Corona’s special guest

Purple S. Romero

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A known Arroyo ally, former Rep. Mat Defensor was instrumental in the appointment of Corona to the position that lawmakers are now asking him to vacate.

MANILA, Philippines – After an angry speech on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011, Chief Justice Renato Corona went to his office, his family and some supporters in tow. One of the guests who greeted him was former Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor.

Asked why he was there, Defensor said Corona was “beleaguered.” The chief justice was impeached on Dec. 12, 2011. One of the grounds for his impeachment is betrayal of public trust “due to subservience to Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during her presidency, from the time of his appointment as Supreme Court justice to his midnight appointment as chief justice.”

Defensor was a known ally of former President Gloria Mapacagal-Arroyo. He was also instrumental in the appointment of Corona to the position that President Aquino and lawmakers are now asking him to vacate.

In December 2009, Defensor, then a member of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), wrote to his fellow JBC members to say that they had to “commence the procedure in nominating the applicants and immediately submit to the President the list of at least 3 nominees for the position of Chief Justice.”

The JBC vets aspirants to the judiciary for final approval by the President.

The problem with Defensor’s letter was that it started the process of nominating a chief justice when the position was to be vacated on May 17, 2010 yet, the scheduled retirement of Reynato Puno, who was then chief justice.

The Constitution bars the President from making any appointments, except to temporary posts in the executive, two months before the elections and until his or her term ends on June 30 of the same election year. The presidential election in 2010 was held on May 10.

Despite this and amid criticisms, the JBC heeded Defensor’s initiative and started the nominating process. The rest is history. Corona was named chief justice on May 17, 2010, after the presidential race that Aquino won.

It’s December 2011. Corona has been impeached and was publicly lambasted by President Benigno Aquino III as a biased justice and protector of Mrs. Arroyo. (Corona had served as Arroyo’s presidential legal counsel, chief of staff and spokesperson.)

Corona denied that he displayed partiality for Arroyo. In his speech before a crowd of judges, lawyers and court employees on Wednesday, he also castigated Aquino for bringing up the issue of his midnight appointment. “Ako raw po ay isang midnight appointee. Dapat raw po, hindi ko tinanggap ang paghirang sa akin,” he said.  “Mapapa-iling ka talaga. Ang pagtatalaga sa inyong lingkod ay dumaan sa isang masusing proseso na ayon sa ating Saligang Batas. Kasama po dito ang proseso ng Judicial and Bar Council na noon ay pinangungunahan ng dating Punong Mahistrado Reynato Puno.” (They say I am a midnight appointee and that I shouldn’t have accepted the appointment. I can only shake my head. My appointment went through a rigorous process, following provisions in the Constitution. This includes passing through the Judicial and Bar Council which was then headed by Chief Justice Reynato Puno.)

But he failed to say that the process was challenged before the Supreme Court.

More than a decade ago, in 1998, the Court was faced with a similar case. In Villarta and Valenzuela, the Court voted 13-0 to uphold Article 7, Sec.15 of the 1987 Constitution, which states that the President is prohibited from making any appointments two months before the elections and until his/her term ends on June 30. The decision is categorical in saying that the ban covers the members of the judiciary. 

In 2010, the SC reversed itself and declared Corona’s appointment legal.

In both instances, Defensor was by his side. On Wednesday, at the office of Corona, the former congressman said the impeachment process was railroaded at the House of Representatives. “Ganoon naman talaga rules ng Court, ‘pag may 1/3 na vote from Congress, diretso na sa Senate, ‘yun nga lang, masyadong mabilis,” he said. (The rules of Court are clear. When a one-third vote of Congress is secured, it goes direct to the Senate, except that in this case, it was too fast.)

Friendly chief justice 

Corona told his supporters at a rally that the matter of his midnight appointment was already resolved. “Matagal na  po itong pinagpasyahan ng Korte Suprema. Matagal nang tapos ito. Kung may reklamo man sila sa hatol ng Korte Suprema, sana ay noon pa, ipinaglaban na nila,” he said. (The Supreme Court had long decided on this. If they have any complaints against the Supreme Court decision, they should have questioned this earlier.)

He accused Aquino of bringing up the issue again just to court public sympathy for his campaign to have Corona removed from his post. Bakit po ba, para si Ginoong Aquino ang makapagtalaga ng kaniyang sariling chief justice na hawak niya sa leeg?” he said. (Why is this so? So that Mr. Aquino could appoint his own chief justice whom he would have control over?)

Critics of Aquino’s move had a similar view, especially following the High Court’s decision ordering the distribution of the 6,000 hectare-Hacienda Luisita to farmer-beneficiaries. Aquino had divested his shares in the sugar plantation, but his family still owns it.

The Court’s decision is not yet final.

Cases questioning the legality of the investigation against Mrs. Arroyo and her husband, lawyer Jose Miguel, for alleged poll fraud, and the warrant against her, have also yet to be decided on by the SC.

Not my wife 

Corona was slighted by the inclusion of his wife’s appointment to John Hay Management Corp. in the impeachment complaint. Ma. Cristina Corona was at the side of the chief justice while he was delivering his speech. 

The chief justice said that his wife was appointed to the JHMC even before he was appointed to the SC in 2002. Mrs. Corona became a consultant at Camp John Hay during the time of then President Fidel Ramos. In 2007, President Arroyo appointed her as chairman-president.

In 2008, Mrs. Corona signed a manifesto in support of then President Arroyo, who was battling allegations she and her husband accepted bribes from Chinese businessmen over the botched NBN-ZTE deal. When Mrs. Corona signed that petition, her husband was already associate justice of the Supreme Court.

When the case was brought to the SC, particularly the decision of then Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri against testifying at the Senate over the issue, Corona was asked to inhibit himself from the case. Corona did not; instead, he voted in favor of Neri’s decision to invoke executive privilege and not testify.

Judges support Corona

Judges and court employees from Metro Manila cheered Corona as he spoke. They went on a court holiday on Dec.14 and marched to the SC building in Padre Faura at noon.

All donned in black, they prepared banners which read “Defend the Judiciary,” “Save the Democracy from Mob Rule,” among others. 

The Philippine Judges Association, Metropolitan Trial Court and City Judges’ Association and the Philippine Trial Judges League also came out with a declaration saying that the judiciary should be allowed to perform its mandate under the constitution “with independence, without fear of influence, pressure or interference.”

But the Philippine Bar Association issued a statement also on Wednesday, saying that the fight between the Palace and the SC is “part and parcel of a vibrant — if not raucous — democracy.”

Corona said that his impeachment was an attack against the whole judiciary. Naniniwala po ako na tayong lahat ang kinakalaban, pati na ang mga walang-malay nilang tagahanga. Sapagkat ang tunay na layunin ay wasakin ang hudikatura, wasakin ang ating demokrasya, at pairalin ang utos ng mahal na hari. Ito ang patutunguhan ng baluktot na “Daang Matuwid,” he said. (I believe they are after all of us, including their innocent supporters. This is because their real objective is to destroy the judicial system, destroy our democracy, and let the orders of the king become law. This is where the crooked “Straight Path” is headed.) –

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