Twin Tracks

by Juan L. Mercado

Even before the  Impeachment Court ruled on Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona’s case, questions flooded in. They  ranged from courtroom detail to policy issues.

“The robe Chief Justice William Rehnquist wore at US President Clinton’s impeachment is displayed at Smithsonian National Museum of American History””, emailed Leonor Lagsca of Iloilo. “What will Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile do with his toga?”

Barring glitches, the Court will issue it’s decision on Day 43 of the trial. The U.S. Senate took 21 days to to wind up. Impeachment of President Joseph Estrada was aborted after the “Craven Eleven” sealed the second envelop on January 16, 2001. After prosecutors stalked out, People Power II erupted.

Completing the Corona trial is an accomplishment. Who says we Filipinos don’t take lessons of history to heart?

Sex, graft to abuse of power sparked these trials. Congress impeached the 42nd US President for perjury and obstruction of justice. These stemmed from 10 sexual encounters with 21-year old White House intern Monica Lewinsky over a 16 month period.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” Clinton told media. Months later, Clinton backtracked.  Admitting his relationship with Lewinsky was “wrong” and “not appropriate.”

From Day 1 to Day 39, Corona parried charges by text messages, press releases and speeches —  outside the Court. On the witness stand, he admitted nothing in a three-hour soliloquy, then walked out sans court permission. “The Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes  to be excused.”

No such excuse was forthcoming. “Detained” on orders of an enraged Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Coronapleaded illness. On reappearance, he apologized, then signed a waiver to open his dollar accounts —- after both defense and prosecution rested their cases. 

Nobody bothered.  “The Court is not a producer of evidence but a hearer of facts,” Enrile pointed out. Smart legal whip that he is, Corona knew that. Yet, he forgot baseball ace Yogi Berra’s warning:  “It gets late early out there.”

There were crucial turning points. Was it leaked phone tapes of Monica Lewinsky in the Clinton case?

“I was a foot away” when President Estrada signed a P500-million loan as “Jose Velarde”, banker Clarissa Ocampo testified The Jose Velarde stash once crested at P3.2 billion. Panicked attempts to assign the account to Jaime Dichavez, a presidential crony, followed. . “I refused to certify it,” Ocampo recalls.  She testified at the plunder trial of Estrada and received threats.  Ocampo joined ABS-CBN  Foundation last year. This body oversees the foundation’s public service projects. “No regrets,” she says.

Corona had the Ombudsman subpoenaed and Conchita Carpio Morales obliged. She submitted an Anti-Money Laundering Committee report on  407 Corona transactions April 2003 to February 2012.  They covered more than P242 million.

Enrile squelched defense protests by noting:  The Ombudsman didn’t volunteer to testify. It was the defense who put  Carpio-Morales on the witness stand.  “Since she is your witness, you are bound by her testimony.”

Corona had until Day 41 to demolish the AMLC data and Morales testimony. He did not do so. Instead, he frittered this last window of opportunity, to needle Morales about being sore over reduced retirement grants, without proof.  That  window has slammed shut.  “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”, Shakespeare wrote.

A vote along party lines failed to garner the two-thirds majority required for conviction. Clinton beat the rap. People Power “overruled a Senate majority that favored Erap.”

“Consequences can be unpitying”, George Eliot wrote.  A day before leaving the White House, Clinton agreed to a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license. This meant automatic suspension from the US Supreme Court bar. He chose to resign. Corona knows these “precedents”.

Estrada left Malacanang on January 19, 2001 as People Power II demanded. The Armed Forces, a day earlier, withdrew it’s  support.  The Supreme Court declared that the presidency was vacant and swore in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

We have “serious doubts about the constitutionality of her proclamation’, Estrada said before leaving Malacanang to burrow into San Juan fiefdom.  “I do not wish to prevent the restoration of unity and order…to begin the healing process.”

President Arroyo pardoned, on October 2007, an Estrada sentenced to life by Sandiganbayan for plunder. The first Philippine president ever convicted campaigns today for election as mayor of Manila.

Corona admitted on Day 41 that $2.4 million and P80 million were not recorded in his SALNs, despite two previous Supreme Court decisions. In May 1997, court interpreter Delsa Flores was fired  for failing include a market  stall in her SALN.  In January 2011, the Court convicted government employee Nieto Racho for smudging  P5 million in bank accounts from  SALN.

The 23 senators judging Corona form one track.  Their decision can not be appealed. Effects will ripple beyond a dysfunctional judiciary to the whole bureaucracy.

The second track is less visible: the Filipino people judging the 23 judges. Did the 23 measure up to their oaths?. Seared by past betrayals, people won’t abide for more farce.  Their decision, too, is final.  Fairness would prevent a Dies Irae or “day of wrath.” 


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