December 12, 2011 is a day that will live in infamy in the history of our Republic. That was the day when the House of Representatives politically prostituted itself to a President demanding the head of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court because it ruled against his clan.
In the impeachment of Joseph Estrada and Merceditas Gutierrez, the proceedings went on for months. In the case of Chief Justice Renato Corona, there were no hearings, no debates, no discussions. Only secret meetings in hallways and restaurants. Within hours, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte got 188 out of the 284 representatives to sign the document impeaching the Chief Justice, never mind if most of them hadn’t read the 57-page complaint. “We were not allowed to read the document,” Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño told this newspaper, oblivious to how servile his admission made him.
This is the first-ever case in our history in which a President orders the House of Representatives to break the constitutionally inviolate walls dividing the three branches of government to attack the head of the bedrock of the country’s rule of law, the Supreme Court. Not even the strongman Ferdinand Marcos brazenly ordered the Batasang Pambansa he created in 1978 to overtly execute his wishes.
The late idealist Sen. Lorenzo Tañada would have turned in his grave if he were listening to his grandson Erin, with his what-me-worry smile, deny that the congressmen were threatened that they would not get their pork-barrel funds if they didn’t support the impeachment move. Indeed, it is crucial for the funds to be utilized by unscrupulous congressmen to build up campaign funds out of kickbacks or to finance projects to convince their constituents to reelect them in the 2013 elections.
The impeachment complaint is a grab bag of preposterous allegations. One involves a ruling by the Court that upheld the creation by Congress of Dinagat Island as a province. For some reason, the impeaching congressmen couldn’t see this charge’s absurdity: Corona agreed with the majority of justices that a law made by their Congress is constitutional, and they claim that is impeachable.
It appears to be beyond the congressmen’s intellect that Supreme Court decisions are collegial, not that of the Chief Justice alone. One count of impeachment claims Corona ordered the House of Representatives to suspend the impeachment proceedings against then Ombudsman Gutierrez. But that order was voted 8 to 3. Will the House also impeach the seven other justices?
The allegation of Corona’s bias collapses in the reality that in these cases, the decisions were either unanimous, or made by the overwhelming majority of justices. His vote was never a swing vote. Indeed, if Corona’s votes were the opposite, he would be either in the minority or the sole dissenter—in which case he would probably be impeached on grounds of being a nut case.
What is shocking is that House leaders even publicly boasted how fast they delivered Corona’s head to Mr. Aquino. Belmonte, whose family owns The Philippine Star, told this newspaper that a “furious” Aquino had called him up to say he wanted “a fast impeachment” of Corona. Rep. Joseph Abaya, ignorant that the Congress is an independent branch of government, said: “He gave the general direction (to take out Corona), we followed.”
Belmonte was even proud that, like an efficient underling, he dutifully reported to Mr. Aquino the progress of the impeachment move. Mr. Aquino monitored the developments, Belmonte said. “I texted him about the results, that we had already reached 172 (congressmen agreeing to the impeachment). And he said, ‘Thanks.’”
Belmonte should have texted back, “You’re welcome, sir. At your service, sir. ”
Belmonte claims he received his marching orders after the Court issued the temporary restraining order against the hold-departure order on former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. “He called me up and told me how he felt bad that the Supreme Court was intervening in behalf of Arroyo. He felt that this should stop,” Belmonte said.
This Speaker is as truthful as he is servile to Aquino. That order was issued on Nov. 15. It was after a Nov. 22 decision of the Court on the Hacienda Luisita case that Aquino went ballistic and canceled all but one of his appointments for four days to closet himself with his clansmen to plot their move. It was on Sunday, Dec. 11, when the President personally met with Belmonte and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzalez II to order them to go after the Chief Justice. In the afternoon of the next day, Belmonte delivered the 188 signatures.
The Court’s unanimous ruling on Hacienda Luisita, ordering the Cojuangcos to distribute its lands to its farm workers, will bankrupt Mr. Aquino’s clan. That financial disaster can be prevented only if a new chief justice is installed who can browbeat the other justices—the Damocles’ sword of impeachment now above their heads—to rule in favor of an exorbitant compensation for the Cojuangcos: at least P6 billion, if one uses the calculations of Justice Lourdes Sereno, Aquino’s college buddy and appointee to the Court.
However, that would require that Corona be taken out ASAP since the Court ordered the Department of Agrarian Reform to implement immediately its decision and “report compliance within six months.” That’s a tight deadline to boot out a Chief Justice, put in place a new one, and get the now terrorized Court to favor the Cojuangcos, hence the brazen, arrogant rush to produce the impeachment.
You have been taken for a ride, guys. This isn’t about Arroyo or some anti-corruption crusade. It’s all about Hacienda Luisita. Don’t forget to ask for your share of the P6 billion the Cojuangcos will get when Mr. Aquino gets the Court under his thumb.