Tag Archives: Renato C. Corona

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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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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