The Health of the New Philippine Justice System
The Medical History
The daily Supreme Court-novela has aired its last episode. The cast has made their mark. The trial may be over but there are still many issues that need to be addressed. And the wounds and pains are ready to be healed. But before the Filipinos fully move on, one must know where the resolutions are coming from. Here is a quick run down of how the Philippine Justice System became afflicted with so much illness. From hindsight, one can say that it all started with the questionable appointment of then-Associate Justice Renato Corona as the 23rd Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. Outgoing president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, appointed Corona after Reynato Puno retired. This decision was questioned by many including then-senator Benigno Aquino III. On December 12, 2011, Corona was impeached by the House of Representatives. This became an important milestone in the Philippine Government. Joseph Estrada may have had his term cut short but he was not actually impeached in any court of law. Renato C. Corona is the highest ranked government official to ever be impeached.
Accounts of Impeachment: First Half
But what did Renato Corona do to make the Congress impeach him? Here are the articles of impeachment.
The first point of argument was his track record that showed partiality in special cases involving the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration. On the side, many said that his midnight appointment as Chief Justice was the former president’s measure to protect herself. Senator Franklin Drilon pointed out 19 cases in which Corona voted in favor of the Arroyos or any one connected to them. Corona’s defense was that his vote, though he is the Chief Justice, counts as one. And it will not sway influence to the decision of the Supreme Court.
The second point of contention was that of Corona’s failure to disclose his assets, liabilities and net worth. The disclosure of SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth) is required of the high-ranking officials like the president, vice-president, members of the cabinet, the congress, officers of the armed forces and yes, even members of the Supreme Court. This article will prove to be his downfall.
The third article for impeachment falls under Corona’s betrayal of public trust in failing to meet and observe the stringent standards of the Constitution. There are three prime examples to the third article. The first puts his competence in question by swaying a decision in a labor case against Philippine Airlines. A mere letter from the counsel caused the change. The second example questions his credibility even further as he discussed with litigants cases pending before the Supreme Court decision. This is what happened with the Vizconde case. Corona allegedly met with Lauro Vizconde to discuss Senior Justice Antonio Carpio’s supposed lobbying of Webb’s acquittal. The said meeting took place even before the Supreme Court arrived at a decision. This is not acceptable in the court of law. The last example on this article is the appointment of Corona’s wife in Camp John Hay. According to law, a member of the Supreme Court, more so the Chief Justice’s spouse cannot hold office in the government. This runs in the basic principle of government officials should have no shared interest or whatsoever.
Accounts of Impeachment: Second Half
The prosecution made sure that there are many counts in which they can pin Corona down. Some of the cases are strong and some are a stretch. Here are the other articles of the Corona Impeachment.
Corona betrayed public trust when he allegedly disregarded the principle of separation of powers by issuing a status quo ante order against the House of Representatives regarding the impeachment case of Ombudsman Merceditas Navarro-Gutierrez. The impeachment also accuses Corona of violating the constitution through partiality in disregarding the principle of res judicata and favoring the gerrymandering in the cases of the 16-new cities and the promotion of Dinagat island into a province.
The sixth article of the impeachment dealt with Corona’s decision to arrogate unto himself, and to a committee he created, the authority and jurisdiction to investigate an alleged erring member of the Supreme Court. Article seven was about Corona’s allegedly showing partiality in giving a Temporary Restraining Order to favor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo. The TRO has been seen as a way to give the couple a chance to escape prosecution.
The last article of impeachment dealt with Corona’s alleged act of graft and corruption when he failed and refused to account for the Judiciary Development Fund and Special Allowance for the Judiciary. The prosecution team chose many articles to accuse Corona. Some found it even wanting to the point that it seemed a waste of time to carry on with the impeachment.
The Article That Mattered Most
Corona faced a prosecution team that was intent on impeaching and proving that he is guilty. Though their approach might not be approved by many, their intention was very much there.
In the end, Corona was found guilty on the account of failing to declare his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth. The former Chief Justice failed to disclose $2.4 million. This was the finding on the second article of impeachment against Corona.
