Last night, May 1, I dropped in at the wake of former Chief Justice Renato Corona at the Heritage Memorial Park to condole with his family and hear my Sunday mass there too. There was a huge crowd that overflowed into the corridors of the memorial park hall, for aside from the many people from all walks of life who wanted to demonstrate their love and respect for the former SC Chief, it was also the night reserved for his fraternity brothers in the “Utopia,” one of the two major frats of the Ateneo College of Law.
Utopians from various generations of lawyers and law students came in several hundreds, all wearing white shirts with a black band in one arm, and they rendered songs and speeches hailing their fallen brother-in-arms.
It was a memorable night for CJ’s family. Saddened they were by his all-too-quick passing---as his daughter Carla Corona Castillo put it, “in a snap of the finger Dad was gone”---but they knew that in CJ’s fall from power four years ago, he landed into the arms of the people. The outpouring of tribute to him at Heritage and in social media has been just awesome.
Someone noted that CJ Corona seems to have timed his passing on the eve of perhaps the most hotly-fought elections in our history. The buzz in his wake was: was this his way of campaigning for the opponents of the administration?
I listened to the speech of former Supreme Court Associated Justice Roberto Abad, who had served with Corona and retired just a few years ago. Praising his fellow Utopian generously, Abad, who was among the most respected of justices in the SC and at one time was a strong contender for CJ too, stressed that Corona was not tainted with corruption at all.
Justice Abad’s assertion was contrary to the point that the impeachment court of the Senate sought to establish---and succeeding in doing in May 2012, with the help of generous funds from a budget mechanism introduced by Malacanang for the first time during Corona’s trial: the Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP), straight from the desk of Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
The Senate booted out the CJ, who was earlier impeached by the House of Representatives on the issue of corruption. Those who knew Corona, such as his former colleague, Roberto Abad, knew about the decency of the man and how God-fearing he was. Corona’s major problem in his incumbency at the SC, as everyone knows, was that he ran afoul of the desire of the tenant in Malacanang to preserve Hacienda Luisita as his family’s fiefdom forever.
When the SC led by its Chief Justice rendered a stunning14-0 vote that ordered the re-distribution of the over 5,000 hectares of this Central Luzon hacienda to its tenants, Malacanang laid the blame squarely on the SC’s leader---Corona had to go by hook or by crook. It threw the entire power of the Palace vs. the Chief Justice in a manner hitherto unseen in the annals of this country, in a six-month proceeding billed as the “Trial of the Century.”
Below is a reprint of a blog I wrote on October 8, 2015, as a tribute to the late Sen. Joker Arroyo upon his passing. The quoted portion below showed the forthrightness and outspokenness of Joker Arroyo in defending what he perceived to be right: rallying to a man unjustly being persecuted for the collegial decision of an entire body. Joker, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. were the only three senators out of 23 who were not razzle-dazzled by fat bribes.
Allow me to quote portions of my blog here:
“In the corruption that enveloped the Senate during the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, where the votes of various senators were bought and paid for by taxpayers’ money without their consent, Sen. Joker Arroyo’s defense of the CJ stood out like an isolated beacon of light in the vast darkness. In his 20-miniuter speech he introduced a defense concept of Corona that was new to non-lawyers like myself---the “BILL OF ATTAINDER.” It made sense to us non-lawyers as he explained it, but by then it was too late. Money had gotten to many of the senators who went for the kill.
“As Joker Arroyo explained it, a “ ‘bill of attainder’ is a law passed by one (chamber of Congress) and approved by the other, CREATING AN OFFENSE WHERE THERE WAS NONE, INVENTING A CRIME OUT OF ACTIONS, WILLFUL OR NOT, THAT WERE INNOCENT WHEN THEY WERE PERFORMED. It is a legislative act of convicting an accused of acts that were not offenses in the very measure by which he is condemned--- through a vote instead of a trial on the basis of accusations taken as proof.” (emphasis BOC’s).
“Arroyo warned that the Senate “could be moving toward a bill of attainder” that would mock the Constitution---making a crime of something that was not such at the time of the supposed offense.
“Joker then stressed that “I cannot imagine removing a chief justice on account of a SALN.” The issue then under hot consideration for half a year in the Senate---it couldn’t have been a “debate” as there seemed almost only one side, which was, to condemn Corona for reasons other than his SALN--- was whether the Chief Magistrate paid the correct SALN. It was an issue that would have hounded the senators were they on trial themselves, for as anyone can guess, doubtless none of them paid the correct SALN. In fact, perhaps nobody ever did in this country---until that point when Corona was convicted ostensibly because of improperly-filed SALN. From then on, officialdom began to fear this heretofore harmless animal.
“Ironically, conviction came despite the fact that the official who should have had the last say on the SALN issue, then Civil Service Commission Chair Francisco Duque, had issued a statement that appeared to back up Joker Arroyo’s near-solitary stand (only two other senators, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., voted to acquit Corona). Duque stated without equivocation THAT A FAULTY SALN COULD BE REMEDIED AND CORRECTED WITHIN A GIVEN PERIOD OF TIME. In other words, Duque argued indirectly---and it took a lot of guts for him to do so, even if he was protected by a seven-year constitutional tenure as CSC Chair---that Corona should not be convicted at all.
“But by then Chair Duque’s reminder was ignored, for the minds of most of the senators were already made up the week before; and we daily trial-goers could sense it. As Sen. Jinggoy Estrada later revealed, what sealed conviction of Corona were the many millions of pesos released to the senators through a memorandum of availability by then Appropriations Committee Chair Franklin Drilon, about another new animal--- the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).Thus, the velvet crimson robes the senators wore as impeachment judges didn't help many of them act nobly.
“Recently the Supreme Court, acting on the petition of Philconsa, former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzalez, former Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, former Sen.Franciscot Tatad and three Archbishops, ordered DBM Secretary Florencio Abad, said to be the brains behind the DAP, and President Aquino to explain their role in the lump sum appropriations under this new animal.
“Joker Arroyo must have been aware of this recent happy development at the SC before he passed away, and he must have felt vindicated about his stand in that Senate Trial of the Century. In fact, as he condemned in his acquittal speech the “naked power” being used to convict the sitting Chief Justice on a non-existent crime when the so-called offense was committed, Arroyo noted its brazen similarity to 1972. He warned that “IT IS DANGEROUS NOT TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT WHEN SOON WE SHALL STAND BEFORE THE LORD.” (emphasis BOC’s).
“Well, Joker is standing before the Lord now, and interestingly his words uttered in the hallowed halls of the Senate three years ago seem like a grim reminder to present-day politicos who seek to foist brazen acts of legal impunity. Never in the Supreme Court's history have so many acts of the Executive Branch been challenged as now. ..”
Ironically, this issue of the questionable or faulty SALN resurrects in the current electoral campaign, as netizens question why CJ Corona was convicted because of failure to declare his SALN properly, whereas leading presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte apparently violated the same mechanism blatantly and appears ready to get away with it.
Another one of those ironies of history.