Category Archives: Supreme Court

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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Filed under Impeachment, Public Interest, Supreme Court