Averted Conflict

by Juan L. Mercado


From his Medical City  hospital room,  ex-Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona emailed his Mi Ultimo Adios.   Did  it rise to the level of what Jose Rizal wrote, then hid in the small alcohol lamp of his Fort Santiago cell before execution? It did not. That is the heartbreak.

“I now accept the calvary we endured,“  Renato Corona wrote after the Senate cashiered him by a 20 to 3 vote..“ I was ready to lay (down)  my life for the nation.”

Living for the country would have sufficed.  Among other things, that required  Corona to declare in his Statement of  Assets and Liabilities a hidden $2.4 million and P80.7 million, impeachment Court ruled.  He did not. That is the tragedy.

No, it is hypocrisy for Corona to be impeached, erupted a livid Sen. Miriam Santiago. “That is kagaguhan (stupidity).”  Scores funded their SALNs and get away.  “Lord, give me another life so I could investigate the wealth statements!”, she perorated  with raised hands. “I will even investigate  myself!”

No, disagreed the court interpreter, fired by the Supreme Court in 1997 for not including a Davao del Norte  market stall in her SALN. ‘I was very happy that even a rich and powerful person like the former chief justice could be punished”, said 63-year old Delsa Flores “Not just  poor and common people — like me.”

Flores pinpoints the festering canker of impunity that shields the powerful here. The mastermind of the Manila Airport  tarmac assassination of Benigno Aquino, in August 1983, has never been unmasked. But 16 enlisted men were convicted. Three died in prison. The last served out their terms and were old men when released in 2009.

Sandiganbayan found Dinagat Representative Ruben Ecleo Jr. guilty of graft. And the Cebu Regional Trial Court sentenced him to 20-40 years for killing his wife, Alona.  He fled, like former Maj. General  Jovito Palparan. The House of  Representatives  still keeps  Ecleo on its roll. And former Maj. General Jovito Palparan keeps ahead of less than zealous pursuers.

Corona accused President Benigno Aquino of throwing Congress, BIR, Anti-Money Laundering Council and the kitchen sink at him. Public funds were harnessed, so media would smear him and family.  These resulted in martyrdom,   “I accepted all of these for independence of the judiciary. Bad politics prevailed. I am not guilty.”

Half way thru Malacanang’s exit,  President Glora Macapagal Arroyo signed Corona’s midnight appointment. He accepted.  Since then, audits of judiciary funds turned up. P24,000 Rustan barongs to a P15,362.37 dinner, at Century restaurant, a Rappler in vestigative report shows.  For Corona, what was the Mount of Transfiguration turned into the  hill of Crucifixion.  That is irony.

Eight articles of impeachment were lodged against US Supreme Court Samuel Chase in 1804. He treated defendants and counsels unfairly, the rap sheet read. By lopsided margins, the Senate acquitted Chase, in March 1805. Some historians claim  this precedent helped ensure today’s independence of the US judiciary.   Lord Palmerston weathered, in 1848, a House of Commons vote on charges of pocketing a bribe for signing a secret treaty with Russia.

Impeachment is a “closed chapter in my life,”  Corona said. That pulled the plug on those prodding that he dash to the high tribunal to reverse the Impeachment Court’s judgement. He really meant his Mi Ultimo Adios.

This pulled everyone back from the brink and averted a clash that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile warned against. “We will defy them”, he said.   “If (the justices) want a constitutional crisis, they will have one.”

Proverbial cooler heads prevailed.  “By my own estimate,  [a Corona appeal] will not succeed,” constitutional scholar Joaquin Bernas of Ateneo said.

“Ambiguity” in provisions of the Constitution  offered elbow room for a challenge. The Court has jurisdiction over cases involving “grave abuse of discretion by any agency”, Article 8  provides. On the other hand, Article 11 states the Senate has “the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment…” The Supreme Court will have to deal with this, not purely on a legal basis but also on basis of what is best for the country.

As seen from impeachmentm court’s rostrum, “the fire went out of control”, when Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales testified, as sought by the defense, Enrile recalls. She documented 407.  Corona dollar transactions from Anti-Money Laundering Committee reports.

What if Merceditas Gutierrez or Aniano Desierto were the Ombudsman?, ask some with a shudder.  “Let her alone”, ex-First Gentleman Mike  Arroyo said of Gutierrez. “She doing a fine job”, including curbs on SALN releases of the President’s family.  The late Senator Lorenzo Tanada refused to even address Desierto directly due to his  less-than-sterling record,.

The verdict opened a window of opportunity for judiciary and other reforms Will we fail to follow through, as we did with People Power?..Our . grand children will read, in their history books of the first ever Supreme Court justice impeached,  and ask,  What was it all for?.

For now, we re-read, perhaps with newer insights what Omar Khayyam wrote in 1858:  “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, /  Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit /  Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line / Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

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