By Perry Diaz
The Philippines is now polarized between two Titans! Either you’re for President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III or for Supreme Court (SC) Justice Renato Corona. There is no middle ground. The conflict between them could create a constitutional crisis, which could tear the country apart.
Never in the history of Philippine jurisprudence had a sitting Chief Justice attracted so much criticism and opposition. Instead of dispensing Solomonic wisdom in interpreting the constitution that takes into account the broader application of the law, he has become a Machiavellian agent who narrowly – or loosely — interprets the law to justify the desired outcome of cases brought before the High Court. And with the solid support of a block of at least eight justices, Corona has created a tyrannical majority that dictates how the rule of law is applied. Or is it “rule of man” disguised as “rule of law”?
Recently, Sen. Franklin Drilon started a clamor for Corona to inhibit himself in cases involving former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Drilon cited 19 cases in which Corona sided with the position taken by Gloria. “The current score is 19-0. Chief Justice Renato Corona consistently voted in favor of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in all 19 cases brought before the Supreme Court. He never voted against her,” he said.
The following are three major cases of those cited by Drilon:
1) Dissented in the Oct. 25, 2006 SC decision dismissing the petition of the pro-Arroyo Sigaw ng Bayan to allow a “people’s initiative” to amend the 1987 Constitution due to failure to comply with constitutional requirements of conducting a people’s initiative.
2) Concurred in the Oct. 10 2010 SC decision stopping the Aquino administration from revoking the appointment of alleged “midnight” appointees of Arroyo.
3) Concurred in the Dec. 7, 2010 SC ruling declaring President Aquino’s order creating the Truth Commission unconstitutional.
It is interesting to note that had the Supreme Court ruled to allow a “people’s initiative” to amend the 1987 Constitution (Item No. 1 above), Gloria would have succeeded in changing the form of government to a parliamentary system with her as Prime Minister and with an indefinite term for as long as she controls the majority members of the parliament.
In my article, “Judicial Independence” (November 4, 2006), I wrote: “The recent decision of the Philippine Supreme Court to dismiss the petition for a people’s initiative to amend the constitution to replace the presidential system with a parliamentary form of government has created a political storm. With a bare 8-7 majority, the decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio caught a lot of people by surprise. People close to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo were expecting the Supreme Court to vote in favor of the petition by at least a 9-6 majority.”
Of the 15 Supreme Court justices, Gloria appointed 11 of them, of which six of them together with two appointees of former President Joseph Estrada voted for the rejection of the petition. The other five Arroyo appointees – Corona included — together with appointees of former President Fidel V. Ramos voted for approval of the petition.
It was a major setback for Gloria for which she never recovered. The majority vote against the initiative was a manifestation that the Judicial Branch of the government maintained its independence and integrity — a healthy sign that democracy was still alive in the country. That was then.
Stacking the deck
During Gloria’s last year in office, seven justices retired. She saw it as a golden opportunity to appoint their replacements with justices with proven loyalty to her. And she was right on the ball when the seven new justices proved their loyalty to her when it came to their voting pattern, which mirrored Corona’s own voting pattern.
It did not then come as a surprise that when Gloria appointed Corona during the ban on “midnight appointments” around the time of the presidential election as mandated by the constitution, the Supreme Court, by a 9-1 vote, “legalized” the appointment of Corona as Chief Justice notwithstanding the ban on “midnight appointments.” With Corona’s “legalization” as Chief Justice, Gloria stacked the deck with justices loyal to her.
The first test came on Oct. 10, 2010 when the High Court issued a status quo ante order on the implementation of Executive Order No. 2 revoking Gloria’s “midnight appointments” (Item No. 2 above).
And on December 7, 2010 the High Court inflicted a crippling blow to P-Noy’s anti-corruption crusade when it declared the Truth Commission unconstitutional (Item No. 3 above).
As Malaya columnist Amado Macasaet recently said, “It all started when the Supreme Court, obviously at the behest of Gloria Arroyo, ‘raped’ the Constitutional prohibition against appointment to the judiciary during a prohibited period.”
Court of Last Defense
In my article, “Arroyo’s Court of Last Defense” (December 8, 2010), I wrote: “The Supreme Court’s 10-5 decision that ruled the Truth Commission unconstitutional did not come as a surprise. It was expected. Indeed the seeds were sowed during the last few years of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when she appointed nine Supreme Court justices who were perceived to have been appointed based on their loyalty to Arroyo more than their judicial credentials. By the time she stepped down from the presidency, fourteen of the justices – the 15th seat was vacant — were all her appointees including Chief Justice Renato Corona whose controversial ‘midnight appointment’ stained the high court’s integrity.”
The arbitrariness and partiality towards Gloria demonstrated by Corona and his cohorts in the Supreme Court makes one wonder if they might have taken a secret oath to Gloria using the famous Quezonian mantra with a twist, to wit: “My loyalty to the constitution ends where my loyalty to Gloria Arroyo begins.” Indeed, with the Supreme Court’s recent issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that would have allowed Gloria to skip the country to avoid criminal prosecution for electoral sabotage, this keeps piercing in my mind. If not for Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s insistence to see the official TRO from the Supreme Court, Gloria would have been free as a bird and beyond the reach of Philippine law.
According to the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey conducted between September 4 and 7, Corona has the worst satisfaction rating – “neutral” or zero – with 28% satisfied and 28% dissatisfied. No other public official in the three branches of government reached rock bottom like Corona did.
As Sen. Francis Pangilinan said, “Corona’s inhibition will help spare the Supreme Court from doubts that, under Corona’s leadership, it is biased in favor of the former president and first gentleman.” It is not too late to restore the severely damaged image of the Supreme Court under the leadership of Corona. All he has to do is inhibit himself out of “delicadeza” and let the wheels of justice roll with fairness and impartiality.
When Gloria appointed him as Chief Justice, Corona proclaimed that he attained the fulfillment of every lawyer’s dream. But let me remind him that fulfilling his dream is not the ultimate end but only the beginning of a journey to immortal greatness in the annals of Philippine jurisprudence or perpetual damnation in rogues’ gallery.
It’s your choice, Chief Justice Corona.