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Corona’s ‘Achilles heel’

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Last December 14, 2011 at the steps of the Supreme Court between two imposing Grecian columns, embattled Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona rallied his supporters and warned them that President Benigno Aquino III’s move to remove him could lead to a dictatorship.  And in a display of personal emotion, Corona expressed his “undying love” to his wife Cristina as she embraced him while other family members and supporters surrounded them.  At that moment, Corona must have felt like Achilles preparing to go to battle against Hector of Troy to protect his honor.  And like Achilles, he probably felt an aura of invincibility as he openly declared war on President Aquino. 

Indeed, with all the protective layers of legal “teflon” built around the supreme magistrate of the land, Corona – like Achilles – would be a formidable opponent at the Senate impeachment trial where he is charged with eight articles of impeachment.  And with a battery of high-powered defense lawyers enlisted from among the cream of the crop, Corona could indeed be a formidable opponent as Achilles.  But like Achilles, Corona might also have an unprotected heel, which makes it the most vulnerable spot in his defense. 

While Corona was sharing the limelight with Cristina at the steps of the Supreme Court, a series of events began to unfold.  After the articles of impeachment were filed against Corona in the Senate, Cristina became the focal point of government investigation that delved into her stint at the Camp John Hay Management Corporation (JHMC). On that same day, JHMC received a subpoena from the Department of Justice (DOJ) requiring Mrs. Corona and Frank Daytec Jr., former operations group manager, to attend a preliminary hearing set for December 22, 2011 on the alleged abuse and misuse of JHMC funds by Mrs. Corona during her tenure as Chairman of the Board and President of JHMC.

*Allegations

The investigation sprung from an affidavit filed by Daytec on July 16, 2010, who alleged that Mrs. Corona showed a pattern of abuse and misuse, and disbursed JHMC funds as though they were her personal funds.

In his affidavit, Daytec claimed that he noticed first a payment document dated March 14, 2008 in the amount of P14,560, which covered a stay at the Baguio Country Club supposedly for then-Associate Justice Renato Corona and his wife.  Daytec said that the stay was paid for by JHMC although there was no official activity there.  These hotel accommodations happened on several occasions even when there was an option for Mrs. Corona to stay at the nearby Manor Hotel, which is owned by JHMC.

In the last few days of June prior to her resignation on July 10, 2010, Daytec claimed that Mrs. Corona sent a set of receipts totaling P93,576.56 to the Finance Department with a verbal instruction to process her “reimbursables” expeditiously, which were supposedly for personal billings such as expenses for massage, driver’s accommodations, etc.

But this amount is peanuts compared to what Mrs. Corona was compensated during her employment at JHMC.  Her monthly basic salary as President was P78,000.  In addition, she received P10,800 monthly representation allowance, P20,000 monthly for communication expenses, and P40,000 per board meeting appearance. 

In her last six months in office in 2010, data from the Commission on Audit showed that Mrs. Corona received P972,148.30 in salaries and allowances, which included a bonus of P154,962.30.  In 2009, the previous year, she received a total of P1,915,002.79 in salaries, allowances, benefits, and bonus.

*Plum appointments

When then-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo named Mrs. Corona to the board of directors of JHMC on May 19, 2001, it was a plum appointment too good to refuse.   The following year, Gloria appointed her husband, Renato Corona -- Gloria’s former legal counsel, chief of staff and executive secretary during her vice presidency -- as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  Then on April 12, 2007, Gloria appointed Mrs. Corona as Chairman of the JHMC Board.  A year later, Mrs. Corona assumed the position of JHMC President concurrently. On May 17, 2010, despite the constitutional ban on “midnight appointments,” Gloria appointed Corona to the post of Supreme Court Chief Justice.  On July 10, 2010, Mrs. Corona resigned from her plum posts at JHMC. 

On July 16, 2010, Daytec filed criminal complaint against Mrs. Corona for misuse of public funds.  Within hours of filing his complaint, Daytec and his family left for Canada where they took up residency. 

*Conjugal complicity

Mrs. Corona failed to show up at the preliminary hearing of the graft case last December 22.  However, she submitted a 17-page sworn counter-affidavit before the start of preliminary hearing.  She disowned charges of unauthorized use of public funds and claimed that the revival of the Daytec complaint by DOJ was linked to the impeachment trial of her husband.  She said that the allegations were “all bare-faced lies” and “purely black propaganda.”  However, Mrs. Corona did not offer any specific proof to disprove the allegations made by Daytec.  Instead, she said, “The Chief Justice is clearly the target, not me.”

While, one may agree that her husband may have been the target, she cannot deny that she too is the target of the investigation.  Both of them are complicit to the alleged crime.  They’re in the same act together. 

Both of them should know – as every government official should – that the use of public funds for personal or private use is corruption.  In the case of Chief Justice Corona, this was a clear violation of the Judicial Code of Conduct.  As the supreme magistrate of the land, he should – nay, must! – act in a manner that sets example for all public servants to emulate.  He must be at the apex of moral purity and the epitome of judicial wisdom. 

But at the end of the day, it would all come down to a conjugal decision on how Corona should play his hand at his impeachment trial.  Corona and his wife are both in this together.  If one went down, the other would go down, too.  Or, they can cut their losses and move on with their lives.  And all it would take is for Corona to take the fall – resign -- in order to protect his Achilles heel… Cristina.  

By Perry Diaz




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