It’s complicated: Ateneo students and the Corona trial

Apa M. Agbayani
The Ateneo's Sanggunian is asking the Chief Justice to take a leave of absence as 'the justice being espoused by his Supreme Court might be compromised by the developments of the proceedings against him'

MANILA, Philippines – After keeping relatively silent since the impeachment trial started, students in the Ateneo have begun speaking up about their alumnus: the Chief Justice.

Before the announcement of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s upcoming testimony, the student government released a statement urging him to testify and release information regarding his bank accounts.

“We call on the Chief Justice to fulfill his role in letting truth and justice prevail in the country by testifying in court and releasing his bank accounts,” the Sanggunian ng mga Paaralang Loyola ng Ateneo de Manila said in a statement issued when the trial resumed on Monday, May 7.

This followed the statements of senators Jinggoy Estrada and Panfilo Lacson that Corona’s testimony would actually be to his advantage.  

In addition, the Sanggunian asked that Corona take a leave of absence as “the justice being espoused by his Supreme Court might be compromised by the developments of the proceedings against him.”

The Sanggunian also addressed the senator-judges, imploring them to “be more patient in the quest for truth and justice.” The statement emphasized the impact of the senator-judges decision on Filipinos’ perception of government officials.

Speaking on the testimony, Sanggunian President Gio Alejo said, “It’s good that he finally heeded the call not just of the Sanggunian, but also a lot more Filipinos who just want the truth to come out.”

Ateneo divided?

The Sanggunian’s statement came after Corona received a controversial distrust rating in Ateneo, based on surveys conducted in 5 universities last March. Only 41% of respondents said they distrusted Corona in Ateneo de Manila University, with another 39% uncertain about their stand.

“This only affirms the fact that not all Ateneans have a clear decision already on what the verdict on the Chief Justice should be, and that is why we should be more critical on what will happen on the trial these next few weeks,” Alejo said.

There has been an ongoing debate within the university over what stand Ateneans should take regarding its embattled alumnus. When a group affiliated with the university organized a rally early this year, Ateneo was quick to clarify that the protest action was not sanctioned by the university and did not represent the institution’s position on the trial. Meanwhile, the Ateneo campus in Rockwell honored the Chief Justice in February this year, installing and unveiling his portrait in the Justitia auditorium.

In contrast, the distrust ratings in other universities were as follows: 69.3% in De La Salle University, 77% in University of the East, 75.4% in Tarlac State University and 78% in Ateneo de Davao University. 

Students weigh in

Alejo said that Corona’s decision to testify was admirable, but noted, “I just hope this is a move that comes without any conditions or strings attached.”

This sentiment is shared by Ateneo sophomore Harvey Parafina, who told Rappler, “It would be a waste not only of the impeachment court’s time, but the people’s time, patience and money if he tries to avoid the unanswered questions, especially those regarding his properties and accounts.”

“The testimony of Chief Justice Corona will be a game changer in the impeachment trial,” said Ateneo Law School senior Pierre Reyes.

He speculated that the defense’s strategy would be “to cast some doubt as to the credibility of these witnesses as all these pieces of evidence regarding the said accounts are merely based on hearsay, and to end it with a testimony with the Chief Justice bearing the accounts’ non-existence.”

Reyes believes that the testimony “will finally put a finish to this protracted chapter in our history which is nothing but political persecution masquerading as a move for accountability and a tool to divert the attention of our people to the inefficiencies and incompetence of this administration.”

Undecided or uninterested?

In a prior statement, the Sanggunian praised the organizations (The Assembly and The Ateneo Statistics Circle) that conducted the survey, but urged everyone to take into account the limitations of the survey’s statistical model and methodology when drawing conclusions on the Ateneans’ pulse on the issue. 

In an earlier interview, Ateneo Assembly president Coco Navarro clarified, “Indecision should be an optimal result because if we are truly to be democratic, it is only fair to hear both the prosecution and the defense before forming a stand.”

Parafina, however, offered another possibility: student apathy. “Frankly, I don’t hear much buzz about it in school,” he said. “The issue may have died down in the Ateneo community.”

Alejo said that by issuing a statement, the Sanggunian aimed “to provide an environment where our constituents can share their views and opinions, and hopefully make a rational decision themselves on what the verdict on the Chief Justice should be.”

He added that the Sanggunian plans to continuously inform the student body of events in the trial and provide avenues for discussion. It remains to be seen, however, whether more students will participate and take a stand on their controversial alumnus’ trial. –