POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 15 December 2011, Thursday
All this seems the stuff of telenovela – so dramatic and exaggerated. But a new narrative now bursts upon the Filipino consciousness – the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona by 188 members of Congress last December 12.
The 63-year-old Corona was appointed by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Supreme Court on 9 April 2002. On 12 May 2010, two days after the 2010 elections and only one month before the expiry of Arroyo’s term in office, she appointed him Chief Justice of the SC.
The Constitution of the Philippines bans appointments by a president two months before a presidential election and until the term expires on June 30.
Father Joaquin Bernas, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, in a January 2010 newspaper interview opined that it would be the next president after Arroyo who should appoint the next chief justice. Even with the constitutional provision requiring the President to appoint a new chief justice within 90 days after a vacancy, he said the new president would still have 45 days to decide after taking office on June 30.
Corona has recently come under fire for siding with Arroyo in various ways and frustrating the ends of justice in the cases the government has filed against her. Therefore his impeachment by 188 lawmakers, when only 95 would have sufficed.
The vast majority of Filipinos, like myself, are not lawyers. We do not know nor understand the ramifications of the law on this issue. So we require the guidance of those who are learned in the matter, scholars and practitioners of the law. But they, like the ordinary folk, differ in their interpretations.
Most public opinion goes either of two ways: one, that the government is morphing into a dictatorship, that they are undermining one of the three branches of government, that checks and balances are being eroded, that the Constitution itself is being threatened.
The other view is that no one is above the law, not even the judiciary. For it is illogical to maintain, as many of them do, that because they are judges they hold the final interpretation of the law, and can therefore do no wrong. No one is above the law, not even the law.
It seems to me that the latter perspective is the more logical and fair, as expressed in the statement of the University of the Philippines Law Student Government 2011-2012 (the whole text was posted on Facebook yesterday): “From the point-of-view of the Honorable Chief Justice, the efforts of the current administration, allegedly in concert with its allies in Congress, threaten the independence of the judiciary, and ultimately threaten our country’s democracy itself.
“We submit that it was the former President Arroyo who was in fact the greatest threat to the Judiciary’s independence in the past decade. It was the former President who was responsible for politicizing the High Court in the first place by her many appointments, his elevation to the Chief Justiceship being the most questionable.
“The fact also remains that there is a steady stream of recent decisions by the High Court has continuously blocked major attempts by the current government to pursue its platform of holding the past administration to account for its sins against the Filipino people.”
Yesterday, Corona hogged public attention with a speech, attended by court employees and officials who declared a court holiday to rally behind him. It’s a cultural trait, the drama and the hyperbole, the carefully studied move or action executed in public, accompanied by exaggerated emotion (to elicit pity) or a lack of it (to show grace under pressure).
Corona said, “Ako raw po ay isang midnight appointee. Dapat raw po, hindi ko tinanggap ang paghirang sa akin. Bakit po ba, para si Ginoong Aquino ang makapagtalaga ng kanyang sariling chief justice na hawak niya sa leeg? Mapapa-iling ka talaga.”
“Iling” is to shake one’s head in disbelief, or incredulity. Opo, CJ Corona, napapa-iling ako talaga. Because according to the Constitution, you are a midnight appointee – of Gloria Arroyo, who has a tight grip upon your neck, and who wanted her very own Chief Justice in the highest court in the land.
I am not a lawyer. I do not know Corona personally. So I look at his pictures to gain some sense of the man. His eyes are like raisins pushed into his doughy, well-fed face as he hogs public attention with his grandstanding speeches. I try to muster empathy and benefit-of-the-doubt. But it’s hard. If this were a telenovela and he was cast as the hero, di ito bebenta. Give me more KC, Mo, and Rhian.
So I focus on the facts. The situation is complex for all its legal and political implications. But it seems simple to me. His appointment was made improperly and in contravention of the highest law of the land. For that alone, Corona does not deserve to hold office. ***