THE IMPEACHMENT trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona should be allowed to reach its conclusion, legal experts said amid questions over the hasty passage of the complaint at the House of Representatives.

In a surprise move last Dec. 12, before Congress went on Christmas break, 188 members of the House of Representatives—mostly allies of President Benigno Aquino III—signed eight articles of impeachment against Corona. With more than a third of the House voting to impeach Corona, there was no more need for public hearings as stated in the Constitution, and the articles were sent directly to the Senate, which must sit as an impeachment court. The trial proper began last Jan. 16.

The magistrate stands accused of betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, and graft and corruption. In particular, he is charged of “subservience” to detained former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as shown by several rulings supposedly favoring her; failing to disclose to the public his statement of assets and liabilities; lack of “competence, integrity, probity and independence”; violating the principle of separation of powers by stopping the impeachment case of Ombudsman Merceditas Guttierez; flip-flopping on the decision over the creation of 16 new cities and a province; unduly “exculpating” an associate justice; partiality to Arroyo for granting a temporary restraining order (TRO) on a watchlist order to supposedly allow her to flee the country; and failure to account for judiciary funds.

Corona, the subject of public criticism by Aquino, may be removed from office and disqualified from serving in government if convicted by two-thirds of the Senate on any one of the eight articles of impeachment. Senate leaders hope to end the trial by March.

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Petitioners such as Homobono Adaza and Alan Paguia however have asked the Supreme Court to issue a TRO on the Senate trial. The Supreme Court, however, did not, in apparent deference to the Senate.

Faculty of Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina said the trial must be pursued. “The Supreme Court should not issue a TRO and let trial continue, for as long as there is no grave abuse of discretion committed [or] to be committed by [the] Senate,” Divina said in an interview.

Former senator Aquilino Pimentel, Jr., who co-presided the aborted impeachment trial of former president Joseph Estrada in late 2000, told the Varsitarian the issuance of TRO would be a self-serving move. “The Senate has already acquired jurisdiction. If the charges are just hanging up in the air, maybe a TRO could be excused, but not under these circumstances,” he said.

But Supreme Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the decision is up to the members of the high court. “We don’t know if there will be more [petitions to be filed]. That remains to be seen, [when] the court decides or acts [on] these petitions,” he told the Varsitarian.

Whether or not Corona deserves to be removed from his post, Divina said the decision should be left to the Senate. “Let [the Senate] appreciate the evidence for or against the Chief Justice,” he said. ”If he (Corona) is guilty then he should be impeached. But if he's not guilty, then he should be retained … he should respect the decision of the Senate.”

Pimentel pointed out that impeachment is part of the democratic process. “If [the impeachment] is properly pursuant to the rules prescribed by the Constitution, then it will lead to the maturation of Philippine democracy,” said the former senator, who is the father of one of the senator-judges Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.

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‘Hasty passage’

The eight articles of impeachment, signed by 188 members of the House of Representatives, were transmitted to the Senate last Dec. 13.

Corona said in his reply to the compliant dated Dec. 21 that the signatories failed to read the articles of impeachment.

“It appears that Members were expected to sign on being offered tangible rewards, even if denied the opportunity to read the Articles of Impeachment and examine the evidence against CJ Corona,” the reply stated.

But the complainants refuted the allegation last Dec. 30, saying Corona’s claim “would not render the verification of the impeachment complaint defective.”

“Article XI, Section 3 (4) of the Constitution merely speaks of the filing by at least one-third of the Members, and not verification by all of the said Members,” they added.

Pimentel said that while Corona’s claim may be a valid one, it can be easily deflected.

“The propriety of the speed of which the impeachment complaint against Corona was treated may not hold water eventually,” he said, adding that there is no wording in the Constitution that requires one to understand the complaint.

But Divina said the signatories should have understood well the gravity of the charges against Corona.

“They should be convinced personally, not just because they were told to do so, that there is a ground to impeach the Chief Justice,” he said.

Political war

Corona claimed in his reply that the impeachment case was the “handiwork of the Liberal Party alone,” and that its head and President Benigno Aquino III was involved in its inception.

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“[T]his impeachment seeks mainly to oust CJ Corona and such number of justices that will not bend to the powerful and popular chief executive,” it said.

Marquez said such conclusion was evident. “The ones leading in the House of Representatives are those from the Liberal Party, which is the party of the President. In so many announcements, statements, [and] instances, you’ve heard [through his] spokespersons [that the President] really [wants to] go against the court.”

Corona added that while the complaint was filed by at least one-third of all members of the House, it still “directly” violated the Constitutional provision because it was “initiated by President Aquino, and filed by his subalterns,” and therefore should not be transmitted to the Senate.

But Pimentel said: “That might be a distinction that is not necessarily found in the wording of the Constitution. What will actually be more important than just the motives [of both parties] would be the evidence that will be presented during the trial.”

Marquez urged the public to be vigilant and participative on the issue.

“Huwag lang tayong tanggap nang tanggap kung ano ‘yung naririnig natin. Pag-isipan nating mabuti kung sino ba ang tama, ano ba ang tama, at doon tayo pumanig,” he said.

Divina, likewise, also called for objectivity and fairness.

“We should not judge Chief Justice Corona,” he said. “There should be no attempt to influence the minds and perceptions of the public whether he’s guilty or innocent.” Rafael L. Antonio


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