AS President B. S. Aquino 3rd prepares to end his term, he is doing everything to make sure he is succeeded by his chosen successor and that only the best things are said about him and his failed regime after he leaves office. But the untimely death of the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona, whose impeachment and removal Aquino had procured with official bribes in 2011-2012, seems to make sure that history will accurately record his dark despotic rule instead.
If elections are held on May 9 as scheduled, and the voters become aware of the issues involved, a reexamination of Corona’s impeachment and removal could adversely affect the chances of Aquino’s candidates.
We have learned from family related sources that when Corona died of cardiac arrest last Friday at 67, he had just finished working on a draft petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court, to nullify the impeachment proceedings and set aside all the effects and consequences thereof, for being in gross violation of the Constitution and the Senate Rules of Impeachment, among others.
And at necrological rites on Sunday evening by members of the Fraternal Order of Utopia, the Ateneo law fraternity of which Corona was the president in 1972-1973, we learned some of the more repugnant hitherto unpublished details of Aquino’s bullying of Corona, prior to his impeachment and removal. In his brief remarks, Supreme Court Justice Arturo Brion, a Utopian, revealed that before the wicked ax actually fell, Corona was served an ultimatum—resign and take a lesser job or face Malacañang’s wrath.
This came presumably after the Dec. 6, 2011 National Criminal Justice Summit hosted by the Supreme Court at the Manila Hotel, where Aquino publicly insulted his host. This was the last such incident where Aquino abused the Chief Justice; the first incident, of course, was when he took his oath as President and asked Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, instead of Corona, to administer, and refused to acknowledge his presence at all during his inaugural speech. He would appoint Carpio Morales as Ombudsman later, and use her at Corona’s impeachment trial.
Brion, who said he continued to regard the deceased as Chief Justice rather than as “former Chief Justice,” told a large gathering of Utopians come to pay their final respects to their “Brod,” that one day Corona came to see him in his office—something he had not done before—to tell him that he was being pressured to resign, and threatened with impeachment and removal, if he did not quit. He spoke with a heavy heart, but his words were all about the Judiciary rather than about himself. What would happen to its integrity and independence, which he valued as dearly as his life? He decided to resist Aquino, even though he was almost sure he would lose.
And so it came to pass.
On Dec. 12, 2011, 188 congressmen signed eight Articles of Impeachment against Corona, without reading and verifying the “verified” complaint.
On Jan. 16, 2012, the Senate convened as an impeachment court with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile presiding, and commenced trial. The prosecution panel, headed by the House committee of justice chair Neil Tupas, seemed ill-prepared.
On Feb. 29, 2012, the prosecution withdrew five of the eight charges for lack of evidence. Of the three remaining, the prosecution focused on Article II, which referred to Corona’s alleged failure to disclose his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth to the public. This was not, and still is not, an impeachable offense.
The trial proceeded with some of the senator-judges acting more like prosecutors and browbeating witnesses, to which however the defense counsel was not allowed to object. The prosecution also presented illegally procured evidence, which the court routinely admitted.
One blatant example of browbeating a witness involved the Supreme Court Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal, who was subpoenaed to bring copies of Corona’s SALNs to the Senate court. After the prosecution had completed its questioning and the Presiding Officer had ordered the witness discharged, Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon asked to be allowed certain “clarificatory” questions.
The witness had told the impeachment court that under an en banc SC resolution, the release of SALNs of justices and judges was subject to certain guidelines, but that she had asked the Court to authorize release of Corona’s SALNs, as requested by the impeachment court. She was, therefore, waiting for the SC to approve her request.
This seemed good enough for the official prosecutors, but not for this prosecutor-judge. Drilon pointed out that the impeachment court had ordered the witness to produce the documents, so whether or not the Supreme Court authorized her to do so, she must bring them to the impeachment court.
The power of the impeachment court, he said, was not subordinate to that of the Supreme Court. When the late former SC Justice Serafin Cuevas as lead defense counsel objected, Drilon said, “the Counsel is overdoing it. He is objecting to the question of a judge.”
Drilon maintained that same line, which seemed to suggest that the custodian of the SC documents was free to dispose of them as she liked or as instructed by another court. In the end Vidal, who had in fact brought the documents with her, had to yield.
A royal example
Obviously neither Drilon nor Vidal had heard of what happened in the English Parliament on Jan. 4,1642, when King Charles stormed inside the House of Commons, sat on the Speaker’s chair and demanded that the Speaker yield to the Crown five members who were wanted for treason.
