by Juan L. Mercado

What reforms are needed  for a  post-Renato Corona Supreme  Court?

This  glossed-over issue  emerged  in Tuesday’s face off: The 23rd  chief justice stalked out, from the impeachment court,  without a by-your leave.  A  fuming senate  president Juan Ponce Enrile  ordered a Senate  lock down.

Guards trundled a limp Corona  back in a  wheelchair. Played out on TV and  headlines,  the “detention”  is unprecedented.  On “release”, he  beelined for Medical  City.

Some officials,  on the run, turn hospitals into foxholes: That’s what  “Joc Joc” Bolante, Benjamin Abalos and Ampatuan father and son  of  Maguindanao did.  Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has a veteran’s hospital cell, as Erap had.

If  Corona was gravely ill,  why did  he not resign?  If not, then this caper savaged an already battered Supreme Court, “What will a man give in  exchange for  his soul?”, the Galilean asked.

Corona is not past tense, his supporters insist, He’ll  be exonerated , when 23 senator-judges rule early next week, they predict. Knock on wood.

“Those who look to the past or the present are certain to miss the future,” John F  Kenndy cautioned.  A court of unquestioned integrity is crucial to our grandchildren’s future. Stagnancy is guaranteed if  business-as-usual  prevails.

Kapit-tuko is how some dub Corona’s  aborted  exit from the witness stand. The Department of  Justice earlier grounded Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s flight from  Manila International Airport.  The images are adhesive. They  stick.

So did  photos of  the 13th Supreme Court chief justice, trotting behind Imelda Marcos as umbrella bearer.   Justice  Enrique Fernando’s  parasol  morphed into a  symbol  for a subservient Supreme Court.  Fernando emphasized the  judiciary’s  ‘legitimizing’ function,” wrote Justice and former Inquirer columnist Isagani Cruz. “This was  the stand-by excuse…under him,  to sustain acts of President Marcos.”

The  Corona  Court proved a stamp-pad for Gloria.  In 15 cases involving the Arroyo administration, Corona voted  the  Malacanang  line. Justices  gave express lane treatment for s temporary restraining order that would have allowed GMA to fly the coop.

The  judiciary is bugged  by  case congestion, politicization of appointments, lack of access to justice, by the poor to old fashioned graft. Cases  moulder  “from 10 years (average) to 24 years (extreme cases)”, .economist  Peter Wallace notes.  Ask PAL’s  flight  attendants and stewards who had “final decisions” reversed thrice in 14 years.

Was Corona’s flap  the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back?   Integrated Bar of the Philippines claimed  impeachment had a ”chilling effect” —- before it . U-turned. Deans of  law schools  in Ateneo, La Salle, FEU, among others, skewered Corona’s “cop out”.

The impeachment court has before it Statements of  Assets and Liabilities that smudge Corona’s real holdings. Corona admitted stashing dollars. But he ducks questions on how much. Or where they came from.

The Anti Money Laundering Council stood pat on it’s report of  Corona’s  foreign exchange shuttles. A prima facie case has been built,  former chief justice Artemio  Panganiban wrote in Inquirer.

Hopes for long stalled judiciary reforms piggyback on the next week’s  decision. Reforms come only from a credible  court.

Scrap the secretive barkadahan Judicial  Bar Council, former Sen. Rene Saguisag urged. That system handcuffed us to a de-facto chief justice. Restore  the open Commission on Appointment process.

Immediate reforms must begin in the Supreme Court itself. Institute transparency by repealing the resolution that prohibits release of  justices’  SALNs.

Fire the the “16th Justice”.  Court Administrator  Marquez  Midas  speaks as if he is the Supreme Court”. He  doubles as personal  mouthpiece for Corona.  World Bank clobbered  Midas for less than exemplary oversight of its judiciary reform program support. The next Court Administrator must work as his job description says.

How well have justices implemented  the “New Code of Judicial Conduct for the Philippine Judiciary”  and the “Code of Conduct for Court Personnel”?  Have they gone the way of the 10 Commandments, watered down to “10 Suggestions”?

Enrile’s leadership bolstered,  so far, bonafides of the Impeachment  court said.  Next week’s ballot could reinforce  — or undercut – it’s value.  Raw memories still  linger of how the  “Craven Eleven” senators sealed  Estrada’s “second envelop”. That triggered People Power. 2

The vote inevitably affects judiciary reforms  introduced by chief  justices from  Claudio Teehankee,  Marcelo Fernan, to Ricardo Puno. Hilario Davide crafted funding structures that gave the program clout.

Will  acquittal  Corona would make judicial reform near   impossible to pursue? Or  will conviction repair damage  and  restart  the Action Program for Judicial Reform?.

What will be  good for our grandchildren?  Corona’s acquittal – or conviction?  Senator-judges have kids too. That’s the bottom line.

The defense is  down to it’s last  trenches.  “We’re studying the  option of mistrial.”, counsel  Serafin Cuevas says. A  mistrial does not apply to impeachment, countered . Senator Franklin Drilon.  Wednesday, Cuevas  asked  the Supreme Court to resolve his earlier  petition to nullify the impeachment trial from A to Z.

“Kung patay na ang kabayo, aanhin mo pa ang damo? Cuevas added. “ Of what use is  grass if the nag is dead?”  Indeed, curtains have fallen on the Corona era. .The rest  is postscript.

No need to rise from hospital  bed  Chief, and  ask who those  bells toll  for.  “They toll for thee”.

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