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“Lahat Tayo, Talo”

Last night, over the late-night news broadcast on TV, Dad asked my opinion on Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment trial.

I told him the “innocent until proven guilty” line, that the Prosecution should step up in court (not in the media) to convict Corona. Evidences are starting to pile up against CJ Corona (regarding his SALNs and dollar accounts, and the Basa-Guidote fiasco), and the Defense is doing what they were paid to do. Corona’s conviction depends on the Prosecution’s performance in front of the Senator-judges. If the evidences say CJ Corona’s guilty, then he’s guilty; if not, then he’s not.

Then, Dad made some points of his own. He was for CJ Corona’s conviction. He believes that CJ Corona is a major “obstacle” in President Noynoy Aquino’s tuwid na daan. “How could P-Noy continue his fight against corruption if the head of the judicial system himself is corrupt?”, Dad asked. He mentioned the “big fishes” the Aquino administration has caught: Abalos, the Arroyos, the Ampatuans, among others.

He laid out possible scenarios after Corona’s acquittal. Dad said it would be “payback time” for Corona: many (if not all) of cases involving former President Gloria Arroyo would be dismissed. He even predicted that P-Noy wouldn’t be able to finish his term in 2016.

According to him, he had conversed with a judge many times before. (Dad was a driver, by the way. I didn’t ask if the judge was from a Regional Trial Court, or Dad’s referring to a Supreme Court employee.) Dad and the judge agree that the Senator-judges are just “prolonging the process,” that they’ve already decided on the verdict. Dad even claimed that the judge said most of his colleagues are against Corona but cannot express it in public, because “Corona’s their boss.”

I then countered with the Hacienda Luisita case. If Corona gets convicted, I said, there’s a strong possibility that the vast Hacienda will be returned to the Cojuangcos. The poor farmers, who had just tasted victory late last year with SC’s decision to finally give parcels of land to them, would suffer defeat once again.

Here’s Dad’s response: P-Noy alone cannot decide on the fate of Hacienda Luisita by himself. He has the Aquino family and five other co-owner clans to consult. Besides, Hacienda Luisita is just one issue. What about the Maguindanao massacre in Mindanao? If CJ Corona gets acquitted, there’s a big chance that the Ampatuans will be cleared of any accountability.

~~~~~

I mainly focused on the here and now, Dad focused on the possible aftermath. Neither of us is completely right, but neither of us is completely wrong, too.

Our discussion later boiled down to this: whatever the verdict, we Filipinos won’t gain anything major from it. Lahat tayo, talo, Dad and I both said. Whether Corona wins or the Aquino administration wins, Dad and I see that nothing much will change. Filipinos below the poverty line wouldn’t get any direct benefit from all the chaos brought forth by the trial.

Would Corona’s conviction equate to more food on the tables and more income in the pockets of poor Pinoys? Would Corona’s acquittal mean a better justice system with the same Chief Justice in charge? If ‘Yes’ answers either question, then we stand corrected.

Plus, both sides exhibit conflicts of interest. You can’t deny the Corona-Arroyo connection, but you also can’t miss the Aquino-Cojuangco connection. Corona’s acquittal would benefit the Arroyos in one way or another, but Corona’s conviction would benefit the Aquinos, the Cojuangcos, and their allies, too, in one way or another.

~~~~~

Dad tried to argue that the ongoing impeachment trial is a “testament” to the long-standing Filipino issue on the justice system, that the ones who are rich and powerful win court cases every time, at the expense of the liberty of possibly innocent poor Filipinos. Of course, Dad’s argument is not applicable to the impeachment trial itself, because both sides are rich and powerful.

Pantay ang laban, kasi pare-pareho silang may pera eh. Which brings us to our second realization: that the impeachment trial is a battle only among the heads of two branches of government taking place in the arena of Branch #3 (the Senate). Its results will affect all of us, but not in any way are the Filipino people directly involved in handing the verdict to CJ Corona. We “pass” that responsibility to the Senate.

The impeachment process is a highly political one: the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court are given security of tenure, and can only be removed via impeachment, resignation or untimely death. So, when one Supreme Court judge break the law and uses the same law to get away with punishment, the government (in the name of public interest) has no other choices but to impeach said judge or force him to resign. Thus, the Aquino government’s recent actions. We can’t blame them; they have a mandate to meet.

~~~~~

So, if we’re all “losers” here, what should we do? A better question might be “What should CJ Corona do?”

If CJ Corona believes he’s really innocent, he’ll take the most valiant action: he himself will testify on the witness stand in the impeachment court as early as possible. If he can’t stand the fact that the Supreme Court is taking all the hits, he should resign or at least take a leave of absence.

But, if CJ Corona does this and/or if Corona gets convicted and removed from his post, it does not warrant the Aquino administration to do what it wishes.

In the name of independence and integrity of the Supreme Court, the Associate Justices should vote among themselves as to who would be the next Chief Justice. In my opinion, Presidents should not appoint the Chief Justice. He could appoint the Associate Justices, yes, but his “interference” ends there.

In the same way Supreme Court justices do not determine the fate of the President (except during impeachment or in Pres. Arroyo’s case, when one party questions the President’s legitimacy or qualifications), the President should not determine the next Chief Justice. In the same way the Filipino public alone elects the President, the Associate Justices alone should elect the next Chief Justice.

If this isn’t “acceptable”, we could give more power the Judicial and Bar Council. We could allow it to be made independent, and the sole appointing power of Associate Justices and Chief Justices. With this suggestion, more members should be added; the number of representatives from Senate and the House of Representatives should be equal to the number of delegates from the public sector and the legal community.

~~~~~

If only we could turn back time, we should have convinced Reynato Puno to temporarily call off his retirement, and be the Chief Justice until days after the inauguration of the new President, Benigno Aquino III. Puno’s May 12, 2011 retirement is the most “ill-timed” one in Philippine history. We could have avoided all of these troubles, had CJ Puno stayed for a little while.

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