Whereupon the Speaker, the King’s loyal servant, fell on his knees and said: “May it please Your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place, but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here.” This compelled the King to leave the House in peace. In the case of Drilon, he seemed more powerful than Charles, and Vidal much weaker than the Speaker of the House.
I witnessed the proceedings from the front row of the gallery from the very first day of the trial. At one point, I had an unfortunate exchange with my friend Drilon, who challenged me to join the defense panel if I could not stand his acting like a member of the prosecution.
I had intended to write a book on this impeachment, just as I had written a big book on Estrada’s impeachment—-A Nation on Fire: the Unmaking of Joseph Ejercito Estrada and the Remaking of Democracy in the Philippines. But I had to leave the trial before it ended for a speaking engagement at the World Congress of Families in Madrid and for the World Meeting of Families with Pope Benedict XVI in Milan. So I missed the end when all justice and decency broke down.
This happened on May 29, 2012. By a vote of 20 to three, the Senate impeachment court convicted the respondent Chief Justice guilty of Article II, without passing judgment on the two other charges.
On the same date, Enrile formally informed the Supreme Court that the Senate impeachment trial had convicted Corona, without however stating the law which was violated, and the facts of the case.
Section 14, Article VIII of the 1987 Constitution provides that, “No decision shall be rendered by any court without expressing therein clearly and distinctly the facts and the law on which it is based.”
This decision was a complete shock to me. Many of those who had voted to convict Corona had been my colleagues in the Senate and the Executive Department for years; their role in Corona’s political destruction convinced me that any book I wrote on the impeachment would not leave me a single Senate “friend” standing. So I decided to put the project on hold; it remains on hold until now.
On Sept. 25, 2013, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada confirmed what I had learned before. He revealed in a privilege speech that 19 of the 20 senator-judges who had voted to convict Corona subsequently received P50 million or more each, with then- Finance Committee chairman and now Senate President Drilon receiving P100 million, Francis Escudero, who is now running for vice president, receiving P98 million, and Enrile, P92 million.
From the unjust Corona impeachment and removal have cascaded all the evils that have wrecked our constitutional, political and moral order. Corona’s removal put a “rat”, as it were, inside the chest of the Justices, (like Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984), and made them, except for the most virtuous and heroic, susceptible to intimidation and manipulation by the President. Thus, nine of the 15 Justices could rule that the Commission on Elections had no authority to rule on the qualifications of a former American citizen of no known biological parentage who wants to become the President, and that such an individual is indeed “qualified” to run for President.
This also put the Congress under Aquino’s thumb, if not inside his pocket. He has since usurped the Congress’ power of the purse, and now dictates that his budgetary proposals shall be passed without any amendments from the constitutional department with the originally authority to tax and appropriate. He has likewise usurped the authority of the Senate to concur in the ratification of treaties, and downgraded the most important defense and security treaties that need popular consent into mere executive agreements.
Our great democratic allies, who go around the world bringing down unwanted regimes, do not give a damn, so long as they get what they want from our local despot.
In a rare act of courage, the High Court could declare the P150-billion DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) unconstitutional, but the Executive and the Congress are free to ignore the ruling, and find themselves under no obligation to comply, even when subjected to a “mandamus.”
At the time of his death, Corona was preparing an 81-page petition which would show that the “decision” of the Senate impeachment court was void for being violative of the Constitution and the Senate Rules of Impeachment, and for having been tainted with bribery; that the alleged deficiencies in his SALNs did not constitute an impeachable offense; that there was collusion between the prosecution and the senator-judges; that the impeachment court violated not only his constitutional rights but also other laws like the Foreign Currency Act; that it committed a grave abuse of discretion for admitting hearsay evidence and for not protecting him from trial by publicity.
He wanted to ask the Supreme Court to nullify the entire impeachment proceedings and all the effects thereof; reverse and set aside the Senate impeachment court which pronounced his conviction and removal from office without stating its legal and factual bases; nullify the appointments of Ma. Lourdes Sereno and Marvic Leonen as Chief Justice and Associate Justice respectively of the Supreme Court; and reinstate him as Chief Justice.
Now that Corona is gone, there is no longer a principal affected party who was illegally impeached and removed and should be reinstated; but the grave injury to the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the public interest remains. Whoever becomes the next President by June 30 should make it his primary duty to make sure this grave injury is adequately redressed.