Corona sees fair trial
- Edu Punay () - December 14, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Renato Corona is ready to face an impeachment trial at the Senate where he expects to get fair treatment, Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez said yesterday.

“The Chief Justice will face all these complaints. Let’s just wait for his reply,” Marquez told reporters in a chance interview at the Diamond Hotel after attending the Christmas party of Manila regional trial court judges.

“We respect the Senate as an impeachment court, as a separate institution. We have faith in the Senate president,” Marquez stressed, adding that Corona is unfazed by the move of the House of Representatives to impeach him.

“He continues to perform his duties. The other justices also continue to perform their mandate,” Marquez said.

He called the allegations in the Articles of Impeachment “baseless and unsubstantiated” and “old issues that were just rehashed.”

“If you have read the complaint, and I urge all of you to do so, any lawyer worth his salt will have difficulty finding sustainable charges worthy of a conviction in an impeachment proceeding,” Marquez told the judges in a speech.

In an interview later, he cited as an example the third article in the impeachment complaint regarding the Chief Justice’s alleged “excessive entanglement” with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as shown by the appointment of his wife, Cristina Corona, to public office.

Marquez said this issue had already been resolved during Corona’s application for the top SC post last year.

Marquez also dismissed the allegation that Corona had failed to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

He said chief justices and associate justices are not required to make public their SALN based on a full-court ruling in 1991. Past justices of the high court have since not disclosed their SALNs.

On accusation that Corona had never issued any ruling against Arroyo, Marquez said critics should realize that the SC is a collegial body and that the chief justice’s vote constitutes one of the 15 needed to resolve cases.

Marquez also said they saw an impeachment against Corona coming but it still caught them by surprise because of the speed and manner in which it was carried out.

He called the impeachment “an assault not only the person of Chief Justice Corona, not only on his office, not only on the Supreme Court. This is an assault on all the rights, power and privileges of the entire judiciary.”

“We are being forced to surrender our constitutionally mandated powers and functions to the whim and caprice of political machinations,” he lamented.

The SC official said he shared with noted constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas the hope “that the justices of the Supreme Court, imperfect though they may be, will not capitulate and that others in the judiciary will not tremble in their boots and yield what is constitutionally theirs to the President. If they do, it would be tragic for our nation.”

Marquez expressed belief the impeachment proceedings’ only purpose is “to malign, to smear and to destroy the reputations of the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court, and the entire judiciary for obvious political reasons and personal ambitions.”

“No doubt, we are staring a constitutional crisis right in its face, however, prudence dictates that I must confine myself to these few observations,” Marquez said to applause from the audience.

Cut umbilical cord

Marquez’s message rang loud and clear to the judges with one, Manila RTC Branch 24 Antonio Eugenio, incumbent president of Manila Judges’ Association and former president of the Philippine Judges’ Association (PJA), even calling on his colleagues to “cut the umbilical cord” between the judiciary and executive branches.

He called on his fellow judges to “be independent on our own” and lashed out at House members for impeaching Corona “based on numbers, on popularity and on the perception that a majority of the people believe in their action.”

Eugenio said even German dictator Adolf Hitler rose to power with massive popular support.

The PJA was set to meet last night to discuss the issue and plan its next move. Eugenio said they are considering marching to the Palace.  

“We have several options. (Taking it to the street) is one of the options,” he revealed. Metro Manila judges will wear black today and go on “court holiday” today to dramatize their protest.

Lawyer Estelito Mendoza said Corona cannot be said to be beholden to Arroyo because the latter is no longer in power.

“If the issue is utang na loob (sense of gratitude) of the Supreme Court justices, Congresswoman Arroyo is now powerless and not a sitting president and she cannot do anything about it,” he said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel. “It’s more likely that utang na loob will be considered by the appointees of a sitting President.”

Mendoza was legal counsel for deposed former President Joseph Estrada during his impeachment in 2000 and plunder trial in the Sandiganbayan.

Defective

Noted election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said the impeachment complaint “may be assailed for being defective for lack of proper verification.”

He pointed out there was “no showing that each of the 188 congressmen who signed the complaint stated that ‘they read the contents of the complaint and the allegations are true and correct of their own personal knowledge or based on authentic records’.”

“This is the form of ‘verification’ required under the rules of court which applies to House and Senate rules. A mere ‘jurat’ which states that the complaint was ‘subscribed and sworn to’ is not sufficient verification, making the complaint an unverified complaint,” he said in a statement.

Lawyer Ramon Esguerra of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines called the impeachment move “mob inspired” and “extra-constitutional.” Esguerra raised his observation in a forum Monday night sponsored jointly by the Office of the Ombudsman, Transparency International and Management Systems International.

He said that while the IBP subscribes to Aquino’s “tuwid na daan” policy, it is worried the administration may have compromised the independence of the Supreme Court with the President’s show of disdain for the judiciary.

A spokesman for resigned Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, for his part, called for a work stoppage in the judiciary as protest against the impeachment of Corona.

