A few blogs ago, I said that the main trigger factor for Malacanang’s order to impeach CJ Renato Corona was the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision of Nov. 22, to re-distribute nearly 5,000 hectares of Hacienda Luisita, owned by President Aquino’s family, to its long-suffering farmers. Reports say some of P-Noy’s relatives were upset that this order had to come down in his administration; their reaction could have egged P-Noy to order Corona’s impeachment, which the House dutifully carried out in blitzkrieg fashion, sans verification of the complaint by the overwhelming majority of the 188 signatories.
The Palace has since sought to downplay that main trigger factor by pointing out that the SC’s Luisita decision was signed by even the three justices appointed by P-Noy, so how could he just pick on the CJ? The CLUE, however, may be in the valuation of the land that the farmers will be paying to the Cojuangcos.
I noted in that blog that Corona insisted in the SC’s en banc session that Luisita’s lands ought to be valued at prices of November 1989, the year when President Cory pushed her stock distribution option for the farmers ( in order to exempt Luisita from her centerpiece CARP program); on the other hand, Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, P-Noy’s first SC appointee and whom media have portrayed as very close now to the Palace, insisted on valuation of January 2006, as determined by the Department of Agrarian Reform. As I argued earlier, there’s a whale of difference in Luisita’s land value between these two dates.
Interestingly, in his column in Business World last Jan. 5, Rene Azurin stressed that the difference “in setting the amount to be received by the Cojuangco family (from the sale of the lands to the farmers) translates to billions of pesos,” adding that "Sereno’s position obviously favors the Cojuangco family but certainly not the farm worker-beneficiaries.”
Recently I had a chance to discuss this valuation difference of Luisita lands with lawyers of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and they opined that CJ Corona’s position---fixing what the farmers have to pay the Cojuangcos AT 1989 PRICES---would translate to only P9 billion for the Cojuangcos; whereas Sereno’s valuation AT 2006 PRICES would mean a whopping P26 billion for that family. Obviously, in this issue Corona was thinking of the farmers’ benefit, whereas Sereno had the Cojuangcos’ interest (No wonder she's said to be P-Noy's favorite candidate for CJ).
As columnist Azurin put it, “Since partiality to the appointing power is really the primary issue in the Corona impeachment case, it may be fair to ask if Justice Sereno’s opinion may not also reflect her partiality to the president who appointed her.” If so, argues Azurin, "then the removal of the Arroyo-appointed justices will simply mean that a Court partial to a former president will now be just as partial to her successor.” He concludes that “The reduction of justices to mere lackeys of the holders of executive power is a catastrophe as far as the building up of our democratic institutions is concerned,” adding that “Alas, there may be nothing we can do about it.”
I regard Azurin’s last sentence as a pessimistic reading of the possible upheaval in the SC when the impeachment trial goes full blast in the Senate. But I don’t share his pessimism, as I am confident that given the very weak arguments of the House prosecutors in their eight Articles of Impeachment, and the point-by-point response by CJ Corona, majority of the senators would acquit him.
I’m also buoyed by the very firm and UNANIMOUS stand of the Board of Governors of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, led by its president and chair, former Agusan del Sur Rep. Roan Libarios, in defending the “judicial independence of the Supreme Court” as the “bedrock of the Rule of Law.” I’m also inspired by the courageous stand of the Metropolitan and City Judges Association of the Philippines, as featured in today’s Standard, who lamented the prosecutors’ subjecting CJ to a trial by publicity, which undermines the independence of the Senate as an impeachment court. In coming out in the open despite possible repercussions from a vindictive administration, these two giant law associations give us Filipinos hope that the courage of our heroes has not diminished in our time.
The “demonizing” of Corona through a trial by publicity by the House prosecution team and its Palace allies, to borrow the term used by CJ's lead counsel, retired SC justice Serafin Cuevas, with the help of the yellow media, has drawn protests from the senators themselves. Nowadays, everything is being questioned about Corona, from the Ph.D in civil law, summa cum laude, granted to him by UST last year, to his supposed ownership of two condominium units. But to me the picture worth a thousand words, despite the malicious story ran by the premier yellow paper, was the photo of UST Rector Fr. Rolando de la Rosa conferring the doctoral degree on a kneeling CJ. The question evoked by that photo is, would UST, which definitely aims to last at least another 400 years as a respected institution of higher learning in Asia, destroy its reputation by granting a spurious doctoral to the CJ?
On the other hand, on the issue of owning several property, Standard columnist Emil Jurado hit the nail on the head when he argued that Corona and wife Tina are not "a newly-married couple struggling to own property." As their friends point out, CJ graduated from the Ateneo Law School and studied at Harvard Law School for his master’s degree on his FAMILY'S OWN EXPENSE. He had served as special counsel for the DBP, senior VP for the Commercial Bank of Manila and senior officer at the Tax Division of the SGV in his 20 years prior to joining the Ramos administration. Of course the yellow media do not mention these posts he had held---only that he bought units at the Bellagio and the Bonifacio Ridge as SC justice.
Speaking of these condos, young middle-income condo-buying folks smirk at all the sensationalizing about it. They stress that the CJ’s supposed purchases are not even top-of-the-line, compared to the Ritz Towers in Makati, the Essensa, Pacific Plaza and even One Roxas in Global City.
The aim of the House prosecution in releasing “juicy” stories to media in strip-tease fashion is obviously to pulverize Corona and reduce him to a pulp way ahead of the Senate trial. As admitted by no less than Presidential Political Adviser Ronald Llamas in the Manila Standard last Dec. 31, the Palace is no longer sure it could garner the numbers to convict CJ. House sources say the prosecution team now realizes that its complaint is quite weak and that many of its 11 members are quite inexperienced in trial law, not to mention that their leader, Rep. Neil Tupas, has become outright disagreeable in his defiance of the Senate gag rule.
P-Noy has staked ALL HIS POLITICAL CAPITAL in impeaching Corona in the House, and having won that round, now in convicting him in the Senate. As they say, it’s now VALE TODO for P-Noy. But the Senate trial is far from predictable, as Llamas himself says, and P-Noy could end up a lameduck president. Hence the strategy is to break Corona’s will by PUBLICLY SHAMING HIM and FORCE HIM TO RESIGN. On Monday, Jan. 9, the Black/White Movement led by the Hyatt 10 will publish full-page ads with various signatories urging Corona to resign. But CJ remains steady, as evidenced by his presence at the first of novenas held at the SC steps yesterday, surrounded by many supporters.
The CJ enjoys near-solid support from the legal community (which is alarmed at the way this P-Noy administration is cherry-picking which SC decisions to obey and which to discard) as well as from the silent public to whom he has emerged as the underdog, while awaiting his trial in silence and dignity. And contrary to statistics from doctored surveys, Pinoys always go for the underdog.
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