor, Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, has turned lawyers of all of us. The public wants the full force of the law applied to her. And there are no better lessons in legal and constitutional responsibility than a former President sent  to jail for her criminal misdeeds and her favorite Chief Justice tried for betrayal of public trust, corruption and culpable violation of the constitution.*

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You may also read this essay as it first appeared in  my column for the Iloilo News today here.

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GMA’s “Pinochet Maneuver”

By Romel Regalado Bagares

On March 10, 1998 – after some 25 years in power – Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet relinquished his power to his supposed successor, Gen. Ricardo Izurieta.  He left behind him a murderous legacy: 3,197 victims of executions, disappearances and killings from nearly three decades of a reign of terror as a US-backed military dictator. An estimated 1,000 of these victims have been disappeared and nearly 90 percent of them remain missing to this day.

Yet the dictator’s return to civilian life was by no means ordinary.  On the contrary, he made sure he would be shielded under Chilean law from being prosecuted for his atrocious human rights record.

First, he put in place a constitution under which only his top generals could be appointed as chief of state.

Second, he made sure that before he stepped down from office, the rubber stamp Chilean parliament had already passed an amnesty law that virtually absolved him of any criminal responsibility for the human rights violations committed under his regime.

Third, he did not exactly disappear from public life from then on because the very next day,  he occupied a new office at the Senate as a senator for life, in the splendid company of former military underlings and cabinet ministers who, under his direction,  wielded power as unelected legislators who could veto together any proposed legislation.

Fourth, his parliamentary office meant that he enjoyed constitutional immunity from any suit or criminal proceeding. This was because the rules of the time required that an appeals court must first strip him of immunity and suspend him from his legislative post before he could be charged in court.  Also, his senatorial office afforded him with the power to stifle detractors by prosecuting them under a law on state security.

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s stepping down from the heights of power wracked by allegations of unprecedented corruption and numerous human rights violations was no less inspired.

First, she made sure she would remain in the political limelight by running for a congressional post in her hometown Lubao, Pampanga. And she assured her win  in the elections by pampering her cabalens with development projects and doleouts sourced from her nearly limitless access to public funds while she was still President.

Without doubt, in a country where congressmen are often seen as untouchables, she thought that being a member of the House of Representatives afforded her with some measure of protection from any legal maneuver aimed at her direction by her successor, Benigno Aquino III.

Second, with the help of allies in the House of Representatives, she carved out a new congressional district in the Bicol region for her own son, Datu Arroyo, who could add additional weight to her power bloc at the Lower House.

Third, her own allies also fielded new entrants to the House of Representatives through the party-list elections, and her son Mikey Arroyo made it through this back-door entrance to the legislature as a joke of a representative for security guards, plus a good number of others.

Finally, for the piece de resistance, she packed the High Court with her appointees, and in the closing days of her administration, picked Renato C. Corona as her chief justice, over against a long-standing rule in the Constitution that prohibited such a so-called “midnight appointment.”

A Supreme Court ruled by a majority of her own appointees and presided over by her former chief of staff and presidential legal counsel was her security from any attempt to prosecute her for her legacy of profligate governance and record human rights violations not seen in the country since the martial days.

With Mr. Corona as primus inter pares at the High Court, any conviction for any criminal offense in the lower court can be easily overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court.

With Mr. Corona at the helm, any criminal proceeding against her can be torpedoed before it could prosper through the simple device of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO).

Indeed, when it became obvious that the Aquino administration was bent on bringing her to the bars of justice, she collected on her ultimate insurance from prosecution and obtained a TRO against the Department of Justice, which had prevented her from leaving the country on the pretext that she needed urgent medical treatment abroad for a life-threatening illness.

But like Pinochet, she could not count on history to flow according to her wishes.

In the case of the Chilean strongman, he also invoked a life-threatening sickness to seek treatment abroad, following a decision by the Chilean Supreme Court stripping him of immunity from any kind of suit.  His city of choice: London.

What ensued was a series of dramatic legal proceedings that begun when a Spanish judge issued international arrest warrants against the ailing Chilean dictator for the deaths of Spanish citizens in Chile at the height of his dictatorial rule. It culminated in a judgment that would be hailed by many human rights organizations and would come to be known as the Pinochet Precedent; that is, the principle that – in the words of the international legal scholar Philippe Sands – “no one is above the law.”

In the case of Mrs.  Macapagal-Arroyo, what she did not count on was Justice Secretary Leila De Lima defying the deeply-flawed TRO issued by her beloved  “midnight” Chief Justice at her behest.

And today, we witness the historic impeachment trial of the very same Chief Justice.*

This essay may also be read in my weekly column for the Iloilo City-based The  News Today.

