Intensive care

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

MANILA — Renato Corona was in intensive care as of this writing after supposedly suffering last Tuesday a hypoglycemic attack which, coincidentally I’m sure, came right after his three-hour “opening statement” at the Senate impeachment court. His confinement for observation on his doctors’ orders was also preemptive, hypoglycemia being, so say those worthies, a possible prelude to a heart attack.

It has been argued — and not only over the social media networks, but also among certain lawyers’ groups — that Corona wasn’t going to testify in the sense of documenting his counter claims and providing evidence more convincing than innuendo, hearsay and a letter from his own daughter, much less submit to questioning by the prosecutors and even the senator-judges, and that, therefore, he staged the whole thing.

Corona may owe his appointment to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo rather than to the will of the Filipino people, but Corona has managed to convince himself that he’s superior to them all and worthy only of adulation. His declaration, delivered in the third person in the manner of the Queen of England and the Pope, that “now the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused,” followed by his promptly leaving the Senate hall with his family in tow, was no less than a demonstration of that sense of entitlement.

It’s a tempting conclusion to make — that it was all premeditated — and in seeming vindication of the views of those lawyers who had doubted that Corona would ever really testify. For all the media and public attention it was certain to get and did get, Day 40 of the impeachment trial was a golden opportunity for him to take center stage and get back at such of his critics as the 188 congressmen who signed the impeachment articles, Senator Franklin Drilon, the House prosecution panel, President Benigno Aquino III, and even the relatives of his wife, including the dead among them.

And that was exactly what he did. He didn’t take the witness stand; he presided over a press conference complete with the usual “opening statement” indispensable in such events. He shed no light on the charges of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution he’s accused of by providing credible documentation contrary to the allegation that, for example, he did not report all his assets in his Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net worth (SALN).

From the very first minute of his three-hour statement, it had seemed more than obvious that he had agreed to “testify” solely for the purpose of, as he himself declared, addressing the public from a forum being beamed by the TV and radio networks to the Filipino millions. Hindsight would now suggest that the decision to “testify” was not so much a carefully weighed option worthy of a great legal mind, but was no more than a common public relations ploy PR hacks have been known to use to manipulate the public into believing anything from Creationism to the Flat Earth Theory.

From his choice of language (Filipino, or at least his idea of it) to his asides (such as a dig at Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’ “obsession” with the number 82 when counting his foreign currency bank accounts), Corona was playing up not only to the Senate gallery but also to the entire nation.

No matter. The disaster that was the result of that ploy is best left for him and his PR consultants to settle. We can grant, as the Senate court did, that despite contrary indications, and in view of his presumably honest doctors’ declarations as to the state of his health, Corona wasn’t faking it. We can even agree that he belongs in intensive care, and should probably stay there, given not only the litany of health problems his doctors say he has (diabetes, two heart bypasses) and an obvious tendency towards obesity as a result of living la dolce vita, but also for his obvious need for self-examination.

The question of the hour is whether, given what the entire country saw last Tuesday, and had been seeing since the impeachment trial began last January, Corona is the kind of person the judiciary needs to oversee it and address its own immense infirmities that, in the view of such perceptive law practitioners as Dean Jose Manuel Diokno of the La Salle School of Law and of the Free Legal Assistance Group, are threatening its very life.

Diokno says that the Philippine judicial system is “on the brink of collapse,” for, among other reasons, the impunity from prosecution and punishment murderers, human rights violators and other criminals enjoy. The appointments process in the judiciary — and Corona’s own appointment was among the most obvious of recent cases — is also “highly politicized,” political patronage rather than merit being the norm.

As practically everyone knows, going to the courts for justice is as futile as leveling Mount Everest with a spoon. Some cases have been decided only after 15 to 20 years, says Diokno. The Ampatuan Massacre trial for the mass murder of 58 men and women on November 23, 2009, now on its second year, for example, has yet to resume on the merits, the hearings having been mired in endless technicalities.

What’s more, says Diokno, three out of 10 trial courts do not have judges to preside over them. As a consequence, those courts that do have judges are burdened with immense case loads.

These realities, however, have not prevented court employees, including the judges who preside over the lower courts over which the Supreme Court headed by Renato Corona has administrative supervision, from declaring court holidays during which all court hearings are suspended, and from going to the streets all over the country as well as the Senate grounds to demonstrate their support for Corona, whom they declare to be one and the same as the entire system.

The politicization of the system Diokno mentions is apparently not limited to appointments to judgeships. It also includes the system’s being susceptible to the political maneuvering of a Chief Justice whose appointment to the post was part of the politicization of practically every State institution Gloria Macapagal Arroyo systematically carried out during her 10-year rule as putative President of the Philippines.

Corona himself alluded to the destruction of State institutions in his “opening statement,” attributing it, however, to Benigno Aquino III — who has had neither the time nor the inclination to do so. But yes, the judiciary has indeed been damaged, and so severely the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court himself is on trial, officially for violating the Constitution and betraying public trust, and unofficially in the minds of the millions who saw and heard him in action last Tuesday, for bad law and worse acting.

The entire judicial system needs intensive care. Is Corona the person to provide it, or is he as much of a patient as the system over which he’s supposed to have oversight?

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Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter

Published in Business World
May 24, 2012

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