“We cannot allow the railroading impeachment of the Chief Justice sitting down. Lawyers, judges and justices must speak in unison against this patent violation of due process and brazen assault on the judiciary,” lawyer Salvador Panelo said in a statement.

“I strongly urge a stoppage of all court hearings and court activities beginning tomorrow and the succeeding days to manifest our strongest protest and condemnation over the conspiracy between the executive department and the House of Representatives to oust the Chief Justice and other justices of the Supreme Court on baseless grounds,” Panelo said.

“The impeachment sends a chilling message to the other justices and the rest of the judiciary that henceforth decisions against the administration cases will result in the removal from office of the ponente,” he said.

Panelo was Gutierrez’s spokesman when the latter was still Ombudsman and facing an impeachment case for allegedly sitting on cases involving the former president and some of her officials.

Gutierrez resigned on May 6, 2011 days before she was to face an impeachment trial at the Senate.

Panelo said the judiciary “must make an official stand against what appears to be P-Noy’s continuing assault to the independence and power of the Supreme Court given to it by the Constitution.”

He said Corona “should be steadfast and not bamboozled into resigning.”

“P-Noy must be cautioned that not only is he treading on dangerous grounds, he is also flirting with disaster,” Panelo stressed.

Arm-twisting?

Roman Catholic prelates expressed mixed reactions to Corona’s impeachment.

Former Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, said there might be some “arm twisting” involved when House members signed the impeachment complaint.

“I was surprised by this development because it was (Associate) Justice Mariano del Castillo who was the focus of their impeachment. I was surprised when they prioritized Corona. I will tell you the truth, with the sudden developments, maybe some ‘arm twisting from above’ took place,” Bacani said over Radio Veritas.

Canon Law expert Malolos Bishop Jose Oliveros said Malacañang may have played a direct role in the episode.

“I am sad with the turn of events and surprised with the haste which they impeached Chief Justice Corona. It was a surprise and it was politically motivated. They said that Malacañang had no hand in it, but its hand can be clearly seen,” Medroso said. “This is politically motivated, and it is sad because there should be respect for an equal branch of government,” he said.

“Let us hope that the dignity of the SC would be maintained. They are saying that Justice Corona is biased, but so are they. They are biased against Corona,” he pointed out.

Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said Corona should pray for impartial treatment by senators. “It is up to the Senate to decide if Corona would be impeached or not. Every impeachment is a political process. I just hope that what would prevail is the interest of the majority of the Filipino people and not their politicking,” the Sorsogon prelate added.

But for Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) co-chair Sister Mary John Mananzan, the development – although surprising – should be welcomed.

“It seemed that justice in the country has become faster. We are not used to a quick (justice) that is why we are surprised,” Mananzan said.

Ready for backlash

House leaders who refused to sign the Corona impeachment complaint – including some from the majority bloc – said they are ready to face any backlash from Malacañang. 

Nearly 100 lawmakers out of the 284-member chamber did not sign the articles of impeachment.

Among the administration stalwarts who did not sign were Deputy Speaker and Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia, Deputy Speaker and Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla, Senior Deputy Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, and Deputy Majority Leader Roman Romulo.

Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr., vice chairman of the House committee on appropriation; Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, chairman of the House ways and means committee; Leyte Rep. Sergio Apostol, chairman of the House committee on banks; Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo, and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez were also among the ranking lawmakers who did not sign the document.

Not all, however, explained their reasons why they did not affix their signatures to the articles of impeachment.

“I was very uncomfortable to say the least when they were asking me to sign the complaint. How could I sign something without studying it first? That’s a prudent and fair move. I was elected to do the right thing for the people not just because it’s popular,” Remulla told The STAR.

He, however, stressed that Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. never exerted any pressure on House members when the impeachment complaint was first presented to them in an all-majority caucus

“He (Belmonte) made it clear that this signing was voluntary,” Remulla said. “But I felt there are other forces in this issue…

“To us lawyers, the Supreme Court is the last refuge for justice and this (impeachment) is a very serious matter,” he said.

Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco delivered a privilege speech announcing his departure from the administration bloc and relinquished his chairmanship of the House committee on Metro Manila development. He said he had tried to convince himself to sign the document so as not to delay the release of his Priority Development Assistance Fund.

“But when the document was presented to me, I could not bring myself to do it. I do not want to catch the ire of the President. With all his powers, life can be miserable for you and your constituents,” Tiangco said.

“Why the haste? Why not give him (Corona) due process? This is not about P-Noy or GMA. This is about the integrity and independence of the Supreme Court,” he said.

“There was no time for questions, there were no copies and there were no deliberations,” Mandanas said. “I should be responsible for my actions.”

“There’s no list of evidence. No list of witnesses. But that’s water under the bridge now. They have more than enough numbers and I respect the decision of the majority,” Rodriguez said. With Paolo Romero, Evelyn Macairan, Artemio Dumlao, Michael Punongbayan, Perseus Echeminada

CHIEF JUSTICE COMPLAINT CORONA COURT IMPEACHMENT JUSTICE MARQUEZ SUPREME COURT
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