The foiled (great) escape

Marites Dañguilan Vitug

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His two years as chief justice have given him precisely that—a parallel universe—where realities blur when these contradict his thinking, jar or distress him. He was not to be questioned. He was to be followed, always.

Marites D. VitugI retraced the steps of Chief Justice Renato Corona from the Senate session hall to the fire exit, also on the second floor, where the guards blocked him Tuesday, May 22, after his testimony. The fire exit leads to a flight of stairs to the ground floor straight to the covered parking area. It wasn’t much of a walk, only a few minutes.
The fire exit is in the middle of a narrow hallway going to the senators’ exclusive lounge. In fact, there’s a sign as one enters the hallway that warns: No Visitors Beyond This Point.
A guard assigned at the fire exit told me that Corona appeared well. He was okay when he reached here, the guard said in Filipino, but appeared to weaken after he knew that he couldn’t leave. “Dito na siya nanghina noong nalaman niya na hindi siya makakaalis.”
This is the most astute observation I’ve heard, so far, on what lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas evasively referred to as the “unhappy incident” or “hullabaloo.” The security guard captured the moment of Corona’s defeat, that instant when the high-and-mighty top judge realized he had been completely subdued by Senate forces and could not escape to his kingdom in Padre Faura, in the secure confines of the Supreme Court.
It was a low point, perhaps even surreal, for someone so used to the trappings of power.
This may have been the point when the body gave in.  
The video and photos, indeed, show no pain or discomfort etched in Corona’s face as he was stopped by security guards. His lawyers say the diabetic Chief Justice was already feeling sick toward the latter part of his three-hour testimony thus he abruptly left the session hall.
If the Chief Justice were not feeling well, he could have gone direct to the medical clinic, which is about 10 steps away from the Senate session hall exit. Above the door is a sign that is hard to miss.
However, he chose to go to a farther place, the fire exit. This was the same route he took when he arrived in the Senate.
Attitude toward impeachment court
The Chief Justice’s walkout is simply the physical display of a consistent attitude he had taken since the start of the impeachment trial. Remember that his lawyers ran to the Supreme Court asking it to nullify the impeachment complaint. This showed that he considered the Supreme Court superior to the impeachment court, a body that could thwart the trial.
Corona’s colleagues, however, acted cautiously and did not calendar the case. Majority of the justices supported him in other ways: by blocking the release of information to the impeachment court as well as the appearance of Court employees as witnesses; and by stopping PSBank from disclosing the dollar accounts of Corona.
It was revealing that, under recent questioning from Sen Francis Pangilinan, retired Justice Serafin Cuevas disclosed that they had filed with the Court a motion for early resolution of their petition, including a plea for oral arguments. Cuevas and company did this as a parallel move to the impeachment trial.
Pangilinan wanted to know if the defense team had withdrawn their case from the Supreme Court. Not only did they not; they also urged the Court to resolve it immediately.
Clearly, they had always wanted the Supreme Court, a territory friendly to Corona, to step in.
Parallel universe
What remains a puzzle to me, though, was Corona’s end game when he walked out of the impeachment court. After he openly showed contempt for the Senate, what was his next step? Did he not expect a backlash?
The Chief Justice seemed not to think of the consequences of his actions, as if he had a parallel universe where things worked according to his wishes.
Unfortunately, his two years as chief justice have given him precisely that—a parallel universe—where realities blur when these contradict his thinking, jar or distress him. He was not to be questioned. He was to be followed, always.  
So anytime the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused, everybody must say “Amen.”
His parallel universe must have imploded that moment near the fire exit when his (great) escape was foiled. –

Click on the links below for related stories on Corona’s May 22 walkout. 

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Marites Dañguilan Vitug

Marites is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished journalists and authors. For close to a decade, Vitug – a Nieman fellow – edited 'Newsbreak' magazine, a trailblazer in Philippine investigative journalism. Her recent book, 'Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China,' has become a bestseller.