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Can the Senate ever be a court?

By Prof. Harry L. Roque, Jr.

Some of our senators have to be reminded that while the Constitution refers to the Senate as an “impeachment court” for purposes of impeachment, this does not change the fact that: one, it is still the Senate, one of two houses of the legislative branch of government; and two, its members remain to be members of the Upper House, elected at large as representatives of the people.

The phrase “impeachment court” should hence not be construed to mean that senators are fulfilling a judicial role, as in fact they are not part of the judiciary. It should only be construed to mean that after an impeachable officer has been impeached, it is the Senators who will decide the fate of the said officer; that is, whether said officer should be removed from office.

Hence, it is wrong for our senators to be donning judicial robes which—in all jurisdictions worldwide—are worn only by judges from the judicial branch of government. The practice in the United States, from which we patterned our rules on impeachment, does not include the donning of such robes. On the contrary, senators treat such impeachment proceedings as part of the daily chores of the Senate. And typical of jurisdictions with strong party systems, American senators almost always vote along party lines.

When the Senate thus decides the fate of these impeachable officers, its decision would not be judicial in nature. It will be a policy decision. Senator Antonio Trillanes hit the nail on the head when he declared that the Senate will decide the fate of Chief Justice Renato Corona on the basis of what is best for the country. Certainly, evidence presented by the parties cannot be ignored.

But in the appreciation of this evidence, the rules of court, precisely because it is the Senate and not a court, is applicable only on a suppletory basis. It is still the interest of the country that should be the primordial consideration of the senators.

This is why I am alarmed that this early, the Senate leadership appears bent on conducting the impeachment proceeding as if it were a real court. For instance, it has said that it will gag the parties to the proceedings from commenting on the proceedings pursuant to the sub judice rule. This is glaring error.

To begin with, the sub judice rule was developed as a tool to protect the objectivity of jurors in court proceedings. In jurisdiction where the guilt of the accused is adjudged by a jury of his peers consisting of ordinary individuals with no training on the rules of evidence, it was originally thought important to protect them from any and all information that may affect their appreciation of facts. Its application to jurisdictions with no jury systems such as ours, have been tempered. Judges after all, unlike ordinary individuals, are trained in both law and evidence. Judges hence are less likely to be affected by extraneous information.

As held by a UK Court in Ref v. Duffy: “…A judge is in a very different position to a juryman. Though in no sense superhuman, he has by his training no difficulty in putting out of his mind matters which are not evidence in the case. This, indeed, happens daily to judges on assize.”

But even in jurisdictions that still rely on the jury system, the constitutional dedication to freedom of expression as a human right has drastically affected the application of the sub judice rule. One decision of the European Court of Human Rights held: ‘Provided that it does not overstep the bounds imposed in the interests of the proper administration of justice, reporting, including comment, on court proceedings contributes to their publicity and is thus perfectly consonant with the requirement under Article 6 § 1 of the Convention that hearings be public. Not only do the media have the task of imparting such information and ideas: the public also has a right to receive them. This is all the more so where a public figure is involved, such as, in the present case, a former member of the Government. Such persons inevitably and knowingly lay themselves open to close scrutiny by both journalists and the public at large. “

Moreover, our own Supreme Court has ruled that contempt for violating the sub judice rule is now subject to the clear and present danger test: In Chavez v. Gonzalez, the Court ruled: “Our laws are of different kinds and doubtless, some of them provide norms of conduct which even if violated have only an adverse effect on a person’s private comfort but does not endanger national security. There are laws of great significance but their violation, by itself and without more, cannot support suppression of free speech and free press. In fine, violation of law is just a factor, a vital one to be sure, which should be weighed  in  adjudging  whether  to restrain  freedom of speech and of the press.

“The totality of the injurious effects of the violation to private and public interest must be calibrated in light of the preferred status accorded by the Constitution and by related international covenants protecting freedom of speech and of the press.

“In calling for a careful and calibrated measurement of the circumference of all these factors to determine compliance with the clear and present danger test, the Court should not be misinterpreted as devaluing  violations  of law.  By all means, violations  of  law  should  be  vigorously  prosecuted  by  the State  for  they  breed their own evil consequence. But to repeat, the need to prevent their violation cannot per se trump the exercise of free  speech  and  free  press,  a preferred right whose breach can lead  to  greater evils”(emphasis supplied).

In Corona’s motion to cite the public prosecutors in contempt, the question is: what clear and danger arose from the disclosure of the Chief Justice’s condominium units? Absolutely none.

