It happened in a blink! Yes, by congressional time speed, five hours is a blink. And that’s all it took the allies of President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III to call for a caucus and gather enough signatures to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona on December 12, 2011. And before the end of the day, his allies gathered 188 signatures – almost twice the 95 that were needed – and the House of Representatives voted to impeach Corona for alleged betrayal of public trust, violation of the Constitution, and graft and corruption. By day’s end, the Articles of Impeachment were transmitted to the Senate.
Indeed, the “Big Blink” happened so fast that it caught Corona by surprise. In remarks following his impeachment, Corona’s alter ego Supreme Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez launched a scathing attack against the “enemies” of the Supreme Court and likened the impeachment to a blitzkrieg assault on the High Court.
In just over a day, P-Noy was called “Hitler,” “Fidel Castro,” “dictator,” and other names that aren’t appropriate to print. But not too long ago, just before the “Big Blink” occurred, P-Noy was derisively called “wimp,” “weak,” “indecisive,” “incompetent,” etc.
It’s amazing how people’s perception of P-Noy changed in just a few days: from weak to strong, from indecisive to decisive, from a wimp to a dictator, and nothing in between. That’s the Filipino psyche. We love strong and decisive leaders. We identify with winners and shun losers. And the polls show it.
The recent Pulse Asia survey shows P-Noy with an approval rating of 72% and trust rating of 74%. By contrast, Corona’s approval rating is 38% and trust rating is 29%, the lowest among the top five leaders of the land.
With the support of a large majority of the people, P-Noy’s anti-corruption crusade took a frontal attack at the core of the problem – the “rogue magistrate” who was unconstitutionally and illegitimately appointed by Gloria in the waning days of her presidency. Indeed, it’s an attack on the “Coronarroyo Court,” which I coined the day following Corona’s swearing in by Gloria on May 17, 2010 (“Corona’s Thorny Crown”). “With that,” I said, “the High Court is now composed of all justices appointed by Arroyo. The ‘Arroyo Court’ is now fait accompli. Or should I say, ‘Coronarroyo Court’?” Indeed, it is. Subsequent decisions made by the Supreme Court were inclined to favor Gloria.
In my article, “Arroyo’s Court of Last Defense” (December 8, 2010), I wrote: “The Supreme Court’s 10-5 decision that ruled the Truth Commission unconstitutional did not come as a surprise. It was expected. Indeed the seeds were sowed during the last few years of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she appointed nine Supreme Court justices who were perceived to have been appointed based on their loyalty to Arroyo more than their judicial credentials. By the time she stepped down from the presidency, fourteen of the justices – the 15th seat was vacant — were all her appointees including Chief Justice Renato Corona whose controversial “midnight appointment” stained the high court’s integrity.”
Although the eight grounds for Corona’s impeachment did not include the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Truth Commission was unconstitutional, in his speech before his allies the day after Corona was impeached, P-Noy said: “We strived to establish this system by means of a Truth Commission. But our very first step was obstructed by the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Renato Corona.”
P-Noy knew then that the Supreme Court would continue to obstruct his anti-corruption campaign, particularly in prosecuting Gloria and other corrupt officials under her administration. He cited several questionable decisions made by the Supreme Court under the leadership of Corona.
The last straw was when the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the Watch List Order (WLO) in which Gloria and her husband Mike Arroyo were placed under. The Arroyos were required to secure an approval from the Department of Justice before they could travel outside the country. The TRO in effect allowed the Arroyos to leave the country and possibly not come back to face prosecution. But they were blocked when they tried to board a flight to Hong Kong on orders of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima with the full support of P-Noy.
On December 14, 2011, the Senate convened as an impeachment court and its 23 members (one seat is vacant) took their oath as senator-judges. Under the Constitution, the Senate President and the Supreme Court Chief Justice are to preside over the impeachment trial. However, since Chief Justice Corona is the respondent, then only the Senate President would preside over the trial. Lawyer Valentina Cruz was designated as the spokesperson of the impeachment court.
Their next step is to summon Corona and direct him to reply to the Articles of Impeachment. Corona would be given 10 calendar days to respond to the charges, after which the nine prosecutors from the House of Representatives would be given five days to answer.
When Congress resumes session on January 16, 2012, the Senate impeachment trial would begin at 2:00 PM, Monday through Thursday. The actual trial, however, might not start until February, which would be determined by the senator-judges and only when the prosecutors would be ready. The impeachment trial is expected to last six months.
With two-thirds or 16 votes needed to convict Corona, it might be hard to get a conviction because there are some senators – five or six — who are expected to vote in favor of Corona regardless of the evidence presented. That’s the political nature of an impeachment trial. But so was the “Coronarroyo Court,” which it wasn’t supposed to be.
Under the impeachment rules, Corona would be convicted and removed from office if he was found guilty on any one of the eight articles of impeachment. A senator-judge may find Corona guilty in one article and innocent in another. Bur for Corona to be acquitted, he must be declared innocent in all eight articles. Makes one wonder what are the chances of Corona being declared innocent of all charges?
Quo vadis, Corona?
The question is: Does he have the gumption to run a gauntlet of embarrassment and ridicule? He knows that his whole life and that of his family would be ripped open for the public to see. If he has anything to hide, it would be exposed for all to see.
He has about a month to search his soul. Does he want redemption or acquittal? Unfortunately, he can’t have both. If he resigns, he will redeem himself from the court of public opinion. But if he continues to fight and would be acquitted, he will never regain the respect of the people.
Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez went through the same impeachment process. She was impeached by the House of Representatives and had a good chance of acquittal in a Senate impeachment trial. But in the end, she chose instead to resign to spare herself the ignominy of being put on trial like a common criminal. She chose an “honorable” resignation.
Corona, too, has a choice: honor or ignominy?