By: Juan L. Mercado
FROM HIS Medical City hospital room, ex-Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona emailed his, well, sort of Mi Ultimo Adios. Did it rise to the level of what Jose Rizal wrote, then hid in a small alcohol lamp of his Fort Santiago cell before execution? It did not.
“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, the impeachment Court ruled. He did not.
It is hypocrisy for Corona to be impeached, erupted a livid Sen. Miriam Santiago. “That is kagaguhan (stupidity).” Scores of employees fudge their SALNs and get away. “Lord, give me another life so I could investigate the wealth statements!” she perorated.
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,” 63-year old Delsa Flores told Inquirer. “Not just poor and common people – like me.”
Flores pinpoints the canker of impunity that shields the powerful. The mastermind of the Manila Airport tarmac assassination of Benigno Aquino, in August 1983, has never been unmasked. But 16 soldiers were convicted. Three died in prison. Others served their terms and were old men when released in 2009.
Sandiganbayan found Dinagat Rep. Ruben Ecleo Jr. guilty of graft. And the Cebu Regional Trial Court sentenced him to 20-40 years for killing wife, Alona. Ecleo scrammed, as did former Maj. General Jovito Palparan. The House of Representatives still has Ecleo on its roll. And Palparan keeps a step ahead of a less-than-keen posse.
Corona did not stop at saying adios. He went on to accuse 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 Malacañang’s exit, President Glora Macapagal Arroyo signed Corona’s midnight appointment. He accepted. Audits of judiciary funds turned up P24,000 Rustan barongs to a P15,362.37 dinner at Century Tsukiji restaurant, a Rappler investigative report shows. What Corona thought was the Mount of Transfiguration turned into the hill of Crucifixion.
In England, Lord Palmerston weathered, in 1848, a House of Commons vote on charges of pocketing a bribe for signing a secret treaty with Russia. 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.
Impeachment is a “closed chapter in my life,” Corona said. That pulled the plug on those prodding that he dash to the high tribunal – where Arroyo-appointed justices still constitute a majority –to reverse the Impeachment Court’s judgment. But Corona insisted 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 impeachment 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,” the First Gentleman Mike Arroyo said of Gutierrez. “She is doing a fine job,” including curbs on SALN releases of the President’s family. The late Senator Lorenzo Tañada 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. This will falter if PNoy doesn’t hold himself to the same standard.
We failed to follow through with breakthroughs that People Power wrested. Our grandchildren will read in 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.”