IMPEACH OR 'OCCUPY' SUPREME COURT? AQUINO'S PLANS ON CORONA A 'SECRET'

MANILA, DECEMBER 9, 2011 (INQUIRER)  By Christine O. Avendaño - Will it be an impeachment case against Chief Justice Renato Corona, or an “Occupy Supreme Court” movement?

Whatever it is, President Benigno Aquino III is holding his cards close to his chest after launching an unprecedented attack on the high tribunal and its chief magistrate, whose legitimacy and integrity he has questioned.

“I do not tell you my plans or anybody else,” President Aquino told reporters Wednesday in a chance interview after he attended the awarding of this year’s most outstanding village courts in the country.

“I think at this point in time, it is important these questions should be propounded,” the President said when asked whether he would support any move in Congress to impeach Corona.

The President was referring to the questions that he had raised on the controversial rulings the high court had made in favor of former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“Can I just say that I started with questions and somehow these questions are somehow growing and seemed to have no response or answers,” he replied.

Midnight appointment

In Monday’s First National Criminal Justice Summit, Mr. Aquino questioned in front of Corona the court’s decision to junk the Philippine Truth Commission that would have investigated the alleged misdeeds in the Arroyo administration as well as the President’s efforts to stop Arroyo from leaving the country for medical treatment of her bone ailment.

The President also raised anew the so-called “midnight appointment” of Corona. He said the Constitution banned appointments made within two months before the end of the term of the President.

Corona was appointed after the May 10, 2010, elections. The appointment was questioned in the Supreme Court, which ruled that the ban Mr. Aquino mentioned did not apply to Corona, a decision which the executive branch later acknowledged.

Several hours after his nationally televised blast against Corona, Mr. Aquino called on his party allies at a Christmas party in Malacañang and urged them to rally behind his campaign to hold Arroyo and others accountable for alleged misdeeds.

He did not say what his ultimate plans were, but in addition to suggestions of impeachment, Palace officials and proadministration commentators had raised the possibility of a protest movement similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement that had sparked worldwide indignation against corporate greed and financial bailouts of distressed economies.

Gutierrez case

The President had been less coy when he tangled with then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez for allegedly sitting on corruption cases involving Arroyo. He had addressed his party mates early this year and gave them the go-signal to ensure the impeachment of Gutierrez. But she chose to resign soon after.

Mr. Aquino said he had been speaking with an official from the League of Cities who he said was confused by the flip flopping of high court decisions on cityhood laws, especially regarding budget allocations.

He said the official told him that funds of many cities entitled to the internal revenue allotment (IRA) were “substantially” dipping, adding that local officials did not know “how to situate themselves” when it came to getting their IRA share.

The President cited the case of Dinagat Governor Ruben Ecleo Jr., who was advised by the high court that his island was no longer a province, thus resulting in a halt in his budget disbursements.

“The point is, at the end of the day, all that we are doing affects the people—in all branches of the government,” he said.

During the awarding ceremonies of model village peace officers, Mr. Aquino repeated the theme of his blasts against the tribunal.

“Whether you are rich or poor, in office or just an ordinary citizen, the law has to be above all in the straight path. We are ready to take on anybody, because I know the nation is behind me in looking for the truth, in wanting to punish those who are at fault and in letting justice prevail,” he said.

“We are doing what is right and we will stay with what is right. In the straight path, we will not stop going after thieves and those who attempt to deceive our countrymen.”

Bishops’ mediation

Asked whether he was open to offers by bishops to mediate talks between him and Corona, the President replied: “Of course, but at the same time, that doesn’t mean we never tried.”

The high court on Wednesday welcomed the bishops’ offer.

“I would like to think that the Chief Justice will make himself available if and when there is really an invitation for a dialogue from the bishops,” Jose Midas Marquez, the Supreme Court administrator and spokesperson, said in a news briefing.

