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Is Corona morally fit for the job?

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In a stinging setback for embattled Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, the Senate sitting as an impeachment court junked on March 6 his motion to “suppress” the alleged illegally-obtained evidence by the House prosecution team against him.  According to one senator, who asked to remain anonymous, the ruling was “unanimous.” However, absent in the caucus were Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Manny Villar, and Aquilino Pimentel III. 

Had the senator-judges ruled in favor of Corona’s motion, the prosecution team would have difficulty establishing an airtight case against Corona.  But accepting the evidence wouldn’t necessarily mean that the Corona is headed for a conviction.  The real battle has just begun. 
*Strong evidence

The question is: Is there “clear and convincing” evidence to convict Corona?  To convict Corona, a minimum of two-thirds -- or 16 --  “guilty” votes are required while only eight votes would suffice to acquit him.  The prosecution team’s challenge is how to convince eight senators who are inclined to vote for acquittal.  And if these senators can claim that the prosecution team was unable to present “clear and convincing” evidence, then all is lost – Corona would emerge victorious. 

Given the political nature of the impeachment trial, the prosecution team should – nay, must – not only present “clear and convincing” evidence to prove Corona’s guilt but also prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Corona is guilty as hell!  The prosecutors should prove that he is not only guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust but is morally unfit to preside over a collegial body of 15 men and women whom the people have given the supreme – and absolute -- power to protect the sanctity of the Constitution and the sovereignty of the people.  
And this brings to fore the question: What kind of a man is Renato Corona?

*“Asal-kalye”

Recently, columnist Raïssa Robles, in her article, “Even the dead blame Corona,” published a sworn affidavit of the late Pedro Aguilon (Mang Indo), which he executed on October 15, 1997 and notarized by a certain Atty. Andres P. Manuel Jr., when he was the caretaker of a building owned by the Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc (BGEI). Mang Indo’s affidavit was confirmed by Anna Basa, daughter of the late Jose Maria Basa III, during an interview with Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) last March 5. 

Anna, a cousin of Corona’s wife Cristina, told PDI about the incident in 1997, to wit: “It happened when my father (Jose Maria Basa III) came here because he heard complaints from tenants of BGEI. We went to the property where BGEI was located. Mang Indo was a caretaker there. He let us into the property one evening. The Coronas got mad. Mang Indo said he was so scared that he did not want to file a case against Corona after the latter put a gun to his head. He feared that if he filed a case, Corona might kill him.

“The barangay captain was actually encouraging him to file a case but he was so afraid. He is not rich and does not have the means to do so.
“He just executed a sworn statement of what actually happened to him so that in the event that something really happened to him, at least people would know this experience he had.

“When Corona put a gun to his head, Corona said: Gusto mo bang pasabugin kong mukha mo (Do you want me to blast your face)? That’s what the Chief Justice said to him back in 1997 (showing to the Inquirer the original copy of Mang Indo’s sworn affidavit).

“At that time, Ana Basa said that Corona was already with Malacañang Palace, and I believe he was adviser for legal affairs for President (Fidel) Ramos. I know my father had written to President Ramos about our case, what’s been happening to us, and to GMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo).”
Last March 8, Malacañang branded Corona of being “asal-kalye” or hoodlum.  Indeed, Corona should be in the company of the likes of Asiong Salonga and others who used force to get what they wanted.

*“Not morally qualified”

It is interesting to note that on December 8, 1997, Jose Maria Basa III wrote a scathing letter to the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), which opposed the appointment of Corona for the position of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.  He said: “I believe that Mr. Renato Corona is not morally qualified to occupy a very noble position in the judiciary especially in the Supreme Court where the justices are selected for their intellectual prowess, uprightness, fairness and respect for the law.

“Mr. Renato Corona is my nephew for being the husband of Cristina Roco, daughter of my sister Asuncion Basa.  Being his uncle, I should be happy about his nomination.  But having known him personally, I took this opportunity to submit my opposition to his nomination and to save the Supreme Court from discredit and disrepute.”

Mr. Basa, who was then the majority stockholder of BGEI, narrated how Cristina with the aid of husband Renato illegally maneuvered to gain control of BGEI.

*Gloria’s ascendancy

Corona did not get his Supreme Court appointment then.  But things changed when then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ascended to the presidency in January 2001 when then President Joseph Estrada was ousted in a sham people power revolution.

In my article, “Corona’s Achilles heel” (December 28, 2011), I wrote: “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.”

*Vote of conscience

In my opinion, conviction of Corona hinges not only on the evidence presented by the prosecution team.  Aside from convincing at least 16 senator-judges that Corona is factually guilty of Article 2, 3 or 7, the prosecutors must convince the senator-judges -- some of who may be pre-disposed to acquit Corona for personal or political reasons – that he is morally unfit for the job.  Five or six of them may already have made up their minds to acquit Corona regardless of the evidence.  The people know who they are. However, there might be a few who might be swayed to convict him on moral grounds. 

At the end of the day, the clincher would come down to Corona’s moral fiber. He must prove that he is at the apex of moral purity and the epitome of judicial wisdom.

By Perry Diaz




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