Until last Tuesday, it seemed to a growing number of people that the Corona impeachment trial had become a huge waste of time and resources. That is to say, for the Senate which otherwise should have paid attention to myriad matters of national importance; for the prosecutors and defense lawyers who presumably have other cases to attend to; and not least of all, for the Filipino people, who are paying for the entire exercise and who had hoped to see some measure of justice meted out not just against the accused Chief Justice Corona but, prospectively, on the one person he sought to use his exalted position to protect from prosecution and punishment – former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Bayan Muna and other progressive party lists in the House of Representatives voted in favor of CJ Corona’s impeachment despite the lack of consultation that attended its passage tantamount to what some representatives denounced as railroading. The main reason was the desire to clear the way to Mrs. Arroyo’s prosecution and punishment for all her crimes against the people, foremost of which were the rampant extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and reign of terrorism enforced by state security forces in rural and urban poor communities.
That CJ Corona is a lackey of Mrs. Arroyo and was installed into the highest position of the Supreme Court by her despite Constitutional prohibition (predictably set aside by the same High Court packed with Arroyo appointees) precisely to be mobilized at an opportune time to save Arroyo’s skin was what roused overwhelming public opinion to support the impeachment complaint. There was widespread outrage that the Arroyo couple’s brazen attempt to flee the country and be beyond the reach of its justice system was made possible by the Corona-led Supreme Court.
The people had been made by the Aquino administration and the Liberal Party to expect that the impeachment trial would fully expose the nefarious link between the midnight appointee Chief Justice and his erstwhile patron, Mrs. Arroyo. It was something that would not have been possible in any ordinary judicial process, what with the highest magistrate himself sitting on the bench as the ultimate adjudicator.
But alas, such high but perfectly reasonable expectations were far from met.
From day one, the lack of expertise and competence of the prosecutors was displayed not only in the amateurish fumbling and unfamiliarity with court rules and procedures, but worse, in the lack of preparation and cohesion in mustering and presenting the evidence on the charges against the accused.
The incohesion would further be manifest, though not publicly, in the disagreements within the prosecution on what the direction and focus should be.
Eventually, the Aquino-LP tack prevailed, that the charges mainly be on Corona’s non-disclosure of his wealth (presumably ill-gotten) rather than the abuse of his authority in using the SC to allow and cover the flight of the Arroyos from the country to escape prosecution for plunder and other high crimes. This culminated in the prosecution’s precipitate withdrawal of five of the eight original charges, focusing almost solely on Article 3 and paying only token attention to Article 7.
While the Defense reinforced by some evidently pro-Corona Senator-Judges made capital of the prosecution’s weaknesses in presenting their evidence, it proved to be no better in preparing its own documentary and testimonial evidence and arguments. Most of the Defense witnesses were ineffective, some counterproductive. And what would be the ominous prelude to the worst blunder of Corona testifying was calling in Ombudsman Carpio-Morales as a hostile witness. This provided the introduction of testimonial evidence about Corona’s US dollar accounts that up until then could not be done by virtue of the Impeachment Court’s decision to be bound by the Corona SC’s prior TRO covering said dollar accounts.
What is noteworthy is that the Defense, in focusing on the bank accounts and SALN issue, managed or chose to totally ignore Article 7 with regard to Corona’s falsifying or misrepresenting the SC en banc decision so that the Arroyos could fly out of the country, as if by mutual agreement of the two court protagonists.
Thus, the impeachment court and the interest and attention of the public had been successfully diverted from the bigger crimes and anomalies that pervaded the GMA regime.
The bulk of Corona’s testimony capped the whole process, with Corona dwelling emotionally and in great detail on absolutely unimportant, irrelevant and immaterial details of his childhood and upbringing, his in-laws’ family feuds, maligning the character even of the long dead, etc.
Penultimately, what was meant to appear as a magnanimous act by CJ Corona turned out to be a cheap trick designed to resonate with the public’s general suspicion regarding their congressmen’s propensity towards corruption. Corona conditioned the waiver on his hidden bank accounts and other information related to his assets, liabilities and net worth on the execution of the same waiver by the 188 Congressmen who had voted to impeach him and by the unabashedly anti-Corona Senator-Judge Drilon, a condition Corona knew would be impossible to achieve.
Until, when he was almost done, Corona did what his even his most critical detractors had not imagined he was capable of. Declaring himself “The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines”, Corona with utmost effrontery walked out of the proceedings and thus put himself above the Senate Impeachment Court he said he would subject himself to and above the very Constitution he had sworn to uphold.
With that, Corona unwittingly revealed to the entire nation, whose sympathy and support he had sought by appearing in the impeachment court, what kind of person and public official he really is. It was absolutely the opposite of what he had tried to paint himself to be. Only the blind and naive could have missed it.
Ironically, it was this inadvertent revelation — as well as the spontaneous outburst of disapproval it elicited — that could prove to be the saving grace of the impeachment trial. For if there was ever any doubt in anybody’s mind that CJ Corona would be capable of such malfeances as blatantly distorting the Court’s en banc’s decision to favor Mrs. Arroyo, then all doubt must have disappeared at that moment.
For the impeachment trial to have not gone to waste, it would not be enough to conclude that CJ Corona indeed had deliberately misdeclared his SALN to conceal his financial transactions and his wealth. Corona had argued as much and indeed it is a persuasive argument that such is not necessarily an impeachable offense.
Yet in the end Corona displayed the same arrogance and abuse of power, pitting himself and the SC he arrogates to be his own, against the Senate and HOR, above the law, in the very same way he did when he mobilized the Court and misused his powers to flout the Justice Department’s Watch List Order against the Arroyos.
Now that is absolutely and irrefutably an impeachable offense for which Corona should be adjudged unfit to remain Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Published in Business World
25-26 May 2012 2012