By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Chief Justice Renato Corona finally took the witness stand after he was urged, pressured, and challenged for weeks. He is practically the only defense witness whose testimony has been declared as material to the impeachment proceedings. Senate Pres. Juan Ponce Enrile ruled that the testimonies of the other witnesses presented by the defense were irrelevant to the case.
However, what Chief Justice Corona did was to deliver his piece, which was meant not to explain the controversial dollar accounts but more to appeal to the public’s sympathy, then left. Judging by this, he knew that the impeachment process is more of a political rather than a legal process, despite having the trimmings of a court, with the senator-judges wearing robes and all. And he played politics.
Having said this, the impact of the impeachment proceedings– whether Chief Justice Corona would be acquitted or removed when the Senators vote next week – would definitely be more political than legal.
First, the impeachment of the chief justice removed the cloak of inviolability of the Supreme Court as a court of last resort where questions of law and constitutionality are decided upon by purportedly impartial justices. The impeachment of the chief justice revealed that justices are not immune to political patronage and bribery, as well as to political pressures and personal interests and biases. Whatever credibility former chief justice Reynato Puno tried to build, current Chief Justice Renato Corona destroyed the moment he took over the Supreme Court. This is not to say that the Supreme Court was independent during the time of Chief Justice Reynato Puno. Puno was often outvoted then. But Corona is an out-and-out protector of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Second, it destroyed the myth of the separation of powers of the three branches of government: the executive, legislative, and the judiciary. The whole impeachment of the chief justice was obviously orchestrated by President Aquino himself who prepared the ground right on the day of his inauguration and pushed for it mere weeks after the Supreme Court decision ordering the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to the farmworkers. In fact, President Aquino is still calling the shots, and even called for a meeting in Malacañang of the prosecutors from the Lower House. Only a gullible person would believe that Malacañang has got nothing to do with how the impeachment is being conducted. And only a fool would believe that President Aquino has completely divested himself of any interest in Hacienda Luisita.
Would the removal of Chief Justice Corona restore the independence of the judiciary?
Well, there is no independence to restore to start with. But the removal of Chief Justice Corona would send a clear message to the rest of the justices who the person in-charge is now. And this would have a bearing on future Supreme Court decisions in cases involving President Aquino, his family, and his administration.
On the other hand, an acquittal of the chief justice would result in a defiant Supreme Court. Likely, it would scrutinize methodically all the acts of the Aquino administration that would be raised before it. It would come up with independent positions when the Aquino administration is concerned but it will still be a conservative, pro-Arroyo court in all its other decisions.
Ironically, traditional politicians – justices included – tend to show their best when part of the opposition but are at their worst when in power.
Would the removal of Chief Justice Corona eradicate corruption in government and usher in good governance?
Far from it, to say so is much like saying that the former Arroyo administration has the exclusivity of corruption. Corruption existed and would still exist for as long as the current political, economic, and social system is not changed, for as long as the rule of the elite prevails and genuine democracy remains a dream. Corruption scandals haunt even the US and European governments, more so for a system where the politics of guns, goons, and gold still predominates.
While there has yet no corruption scandal involving the current administration that has been exposed, corruption still exists under the current dispensation. And the signs are already there such as when the alleged jueteng payoffs were exposed. Corruption would even worsen when the economic crisis lifts a little and foreign and local investors begin frantic jockeying for contracts, special business privileges, and resources.
It is a folly to believe that corruption has been or is near eradication. This is why in the highly unlikely event that the prosecutors from the Lower House and Senator Franklin Drilon would take the challenge of Chief Justice Corona to sign waivers to allow the opening of their respective bank accounts, perhaps only Bayan Muna Representatives Teddy Casiño and Neri Colmenares would emerge unscathed.
What would be the gain in having Chief Justice Corona removed?
For one, a layer of protection that was set-up by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo would be removed. Macapagal-Arroyo could no longer bank on the Supreme Court to protect her from being held accountable for crimes her administration and her family committed against the Filipino people. But it would only pave the way for Arroyo’s prosecution for plunder, electoral fraud and human rights violations. Much would still depend on how far the Aquino administration would go to hold her accountable. As it is, the Aquino administration has been ignoring the cries for justice of victims of human rights violations and their families.
Second, no matter what the motive of the Aquino administration is in running after Corona and no matter what happens immediately after Corona’s removal, still a government official was held accountable for his crimes. This should happen more in the future.
The independence of the judiciary is a myth; it would either favor the interests of a few or even a smaller segment of the few ruling elite or that of the majority. The eradication of corruption is possible, and good governance and genuine democracy could be attained, but we could not rely on the Aquino government to do it. After all, it is still a product of this system and government officials, including President Aquino benefits from this system – that is why a genuine agrarian reform program is impossible under the current dispensation.