MANILA, Philippines – The country makes another first today, Tuesday, May 29, as it awaits the verdict on impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona. Allies of President Benigno Aquino III said they have enough numbers in the Senate to convict him.
Ending more than four months of trial, the 23-member impeachment court will decide on whether to keep Corona in the Supreme Court or remove and ban him forever from public office.
The vote is as crucial to the Chief Justice as it is to President Benigno Aquino III.
The trial, after all, has been the biggest anti-corruption project of the Aquino government, which has spent time, energy and resources to impeach the 63-year-old chief justice whose term ends in 2018 yet, or two years after President Aquino steps down from office.
It’s been seen by Aquino critics as the President’s attempt to control power and weaken the judiciary.
No less than one senator-judge, Joker Arroyo, framed the Corona impeachment this way: “The SC has put a stop, put a brake on the totalitarian tendencies of this government. We already have a creeping martial law here that we don’t only notice.”
Up until the damaging testimony of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales on May 14, Corona seemed to have the edge in the voting. What sealed his fate, however, various senators and observers have said, was his May 22 walkout from the impeachment court.
The anti-Corona camp needs at least 16 votes, or two-thirds of the Senate, to convict the Chief Justice. On the other hand, only 8 votes of acquittal or abstention are needed to save him. (The 24th seat in the Senate was vacated by Mr Aquino when he won the presidency in 2010).
Some are saying it’s going to be a close vote. On the other hand, two administration sources told Rappler they’re safe with at least “17 votes.”
Beyond the numbers, however, at stake are bigger issues for the nation. Would Corona’s removal from office lead to crucial reforms in the Supreme Court and the judiciary? Would the President name an independent chief justice and resist the temptation to appoint his own loyalist? Would the President choose from among the current justices, or would he dare do what’s not been done in the past – appoint an outsider?
Friends and allies
Six of the senator-judges campaigned for President Aquino when he ran for president: Senators Franklin M Drilon, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Teofisto Guingona III, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, and Sergio Osmeña III. However, not all of them supported his running mate, Manuel Roxas II. Escudero supported Vice President Jejomar Binay, who has distanced himself from the trial.
Two other senator-judges are key allies of the President: Senators Panfilo Lacson and Antonio Trillanes IV.
Of these 8 Aquino supporters and allies, two of them are up for re-election: Escudero and Trillanes.
Among the senator-judges who are neither members of the Liberal Party, which the President heads, nor allied with it, at least 5 have openly disagreed with Corona’s defense of his failure to disclose his dollar deposits and explain his wealth.
They are Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who is also the court’s presiding officer, and Senators Edgardo Angara, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Aquilino Pimentel III.
From this initial list, 3 of them are re-electionists in the 2013 mid-term elections: Alan Peter Cayetano, Trillanes, and Pimentel. The two other re-electionists – Senators Loren Legarda and Gregorio Honasan – have kept their cards closed.
On the eve of judgment day, Enrile indicated where he stood on key issues hounding Corona. He pointed out that no law prohibits the Chief Justice from disclosing his dollar deposits, and that the Constitution compels public officials and employees to declare all assets.
Among the close allies of Enrile in the Senate are Senators Honasan, Jinggoy Estrada, and Majority Floorleader Vicente Sotto III.
The administration, however, is not banking on Estrada’s vote, according to advisers of the President.
The other senators who will judge Corona today are Senators Arroyo, Manuel Villar, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Lito Lapid, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.
Villar was Aquino’s chief rival in the 2010 presidential race, while Revilla was a staunch ally of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
In last Monday’s summation, the prosecution said that the core issue of the trial is Corona’s fitness for the job and the dubious excuses (“palusot”) he presented to the impeachment court, as explained by prosecutor Rodolfo Fariñas.
The defense, however, said Corona’s omissions are not impeachable offenses as they were done in good faith.
The trial’s last day resumes at 2 pm Tuesday. Each senator is given two minutes each to vote and explain his vote.
The senators will be making their judgment on 3 articles of impeachment (Articles 2, 3 and 7) lodged against Corona. But if he gets convicted on the first article to be judged on – Article 2, his alleged failure to disclose his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth – they need not vote on the remaining articles. – Rappler.com
Click on the links below for more of Rappler’s special coverage of the Corona trial.