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.