Corona and the Facebook ‘bikini’ issue

Natashya Gutierrez
Chief Justice Renato Corona warns of weakening democracy, claims harassment

MANILA, Philippines – When a Cebu student was not allowed by her school to participate in her graduation ceremony because of bikini shots of her on Facebook, many Filipinos expressed anger at what they believed was a violation of her freedom of expression.

Chief Justice Renato Corona however, had a different take on the issue.

The chief magistrate believes that the reason the student was ultimately not allowed to attend her graduation had something to do with the impeachment trial against him.

Despite a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by a regional trial court commanding St. Theresa’s College (STC) to let the student participate in the ceremonies, STC defied the order and turned away the student and her parents on the day of her graduation.

Corona said the school’s decision was a result of the government’s disrespect towards the high tribunal.

“Disrespect and defiance to Supreme Court order strengthened Cebu school not to follow TRO,” said Corona in an event organized by the Batangas RTC Judges Association, Batangas First-Level Court Judges Association, Inc., and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), Wednesday, April 11.

He also said the defiance is a sign of the weakening judiciary, which had been triggered by the impeachment trial.

Corona’s warning

The embattled chief justice highlighted the importance of keeping judicial independence as an important factor in ensuring a strong democracy.

“If respect for the courts and for their judicial process is gone or steadily weakened, no law can save us as a society,” he said, quoting former American Bar Association President William Gosset.

Batangas congressman Hermilando Mandanas agreed with Corona saying the Constitution has been exploited for partisan politics. Mandanas did not sign the complaint against the chief justice.

In a speech delivered the same day at the Centro Escolar University (CEU) commencement, President Benigno Aquino III said he did not plan to weaken the judiciary.

“I have no intention of destroying the credibility of the judiciary. I still believe there are many judges, lawyers and clerks of court who are honest, principled and side with the truth,” he said.

The President did say however that his administration is working on judicial reforms that will expedite the administration of justice, and change the mindset of employees of the judiciary.

Victim of harassment

In his message, Corona also told his audience of over 800 judges, lawyers and law students that he has been a victim of harassment, with his house under surveillance and modes of communication tapped.

He called the harassment against him a result of an “ambitious, no mercy, no-conscience presidency,” in the words of historian Gregorio Zaide.

Mandanas added that the House of Representatives, specifically the 188 solons who signed, are victims of the government as well having been forced to sign the impeachment complaint.

His non-cooperation, he believes, resulted in the loss of his House Ways and Means Committee chairmanship the day after he refused to sign. He was replaced by Davao representative Isidro Ungab.

Mandanas also urged the public not to vote for the 188 congressmen in the 2013 elections, if they want truth and justice.

Aquino laughed off the claims of Corona which he likened to an “action film or drama,” and said he will pray for the chief magistrate. –

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