Louis XIV Syndrome

by Juan L. Mercado

Impeached Supreme Courtchief justice Renato Corona skewered President Benigno Aquino for seeking to install “a puppet” in  his place. A budding “dictator”, P-Noy wants the judiciary as his stamp pad.

As in Marcos “New Society” Justices would trot behind Imelda Marcos, shielding her from the sun with a colored parasol.  Remember? Marcos made big to-dos about complying with Court decisions that he secretly dictated.

The 188 votes, by the House of  Representatives, to dispatch Articles of Impeachment to the Senate, continues the  President’s “bullying and threats”, Corona  asserted. On the Supreme Court building  steps, he vowed not to buckle, as did the partisan Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

He  mocked Aquino’s stance as “balukot na daang matuwid” (“crooked righteous path”.)  Festooned with black ribbons, court  employees chanted: “CJ”, “CJ”, CJ.” They erupted  with 56 rounds of applause. Surrounded by wife Cristina and children, Corona pledged to thwart an administration bent on “smearing the whole court thru “malice” and fallacies.

This was a rally in the old Plaza Miranda mould. Would that happen, say in the lobby of France’s Court of Cassation or steps of the US Supreme Court, adjacent to the Capitol?  Unthinkable.

Alas it gave a coup d’ grace to the cherished ideal for “practicing law in the grand manner”. We see instead the Louis XIV syndrome at work.

L ’etat c’est moi,  this French monarch  declared . “I am the state”. He merged his person with the institution. To humor Versailles elite, he appointed advisors as “estates general”, But he didn’t bother to confer with them.

Michaelangelo painted into the Last Judgement mural, in the Sistine Chapel, a Pope condemned to Hades. Of 266 pontiffs,  since Peter the Fisherman, there have been sleazy  characters.

Pope Alexander VI became so notorious his surname Borgia remains, even today, a  tag for debased standards. But those who worked for papacy reforms did not confuse  the Chair of Peter with the ocassional bastard who sat in it.

Does Corona confuse charges against his person with a blanket smear of the court?  No. He’s not your naïve Goldilocks. The raps range from sweeping his statement of assets and liabilities under the rug to misuse of the Judiciary Development Fund.

These do not constitute an indiscriminate tarring of the Supreme Court. However, a judiciary can be a convenient shield to deflect charges in a process that will break out of legal straitjackets. 

An impeachment is, first and last, a battle for hearts and minds of citizens. So, Corona spoke in Tagalog, to reach the bakya-crowd. He had wife and kids as props, as at bare-knuckle political meetings do.

Corona today plays  dragon slayer. But he has two major strikes against him. One, he is a midnight appointee. And second,  majority of  Filipinos don’t see him as a justice in the mould of a Jose Abad Santos, Cecilia Munoz Palma or a Roberto  Concepcion.

”He’s no Claudio Teehankee,” snapped a  Malacanang spokesman.  In the Marcos Supreme Court, the late Teehankee emerged as the sole independent voice.

Before stepping down, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued  midnight appointments from Malacanang  gardener, personal   manicurist to chief justice. “How many jobs did she sign away?”, asked  Viewpoint in “Attila Rides Again”.  President Carlos Garcia fobbed off 350 nominees. GMA’s father Diosdado Macapagal tripled that to 1,717.

“But hackles bristled when she anointed Justice Renato Corona to succeed Supreme Court chief justice Reynato Puno. That  quarter-of-midnight appointment fractured the Constitution provision that handcuffs a President from making appointments 60 days before stepping down.

“It takes two to tango.” Don’t disco, a score of voices counseled Corona. “Consider former Chief Justice Manuel Moran’s delicadeza, Inquirer’s Solita Monsod suggested. After serving as ambassador Moran waved away a midnight re-appointment. Leave that to the incoming President, he demurred.

“Do a Moran,” former President Fidel Ramos told his protégé. Ramos was the first to endorse Corona for the Court. Decline, if only to save the Court, suggested the Philippine Bar Association and  Supreme Courts Appointments Watch.

“There are  more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, Hamlet warned.  Corona did   a Corona. In the process, he  became a de-facto chief justice, former Senator Rene Saguisag asserted. No. Not de jure.

Pulse Asia latest survey, released Tuesaday, shows reveals that the least trusted among top national officials is —  guess who.  Of 1,200 respondents, 27 percent “wouldn’t buy a  second hand car” from  Corona, as the old saw goes. A    6-percentage point surge was the “most marked movement” in the overall trust rating scores.

Wearing crimson togas, senators took their oath to serve as impeachment judges before the Christmas break.. Roman  aristocrat Cincinnatus, we recall, refused to receive messengers from the emperor until his wife fetched a toga.

In December 2000, Chief Justice Hilario Davide gaveled senators to begin impeachment against President Joseph Estrada. Eleven voted to seal the “second envelop” alleged to contain evidence against Erap.

They were dubbed as the “Craven Eleven”. People Power 2 erupted and over-ruled the 11. Have today’s toga-clad senators  learned the Louis XIV syndrome can be lethal? 

( Email: juanlmercado@gmail.com)

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