Legal Schizo

by Juan L. Mercado

“Tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today,”  African sages counsel. What will a post Renato  Corona Supreme Court look  like?   The transition  is inevitable. Will it come sooner, not later? How?

No one can foresee how 23 senator-judges of differing values and experience will vote.  ”The heart of man and the bottom of the sea are unfathomable.” The perspectives of a Ferdinand Marcos Jr, differ from that of, say a Senator Joker Arroyo.

Before he donned a judge’s toga. “Bongbong” tracked  his late father’s cronies. Lucio Tan and others absconded with martial law loot, he griped. Arroyo led the prosecution in President Estrada’s impeachment.  “We can not have a country run by a thief,”  Arroyo said in his December 2000 opening statement.

“On trial today is not just Corona”, writes Institute for Studies in Church and Culture’s Perla Melba Maggay. Also in the dock are  senator-judges, media, our democratic system — and our capacity as a nation to pursue justice and put closure to sins of the past.

“Filipinos are personalistic,” she added. “What seems to work (are) personal connections and an intricate network of loyalties based on interconnected interests and kinship”. This pressures  the formal system. It exposes “the lack of fit between formal adjudication system and realities of our political culture.

Impeachment (must) fulfill the substance of the law, not just the appearance,” Maggay adds . “The letter kills,” says the Apostle Paul.  We must “ make accountability work within the constitutional remedies available to us…Usual circumventing the law will  force our people to take to the streets as the only recourse available to them.”…

Many citizens deploy  guesswork- beyond-tea-leaves in Corona’s impeachment.  What do strained faces of witnesses mean?, we wonder.  Torrents of  legal minutiae swamp us.  “You tithe mint, dill and cummin  but  neglect the weightier matters of the law – justice,  mercy and faithfulness,” an itinerant  Teacher once said.

Monday to Thursdays, we hold our breaths as Corona’s defense panel juggle. Jekyll and Hyde positions. At media blitzes, Corona vows complete “transparency”.  But he balks at revealing all  his  bank  accounts. He shrugs off  suggestions by  senator judges that he voluntarily testify.  How about Mrs Cristina Corona  taking the stand?, his lawyers offer ‘

“There are really bank accounts under his name, “a peeved Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told Inquirer ”(They shout)  get to the point. And  let’s finish this case,”.

See this legal schizophrenia in  the context of then President Gloria Macapagal  Arroyo “sow-dragon-teeth”  exit strategy, now  in tatters.  In Greek mythology, Jason scattered teeth of the dragon slain at the spring of Arbes. And from them  rose warriors who battled for him.  The phrase now  means systematic fomenting of disputes.

GMA’s bids for term extension sputtered.   Before leaving Malacanang, she arranged to run for Congress and signed .scores of “midnight appointees”.  These “dragon teeth” warriors were to beat back sleaze accusations.

The Arroyos were confident this rampart wouldn’t buckle.  “Mama” would even seek to become Speaker of the House, Rep. Mikey Arroyo announced:

“Every path has it’s puddle.”  President Carlos Garcia’s 350 midnight nominees were fired the day Diosdado Macapagal took his oath as 8th Philippine  president. “Cong  Dadong” tripled “midnighters” to 1,717 when he  left the Palace with young daughter Gloria in tow.  GMA  outdid  Dad..

President-elect, Benigno  Aquino fired  Delfin Bangit, named  Armed Forces chief of staff by GMA to overshoot her own term by 11 months. He cashiered re-appointed  Pagcor officials who paid P1.7 billion for 10 million cups of coffee. GMA rehired Omsbudsman  Merceditas Gutierrez  for a term that sliced deeply into President Aquino’s watch.  Gutierrez quit  April  2011, a month after the House of Representatives  impeached  her for coddling Arroyo interests..

Consider former Chief Justice Manuel Moran’s delicadeza, Inquirer’s Solita Monsod suggested  when  news leaked  that  Corona would be named chief justice. After serving as  ambassador,   Moran declined  a midnight re-appointment. Leave that to the incoming President, he demurred. “

Moran’s example  was institutionalized into the 1987 Constitution. It  sees an outgoing president as caretaker and  explicitly barred midnight appointments. No exceptions.  The Arroyo  Court  handcuffed  President-elect   Benigno Aquino.

In a 9-3-1 vote, the tribunal exempted a chief justice from the ban.  That’s a prohibited amendment by judicial tinkering, observed Ateneo’s Joaquin Bernas. He’d  be  a  de-facto  chief  justice, not legit, former  Senator  Rene  Saguisag  warned . Corona scurried to don a chief justice’s robes.

Among “dragon teeth” battlers, only Corona is left ..GMA is detained on election  sabotage cases. That  reduces impeachment to it’s  gut issue: Does Corona meet the standards required for a chief justice?

It’s all about character,” Businessman Peter Wallace writes. Corona does not meet the high standards demanded of the position. But if the trial continues to its end whatever the outcome, I can’t imagine how he can remain as chief justice…. It would certainly put the Supreme Court in a continually questionable position.”

Corona never pretended to be a Thomas More. Credit him with brains. He knows the story of the ghostly finger that  traced on the walls of  King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace: Mene,. Mene, Tekel  u-Parshin.  “You have been  weighed in the  balance and found wanting.”


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