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A man named Renato C. Corona

Today, I make a debut of sorts as I begin an adventure as a column writer for the Iloilo City-based The News Today (TNT). In case you’re wondering what’s the connection, the newspaper’s publisher, Rommel Ynion, and the editor-in-chief and general manager, Junep Ocampo, were my former colleagues back in the day at The Philippine Star.  My thanks go to them for giving me this opportunity.  I write Mondays and my column runs under the name  scīre licet, which is latin for “it is permitted to know.”  Here’s my first piece as a columnist:

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By Romel Regalado Bagares

I BARELY KNEW  who he was then, but I saw him arrive at the Edsa Shrine a few hours before his principal – Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – did; it was one or two days away from Erap’s departure from Malacanang as a result of People Power II and I was then a junior law student in the evening program of the UP College of Law who also worked as a reporter for The Philippine Star.

A colleague of mine, who covered the Malacañang beat, instantly recognized him and approached him for an interview. It was from her that I learned that the guy in the suit who arrived with a business-like mien was the lawyer Renato C. Corona, chief of staff for Mrs.  Macapagal-Arroyo, then Vice President and ostensibly, Erap’s constitutional successor.

I joined the huddle to hear what he had to say.

In the interview, Corona told of an alleged plot by two leading politicians to set up a civilian-military junta in case Erap stepped down from power. These two politicians, he claimed, were fronting as Erap’s supporters.  Obviously, the lawyer wasn’t for the plan either, because it would mean his principal would be upstaged in the resulting scheme of things.

But among my activist-friends gathered at the Serviam Hall above the Shrine, there had been a buzz of excitement. They were calling for a march of one million people to Malacañang (it wasn’t obvious then that they were exaggerating their power to rally citizens behind them).

More importantly, they talked of the declaration of a revolutionary government, a new beginning with a clean political slate.  Even the law student in me – who had his fair share of law school readings of Supreme Court decisions on constitutional controversies occasioned by People Power I – was for it.

As I now look back to that historical moment nearly 11 years ago I tell myself I should have perhaps realized right away that Corona’s presence at the shrine signaled that the politicians were taking over.

True enough, before long the motley collection of civil society groups who led the call for Estrada’s ouster called a press conference, joined by politicians.  At the head of the presser was the late senator Raul Roco, a man I greatly admired and whose botched candidacy for the presidency in 2004 I supported.

His announcement was met with disbelief by not a few faces at the Serviam Hall: no, we weren’t going to declare a revolutionary government; instead, we’re following the constitutional rule on succession.

That of course, meant that Erap would be replaced by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

How I could tell you that many civil society groups my reportage followed as they pressed for Erap’s resignation had no love lost for his constitutional successor either.

To them, her brand of politics was suspect (as one of them would say:  someone who associated with Norberto Gonzales early on in her political career will always be suspect).

They weren’t sure she was any better than Erap.

And how they resented the idea that with Erap’s removal from power and the politicians’ successful maneuver towards constitutional succession, it’s as if they themselves were responsible for handing over to her the reins of political power!

No, it certainly wasn’t their intention. All that time, they took pains to distinguish between removing Erap from power and installing Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo in his stead.

Of course, Roco was eventually rewarded the education portfolio under the Arroyo administration. While he did well as education secretary, I’d like to think the announcement he made on the penultimate day of People Power II was something he regretted later on because four years after EDSA Dos, he would join calls for Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation.  That historic press conference certainly wasn’t his proudest moment.

But I didn’t see Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo or her favored chief of staff at Roco’s press conference.

But the next day, January 21, 2001, Mrs.  Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo –a former President’s daughter –  was sworn into office as the 14th President of the Republic of the Philippines.

I was standing only a few meters away when Chief Justice Hilario Davide administered her oath of office at the historic shrine.

Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo promised a mouthful that day while the late Jaime Cardinal Sin and former Presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Corazon Aquino looked on:  a successful fight against poverty within the decade,  the return of high moral standards in government and society, a shift from personality-driven to program-based politics, and a leadership by example.

In other words, exactly the kind of exalted things her nine-year hold on power went against.

“I feel God put me in this point of our history and there is hard work.. There is much to be done and the President’s job is one where one must work hard,” Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo said at one point in her inaugural speech.

The next  day I shared by-lines with a colleague in our paper’s banner story: “A time to heal, a time to build.”

It certainly didn’t feel that way to me.

But I’m now pretty sure it did that day 11 years ago for a man named Renato C. Corona.

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Here’s a link to the column as it appeared on TNT’s website.
(Disclosure:  A former journalist and now a lawyer by profession, Mr. Bagares is part of a team of private lawyers tapped by the House of Representatives to assist its members tasked as prosecutors in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.)

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