On May 29, 2012, twenty of the twenty-three senators voted GUILTY against Corona. This was marked as the day that the first high-ranking Philippine official has been impeached and actually declared guilty. Corona had his say. He believed that it was not required of him to disclose the $2.4 million since foreign currency deposits belonged to his relatives. He also insinuated that the entire exercise was politically motivated to fuel President Benigno Aquino III’s platform against corruption. Words have been said and the dust has yet to settle. No matter what view or side you take, there is one fact that stands true for all – the Philippine Justice System is tainted.
The Healing Process
Prosecution, defense, senator, balut vendor, congressman, jeepney driver, judge and teacher all came home with their Chief Justice found guilty on May 29, 2012. It may be a win for some but in one way or another each Filipino lost something on that day – trust. The integrity of the Philippine Justice System was shook to its core. In simpler terms, it is like a relationship where your partner betrays your trust by cheating on you. Every Filipino has at least a feeling that they were betrayed by the very institution that they firmly believed as the moral high ground or an impartial institution that brings equality to all. How can you now trust someone who has cheated on you?
The Philippine Justice System is clearly having health issues. It may not be as sick since the root of the pain has been removed, but it is now put in an unfamiliar territory. It is used to casting an eye on defendants and accusers. Impartially judging who speaks the truth and who does not. Day in and day out, they scrutinize and criticize facts to get to the bottom of every case. Day in and day out, they have their eyes on everyone to keep them in check. But on May 30 of 2012, the perspective has vastly shifted. It is now the Filipino citizens outside of the Justice System who have their eyes on the Supreme Court. And the tough thing is, the Filipinos are not casting an impartial eye at the remaining members. It is ideal for everyone to be impartial but it is hard to be fair when you feel cheated. Day in and day out, Filipinos will scrutinize and criticize facts and actions of the Supreme Court. Day in and day out, Filipinos will have their eyes on the judges, the government and the next Chief Justice.
Calling All Citizens
This is indeed a bold new day in Philippine history. You may or may not like it, but you are a part of the healing process. Your morale may be low but you have to lift your head up and believe that there is a silver lining amidst all the words, accusations, mud slinging, courtroom drama, courtroom walkouts and pains. And as a Filipino, whether you are in the motherland or in another country, it is your rightful duty to be the astute, objective guard dog and the caring healer of the afflicted. Vowing never to flinch or to be taken advantage upon by those whom you have trusted to serve and protect you. Proper vigilance must be in order. Do not fall into the mass hysteria of trial by publicity or trial by the big TV networks. Do not be roused by the scheming names and icons out to protect their own agenda. Do not let the tide of emotion sway you to what is not right. After the impeachment, it is not only the Justice department that is put under the microscope. The President, the senators, and the congressmen should also be put in watchful scrutiny. It is not because they are guilty. But it is for them to remember that the law is not something that anyone can toy with. The law works no matter how fast or how slow. The truth will prevail.
The best way to move on after this debacle called the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, is not to flog the horse further. The mighty justice system, in one way or another, have fallen. It is the duty of every Filipino to help it stand back on its feet. And whomever they may put in the seat of power, give the individual a chance. Watchful eyes should come with a guiding hand. Filipinos take pride in bayanihan. This is one of the best times to show what its like to put something big and great on the shoulders of small brown skinned heroes.
Lesson of EDSA
The spirit of the EDSA Revolution is to uplift every Filipino. No one shall be put down by an abusive dictator or government. Three EDSA Revolutions after, Filipinos are still in a place where the mighty becomes mightier by taking advantage of the weak and the meek. Filipinos have learned a lot in EDSA. But there is one more that is yet to be picked up. And that is the lesson that the fight does not end after the dictator is toppled nor after the point has been made. The spirit of living for one another should be inside every Filipino every minute, every hour of every day. You do not need a massive shrine or flash mob to keep the spirit alive. What you need to do is to be morally upright and be vigilant so that no one shall be over and above the Filipinos.
Justice in the Philippines will no longer be the same. But it is up to the Filipinos whether it will nurse the Justice department to good health or let it succumb and let it be weaker. The time of passing judgments is over. It is time to mend broken promises and pain. It is also a perfect time for the justice system to clean its overall image. A good opportunity to wash away the stigma of the slow pace of justice. It is more than just a wag the dog Public Relations slant. This is all about renewing itself from inside out. Justice will never be the same and may it be for the good of all.