Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Crown of Seven Sins

The defense is trying to justify Renato Corona's offenses and omissions by pointing accusing fingers to other government officials. In everyday life parlance, this is called "bakit ako lang, eh pati naman sila yun din ang ginagawa!" Mr Corona seems to have conveniently forgotten that the position he coveted and got in the dead of the night demands the highest standards of ethical conduct. The Chief Justice is the highest official of the Judiciary, our country's keeper of the law, dispenser of equal justice and vanguard of freedom.

His SALN is just but an external manifestation of the real issue here, which is his flawed character. It is a powerful symbol of that flaw because many other officials of lower stature have been charged and convicted for filing incomplete or erroneous SALN. If these lower officials were convicted and removed from office with their benefits and retirement pay forfeited, with some even going to jail, and then the Impeachment Court lets Corona off the hook for the same if not graver offense, it will only reinforce the long held suspicion that in this country there is a law for the rich and powerful and another for the poor and powerless.

More than the numbers in the SALN that are being debated by the protagonists of the Impeachment Court, the trial has brought to light the serious character flaws of the impeached Chief Justice. Consider:

1. Even if he claims to belong to a family of no ordinary means, and has the money to buy not just one but several high-end properties, he also openly acknowledged his gratitude to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for footing his hospital bills for an operation on his bad back when he was already in the Supreme Court. If you have the means and yet asks someone else or the government to pay for your expenses, that is called “panggugulang”. Not content with the perks of the SC and against all ethical considerations, he allowed his wife to accept a government appointment by then President GMA.

2. In the last few days of the GMA presidency, he accepted his nomination as Chief Justice. While the legality of the appointment may be subject to debate, the propriety and ethical aspects are certainly very plain and simple. We can blame outgoing CJ Puno for not doing anything to stop the farce, we can blame the JBC for side-stepping the issue, we can blame GMA for laying booby traps on her way out, we can blame his fellow Arroyo appointees in the Court for legitimizing his questionable appointment, but most certainly the buck stops at Corona's table as he alone has the power to right that wrong - by being a true statesman and saying NO to the midnight appointment.

3. Mr Corona has been using an embellished Curriculum Vitae that stated honors and recognition that he received from schools he attended. Until just recently before the SC website was updated, these spurious claims were all reflected in his profile. However, public documents from these schools show that while he may indeed have received honors and medals, these were of lower rank and significance than what he declared. If he had undervalued properties in his SALN, it now appears that he has over-valued his achievements in his CV. This clearly shows a pattern of dishonesty and deceit.

4. While he claims to be a gentle person who unabashedly cries at the sight of his supporters waving placards of support and who would not hurt or threaten anyone much less an old man as his wife’s relatives claim, PNP records show more than 30 firearms registered under his name, including high-powered automatic weapons. Not only is he quick with his hands, he is also quick with his tongue. In not a few public occasions, he did not hesitate calling President Aquino a dictator, accusing Justice Carpio of plotting his ouster and calling the 90-year old Franciscan nun who is also an aunt of his wife a liar. The Supreme Court has not been as politicised as it is now under Corona’s watch.

5. While he rues the use of the "awesome powers of the presidency" against him, he finds nothing wrong with court employees skipping case hearings to march to the supreme court to hear him lambast his detractors, see him cry and raise his hands to heaven. Instead of admonishing judges and justices to remain neutral and be loyal only to the country, the constitution and the Judiciary as an institution, he chose to drag the entire judicial system into a battle that questions only his personal fitness to remain as Chief Justice. If he gets convicted, how will the court employees react to the new Chief Justice? He has put the entire Judiciary between the devil and the deep blue sea.

6. It was bewildering enough that he should seek relief from the Supreme Court while he still sits as its Chief; it was downright repulsive that he should ask justices Carpio and Sereno to inhibit themselves in the cases he filed in the Supreme Court regarding his impeachment when he himself has not taken a leave of absence. He continues to benefit from his position, exerting persuasive influence on the Arroyo-appointed associate justices. He mocks the independence of the Impeachment Court by asking the SC to intervene in its proceedings.

7. When confronted with his alleged bias towards GMA in cases that was brought to the SC, he declared that he is just one vote in the collegial body. However, when he talks about the Hacienda Luisita case, he says he was the only one that stands in the way of Ph10 billion being paid to HLI as payment. In the course of his other public pronouncements, this is not the only instance when he contradicted himself. In the BGEI case, he said he purposely distanced himself from his wife's family feud, yet then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza confirmed that it was Corona himself who negotiated for the higher price paid by the government for the BGEI property in Sampaloc. As was recently found out, payment for that property was for many years deposited in his personal bank account until he withdrew them on the day he was impeached by the House of Representatives.

These are just but seven of the many instances where we can get a glimpse of the flawed character of Mr Corona. No amount of technicality, no amount of finger-pointing and no amount of white-washing can justify his remaining a minute longer as the Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In the classic novel "The Scarlet Letter", the adulterers wear the mark of their sins on their chests for everyone to see. For Renato Corona, he wears a crown of seven sins.

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