THE Aquino 3rd regime’s persecution of Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012 was one of the most evil, most shameful episodes in our history as a nation, unparalleled in the injustice it wrought on a high public official and how Congress and media were accomplices.
Ten years after he was removed through the Senate impeachment court’s May 29, 2012 decision, the long hand of justice has vindicated Corona, de facto condemning his persecutors to infamy.
The Sandiganbayan anti-graft court ruled on Nov. 3, 2022 that the accusations against Corona were totally, indisputably wrong, that his assets — which a resolution by the House of Representatives headed by Feliciano Belmonte to impeach him had claimed were ill-gotten — were all explainable by income through 45 years of private and law practice, and from sales of his wife’s inherited assets.
In its decision, the Sandiganbayan admonished Congress that the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) which the latter alleged Corona had not submitted accurately, is “a tool for public transparency and never for a weapon for political vendetta.”
Ironically, it was the ruthlessness and determination of Aquino 3rd’s political assassins that provided the venue for justice to be done, for Corona’s name to be cleared. The Aquino operatives had a “Plan B” in case the Senate had acquitted Corona.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, Ateneo instructor Harvey Keh and an Aquino minor official Ruperto Aleroza, and two other Yellow operatives filed on Feb. 17, 2012 — while the trial was still going on — a case against Corona at the Ombudsman for unexplained wealth, asking the Sandiganbayan to forfeit his assets and later file criminal charges. If that case hadn’t been filed, Corona’s case would be left to be debated by academics, their arguments in books to gather dust in some library. The Sandiganbayan decision has however put it on record that Corona was innocent of the” unexplained wealth” charges, that his removal as Chief Justice was merely a “political vendetta.”
The Ombudsman certainly did not leave any stone unturned to get the Sandiganbayan to hear the case, and convict him. The Ombudsman at the time was Conchita Carpio-Morales, known to have hated Corona so much that in the impeachment trial, she even provided wrong testimony that double-counted the amount of Corona’s bank assets to exaggerate his assets by a hundred million pesos. Aquino 3rd had appointed her to the post a year earlier and she had seven years to go before her mandatory retirement.
Carpio-Morales personally oversaw the investigation so she could file the case at the Sandiganbayan. In a demonstration of her or the Aquino regime’s ruthlessness in crushing Corona, Carpio-Morales filed the complaint before the Ombudsman June 29, 2013, a year after the chief justice had already been removed by the Senate.
Rappler editor-at-large Marites Danguilan-Vitug, one of Corona’s most vociferous critics — at the start of the trial to denigrate his reputation, she wrote an article falsely claiming the chief justice had cheated to get his PhD at the UST — pressed so much in media for the filing of the forfeiture case that I cannot understand her odium against Corona.
On the first anniversary of Corona’s removal, she wrote that his political assassination was not enough: “Corona has not yet been brought to trial. So far, none of his assets have been forfeited because our legal environment makes this difficult to do.”
Vitug wrote: ” The impeachment story dwelt on Corona’s hidden wealth. Without the impeachment process and the court’s power to subpoena, we would not have unearthed this treasure trove of allegedly ill-gotten assets. After we were astounded by his huge bank accounts and high-end properties, which clearly surpassed his earnings as a public official, we still do not know where his wealth came from.”
Vitug should be enlightened now by the Sandiganbayan’s decision (posted at rigobertotiglao.com). The Sandiganbayan rigorously analyzed each and every peso and dollar of increases in Corona’s assets, and heard testimonies of auditors who examined the accounts, a chunk of which were proceeds from the sale of real estate that was the inheritance of his wife Cristina.
The court also addressed the claim of the Ombudsman that a P9-million increase in Corona’s assets cannot be explained. It pointed out: “The increase in the amount of P8,970,980 over a 10-year period is neither substantial nor manifestly out of proportion to respondents’ lawful income. It is worth stressing that CJ Corona was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court for eight years; as such he was assigned services of drivers, entitled to gasoline allowance and vehicle maintenance, among others. These benefits coherently amplify the respondents’ savings which explain the increase in their assets.”
The Corona prosecution is a most foul case of injustice as his removal as chief justice — the first and only episode through an impeachment court — by Aquino 3rd was undertaken by two of the Republic’s pillars, thereby debasing these institutions.
