Embattled Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona waves to the crowd, mostly lawyers and judges, shortly after addressing them in a rally at the Supreme Court in Manila on Dec. 14. Corona has warned that President Benigno Aquino III’s moves to oust him could lead to a dictatorship, and vowed to defend himself in an impeachment trial come January 2012.  (AP photo/Bullit Marquez)

MANILA — Congressmen-allies of President Benigno Aquino III moved swiftly to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona for alleged betrayal of public trust, violation of the Constitution, and graft and corruption.

In a dizzying turn of events, 188 of them signed an impeachment complaint drafted by the committee on justice, leveling eight charges against Corona.

Members of the Liberal Party-led majority coalition in the House of Representatives convened in a caucus.

Deputy Speaker Arnulfo Fuentebella, who presided over the session, ordered House Secretary General Marilyn Yap to transmit the impeachment complaint to the Senate.

The number is nearly twice the minimum 95 signatures needed for transmittal.

Malacañang denied it had a hand in the impeachment of Corona.

Emerging from the caucus while several of his colleagues were still queuing to sign the complaint, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., committee chairman, said, “I think by tonight, the House will formally impeach the Chief Justice and send the charges to the Senate for trial.”

“We have more than enough signatures to bypass the committee and transmit the complaint directly to the Senate. The rules require only the votes or signatures of one-third of all House members, or 94, for direct transmittal,” he said.

Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali said that with an overwhelming number of House members having signed the complaint, “Chief Justice Corona is virtually impeached.”

He said the plan was for the presiding officer in the session to read the complaint and send it to the Senate.

The House, under Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., made history by impeaching a chief justice of the Supreme Court (SC).

Corona might turn out to be the third impeachable officer to be impeached in the post-martial law history of Congress.

The first was former President Joseph Estrada, who was deposed while still under trial by the Senate.

The second was former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who resigned days before her Senate trial.

Tupas said his committee has enough evidence and witnesses to support the impeachment charges against Corona.

“We are accusing him of betraying the public trust because of a track record of bias and partiality in cases involving former President Arroyo. We are accusing him of culpable violation of the Constitution when he failed to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth,” he said.

The complaint alleges that Corona also violated the Charter “by failing to meet and observe the stringent standards...of competence, integrity, probity and independence in allowing the Supreme Court to act on mere letters filed by a counsel...(and) in creating an excessive entanglement with Mrs. Arroyo through her appointment of his wife to office; and in discussing with litigants regarding cases pending before the Supreme Court.”

In the complaint, the House members accused the Chief Justice of betraying the public trust by manifesting partiality in the grant of a temporary restraining order “in favor” of Mrs. Arroyo and her husband “to give them an opportunity to escape prosecution and to frustrate the ends of justice.”

As for the impeachment offense of graft and corruption, the complaint accuses Corona of allegedly failing and refusing to account for the Judiciary Development Fund and Special Allowance for the Judiciary collections.

“We have evidence to prove that the Chief Justice used public funds for his own personal purposes,” Tupas told reporters.

Court employees chant slogans in support of Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona at the Supreme Court in Manila on Dec. 14. The Congress impeached the country’s Chief Justice Monday as allies of President Benigno Aquino III lined up behind his drive to root out corruption.  (Reuters/Cheryl Ravelo)

The complaint also cited the status quo ante order the SC issued against the House when the latter was in the process of impeaching Gutierrez.

The House also cited the SC’s flip-flopping decisions on the conversion of 16 towns into cities and Dinagat Island into a province.

Lawmakers also took note of the high court’s paving the way for the creation of the second district of Camarines Sur to accommodate Mrs. Arroyo’s son Dato.

Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla said the impeachers are so overwhelming in number that “Chief Justice Corona should better resign.”

Umali said, “If the chief cannot stand the heat and to further avoid embarrassment for the Supreme Court, he should consider resignation as an option.”

Deputy Speaker Raul Daza said under the Constitution, an impeachment trial in the Senate is to be presided over by the Senate president and the Chief Justice.

“Since Chief Justice Corona is the respondent, then only the Senate president will preside over the trial,” he said.

Rep. Florencio Noel of the party-list group An Waray, who chairs the House accounts committee, said they were aiming for 200 signatures.

The House has 286 members.

Those who signed the impeachment complaint were members of the LP, Nationalist People’s Coalition, National Unity Party, and party-list groups.

Amid the caucus, seven militant party-list representatives asked for time to make a collective decision.

An hour later, they came back to affix their signatures on the complaint. 

No plot

Despite the seemingly clockwork precision the impeachment move unfolded in the House, there is no plot by lawmakers to destabilize the SC, according to Quezon City Rep. Winston Castelo.

“What is taking place in Congress is the ‘crystallization of divergent views and opinions’ and the ‘emergence of a new consensus’ among lawmakers on the SC’s treatment of the cases involving former President Gloria Mapacagal-Arroyo and her cohorts,” Castelo said.

“The chief apologist and mouthpiece of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona was going too far when he described as ‘destabilization’ what appears to be the crystallization of divergent views and opinions on how the SC, under Corona’s leadership, has been treating those cases involving Arroyo and her cohorts,” Castelo said, referring SC spokesperson Midas Marquez.

“It was an error in judgment, or paranoia, on Corona’s part to speak through his mouthpiece and to describe wrongly as destabilization the emergence of a new consensus among lawmakers that the SC has been favoring Arroyo and her ilk in those cases,” he said.

“The crystallization of divergent views and opinions and the emergence of a new consensus among lawmakers do not in anyway destabilize the country. While they challenge Corona and his former boss, what has been taking place is part of the democratic processes and should therefore be recognized and accepted,” Castelo said.

“Only a twisted mind can conjure malice and ill will to the ongoing democratic processes,” he said.

Castelo also urged the House leadership to look into the circumstances that surrounded Corona’s “midnight appointment” as chief magistrate.

“The way the SC has decided and sustained Corona’s appointment as Chief Justice leaves much to be desired, as it has raised more questions than settle the issue,” Castelo said.

“I strongly doubt if any judicial doctrine has been laid down by the SC decision.”

He also questioned Corona’s “moral courage” to speak his mind, saying the Chief Justice even had to speak through a spokesman on issues of grave concern.

“It’s a sign of moral courage to speak out one’s mind regardless of the consequences. Why Corona could not even speak for himself amid the serious accusations on his performance as the chief magistrate shows his moral fitness to handle the job,” Castelo said.

He stressed that impeaching an official with questionable integrity is a “constitutional duty” of lawmakers and not a destabilization effort.

“Any exercise of this constitutional duty should never be construed as destabilization of the judiciary. It is part of the corrective mechanisms, which the Constitution specifically provides, and therefore should be viewed as such,” Castelo said.

Add comment

Security code

Latest comments