That proverb by the Roman philosopher Seneca is useful in understanding what the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona is really all about. Consider the following draft of history, a perspective.
Early 2010: Benigno Aquino III’s rivals allege that the real reason he wants to be president is to save his Cojuangco clan from utter bankruptcy, which would happen if the Supreme Court rules against the sham land reform at its Hacienda Luisita.
May 12, 2010: President Gloria Arroyo surprises everyone by appointing Renato Corona to replace Chief Justice Reynato Puno who retires May 17, 2010. That is a relief to most in the legal community since President Aquino would likely appoint instead Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, which would give the law firm he founded another administration, its third, under its sway. Mr. Aquino is enraged by Arroyo’s move.
June 30, 2010: Aquino sends the strongest message possible that he wants Corona out by having Justice Conchita Carpio Morales swear him to office instead of the Chief Justice, breaking a tradition respected by all past presidents. (Morales is Antonio’s cousin who was the only dissenter in the Court decision upholding Corona’s appointment. She would be appointed Ombudsman by Mr. Aquino in July 2011 as soon as she retired from the Supreme Court.)
June 2010: Mr. Aquino tells Corona that he has a chance to be his patron if he gets the Court to rule constitutional his “Truth Commission”—which it didn’t, by a vote of 10-5, in December 2010.
July 2011: The Court rules the Cojuangcos’ agrarian reform program in their plantation a sham, and orders it to distribute Hacienda Luisita to its farmers, and pay them P1.3 billion for lands they already sold. Aquino’s sole appointee at that time, Lourdes Sereno, writes a kilometric dissenting opinion arguing for a land valuation that would amount to P10 billion, way above the P196 million the Court ruled.
August-September 2011: Mr. Aquino appoints two more justices to the Court, making it possible to reverse its July 2011 decision—but only if Corona capitulates along with Justice Mariano Castillo, whom Mr. Aquino’s operatives were already pressuring to resign with the threat of impeachment on grounds of plagiarism.
Nov. 15, 2011: The Court issues an order restraining the justice secretary from preventing without a court order Arroyo’s travel abroad. Mr. Aquino makes it his big reason for wanting to take out Corona: that Arroyo would evade justice, and his anticorruption crusade would fail, as long as he is the Chief Justice.
Nov. 22, 2011: The Court affirms its July 2011 ruling, dismissing Sereno’s argument for a P10-billion payment, the real reason for Mr. Aquino’s wrath against Corona.
Dec. 12, 2011: While the Cojuangcos’ appeal on the Hacienda Luisita decision is pending, and on orders from Mr. Aquino, the House of Representatives impeaches Corona, even if nearly all of the 188 complainant-representatives had not read the complaint. The impeachment is clearly not based on evidence but is intended merely as a peg for a media demonization of Corona to force him to resign. Indeed, it has been in the past six months a shameless episode of mainstream media being yoked to a sitting President’s agenda.
The Court’s final ruling in April 2012 on the Hacienda Luisita case—eight against six—showed how crucial it was to take out Corona. If Corona had resigned, there would be only seven justices left defying Mr. Aquino, since his slot would be taken over by the President’s appointee, and there would be a deadlock: seven against seven. However, Carpio would likely be appointed chief justice, a post he will invoke to lift his abstention from the case, to be the swing vote favoring Mr. Aquino’s Hacienda.
March 2012: Corona—to Mr. Aquino camp’s surprise—refuses to resign, and the impeachment against him all but collapses. The 45 properties the prosecutors and media screamed he owned prove to be blatant lies, manufactured by the Land Registration Authority head Eulalio Diaz—Mr. Aquino’s buddy since his school days. The prosecution drops five of the eight articles of impeachment, realizing they would be dismissed if pursued. The claim that Corona protected Arroyo in the Supreme Court—Mr. Aquino’s declared reason for wanting him out—is torn to pieces.
That Mr. Aquino’s impeachment project was sputtering was proven by the fact that Ombudsman Morales was, in April, already preparing another complaint, which she publicly boasted she would ask the House of Representatives to file in December. The new charge—that Corona had unexplained wealth of over $12 million—turns out to be at best a colossal, devious deception and, at worst, an imbecilic ignorance of bank reports.
The charges against Corona, which were distorted to allegations of massive corruption, have drastically shrunk solely to the issue that he should have declared his dollar assets, no matter how small—and he did have such holdings after a 40-year law career—in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
But really, is this what all the savage campaign against Corona and his family all about? Is this really what the Constitution meant when it provided that a public official may be impeached “for treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust”?
Would the senators convict Corona, knowing—or having even just the slightest suspicion—that this has been all about a President’s plot to save his clan’s wealth and to control all three branches of government? Will they be party to one of the most ruthless campaigns ever by a Philippine president, employing the vast apparatus of government and a subservient press, against one man who refuses to bend to his will?