Aquino needed Corona removed as chief justice in order for his clan’s Hacienda Luisita to be given compensation of P10 billion for being put under land reform; the Corona-led court had decided it should just be P300 million. That decision, however, could have been reversed to favor Aquino’s clan as an appeal had been filed in 2010. If Corona were removed, his replacement could be cooperative to Aquino 3rd’s wishes. The replacement, Maria Lourdes Sereno certainly championed the clan’s interest. But the overwhelming majority of the Supreme Court voted against her opinion.
Aquino 3rd was enthusiastically supported in his plot by one of the most powerful law firms in the country through three administrations, which had for years salivated that one of its founders be appointed chief justice. Vitug and another columnist who wrote vicious columns against Corona were alleged to be very close to that law firm.
After Corona was removed though, Aquino double-crossed that firm, when instead of its choice, he appointed a college classmate, Sereno as chief justice. In a remarkable twist of this saga, Sereno was removed by the Supreme Court essentially for her failure to submit her SALNs for a number of years.
It was the forfeiture case and then the Sandiganbayan’s freeze order on Corona and his family’s bank accounts in 2015 that broke the man’s back. The forfeiture case would have impoverished his family, with all his earnings for 45 years as a lawyer and those of his wife’s inheritance confiscated.
Corona died of a heart attack on April 29, 2016. Sen. Miriam Santiago (one of the three senators who voted Corona innocent) was indeed very insightful when in her speech to explain her vote, she said: “Conviction on impeachment is a stunning penalty, the ruin of a life.”
The first who should apologize for this colossal injustice against Corona are the members of the 15th Congress (2010 to 2012) all of whose members who supported Corona’s impeachment had gone on to continue their careers as if nothing happened even if months after Corona’s removal it was revealed that their cooperation in impeaching him and later on to convict him were due to the huge bribes they received, in the form of pork barrel funds and a new scheme called the Disbursement Acceleration Fund.
To correct that injustice the current Congress should pass a resolution apologizing to Corona’s family, and order a monument to him at the Supreme Court’s headquarters. I would think President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would support such a resolution: He was one of only three senators (out of the 23) who voted against Corona’s removal.
The second most responsible for this evil deed was a major section of media, most of the broadsheets and even journalists respected by the new generation, as well as the US-funded institutions that were active in the impeachment in demonizing Corona: Rappler.com, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, and VERA Files. These media outlets molded Filipinos’ minds to conceal the deep injustice of Corona’s impeachment, which Sen. Joker Arroyo said was a “political assassination.”
Marcos in explaining his decision to acquit Corona was bold enough to blame media for Corona’s removal: “At the expense of the sub judice rule, evidence had been presented to the public on several occasions even before they were formally offered before this court. Worse, information was grossly exaggerated with the apparent intention to predispose the public mind against the chief justice. Notable examples would be the Land Registration Authority report with the discredited list of 45 properties and the unauthenticated AMLC report claiming that the chief justice allegedly owned $10 million.”
Marcos’ statement in explaining his “acquit” decision was extraordinarily prescient: “When the furor dies down and this political storm has subsided, I know that like Lady Justice, we shall find solace in the fact that this decision, though maybe not popular, was fair, impartial and just.”
Perhaps that decision was Marcos’ huge, good karma which was handed over to him 10 years later, the highest post in the land. Indeed his decision to vote to acquit Corona made me review — and later revise — my antagonistic views of his father and the martial law era which I had held since I was a communist cadre in my youth.
As unforgivingly reprehensible as the removal of Corona, has been Rappler CEO Maria Ressa’s touring the world, claiming that the libel charge against her for which she has been convicted was just one of the past administration’s attempts to suppress her and her news website.
The incontrovertible reality is that the libelous article was part of Rappler’s campaign to demonize Corona, by alleging that a rich, “notorious” businessman lent him an armored SUV. After 10 years of trial, with American money funding over P50 million of her legal expenses and PR efforts to demonize the country, that allegation has been destroyed, ground to a fine sand by the court.
Yet Ressa has been so arrogant, thinking she is beyond the Philippine legal system. She has refused to this day, to take down the libelous article.
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