Marquez also said the court would not let itself be drawn into a verbal spat with Malacañang. “There is nothing really on our end that would… make the situation worse,” he said. With reports from Norman Bordadora and Marlon Ramos

INQUIRER COLUMN

Analysis Aquino’s killing fields By: Amando Doronila Philippine Daily Inquirer1:46 am | Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Last Monday, President Benigno Aquino III stepped up his attacks on the Supreme Court following a virulent assault at the Makati Business Club last Dec. 1. The second attack was marked by viciousness as Mr. Aquino excoriated the head of an independent branch of government, Chief Justice Renato Corona, and humiliated him in a forum hosted by the Department of Justice, where the President was the keynote speaker.

The forum was the First National Criminal Justice Summit sponsored by the Justice Department, which invited Corona to be one of the two leading speakers. He was lured into a trap—to be slaughtered.

For the past few months, the public has witnessed an escalating confrontation between the presidency, the most powerful of the three bedrock institutions of the constitutional system, and the Supreme Court, unseen since the founding of the republic. There had been clashes between the Court and the president, but they were not as intense as the current confrontation between Mr. Aquino and a Supreme Court packed with appointees of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who faces prosecution for alleged electoral sabotage, graft and corruption and plunder.

The simmering dispute came to a head last Monday and earlier on Thursday last week. In the last confrontation at the Manila Hotel, the President attacked the Court with bare knuckles, shedding off the civility of the relations between him and the high court.

Their conflict has been fought in public forums since the President decided to engage the Court in a battle to get public opinion behind his campaign to hold past administration officials accountable for alleged corrupt practices.

In his speech, Mr. Aquino dredged up a number of high court decisions which, he said, hampered his effort to prosecute past officials for alleged corruption because the Court had rendered decisions favorable to Arroyo.

Revealing his deep-seated resentment for the Chief Justice, the President berated Corona and, in a condescending manner, delivered to him, in front of the public assembly, lectures on elementary principles of separation of power and constitutional law.

In assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the criminal system, Mr. Aquino said it was important to reflect on Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution which says, “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” He said:

“I remind you of this now because there was a point in our history when it seems we have forgotten this. During martial law, justice was not directed toward the welfare of the people, but it catered to the whims of a single person, the late President Ferdinand Marcos… My own family was a victim of this: My father was court martialed, but the verdict had already been set even before the trial commenced.

“With a court made up of magistrates, lawyers, prosecutors, and witness all appointed by the accuser, Mr. Marcos, the dictatorship exerted all efforts to skew justice and run roughshod over my father’s human rights. They took away justice’s blindfold, and tilted its scales toward their own interest.

“As President of this country, I have a sworn duty: to preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the nation. And part of my mandate is making certain that what happened during martial law does not happen again, and ensuring that anyone who so much as attempts to repeat the same offenses is held accountable.”

Now that Mr. Aquino is President, he has control of the secretary of justice and the prosecution service.

He appoints the judges and exercises the police power of the state. And he is prosecuting Arroyo as the central target of his anti-corruption campaign and is now aggressively pursuing the action against her in the public arena—his killing fields of choice—acting as jailer, prosecutor and judge in condemning Arroyo, and the Supreme Court before the gallery of public opinion, a gallery in which cohorts of the President in civil-society, incited by his campaign, have unleashed their own campaign, calling for the resignation of Corona, and even threatening to storm the Court.

The President said from the moment he took office, “We have been laying the groundwork to get to the bottom of the allegations of corruption against the past administration.”

He recalled that when he created the Truth Commission, which was supposed to look into the alleged widespread acts of corruption and to hold those responsible to account, “we had no other purpose for this than to address past wrongdoings as quickly as possible. But we all know what happened: the Supreme Court ruled that the formation of the commission was unconstitutional. From the outset obstacles had already been put in our path.”

He said Arroyo insisted on appointing Corona as Chief Justice a week after the election in contravention of the Court’s rulings that the president could not appoint any official two months before an election, except for temporary appointments when Arroyo appointed Corona in a position that was not in the executive branch but of the judiciary. “The question now is, is the Supreme Court in violation of the Constitution?”

He went on to say superciliously: “I do not have a degree in law. But I was brought up with a clear view of what is right and what is wrong, of what is just, and what is corrupt. I stand firm in my belief that justice cannot be steered toward the whims of a magistrate.”


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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