Firecrackers don’t get cracking at Supreme CourtBy Cynthia D. Balana, Inquirer Bureaus, Philip C. Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The fireworks they prepared remained unlit but they cheered their fallen idol until the end.
Supreme Court employees on Tuesday cheered, booed and hooted. But in the end, they walked away as they watched members of the Senate impeachment court vote to convict former Chief Justice Renato Corona for failing to report all of his assets in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
“We are sad. As in, we’re really sad. We feel badly about what happened but we also accept it,” said employee TY M. Buensalido, a court employee for the last eight years.
“Maybe this is what the Lord had intended. For those who voted to convict, I hope their conscience is clear. To the three who voted to acquit, we salute you,” she said.
More than a hundred high court employees, some of them wearing red shirts, gathered at the Supreme Court main lobby Tuesday afternoon to watch how the senators would vote.
Applause 16x for Santiago
They cheered the senator-judges who voted to acquit Corona, especially Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who was applauded at least 16 times.
On the other hand, they booed Senator Franklin Drilon, whom Corona’s lawyers had accused of lawyering for the prosecution.
But as it became clear that the votes were in favor of conviction, some of the employees at the lobby began leaving. By the time Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla cast the vote that sealed Corona’s fate, half the seats were already empty.
“We know that this is a political decision. Our public should understand that this was a political decision because if it had been judicial, we would have won,” said Jojo Guerrero, president of the Supreme Court Employees Association.
‘Chief Justice is innocent’
“We know in our hearts, CJ is innocent. They’re convicting an innocent person,” he added.
Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the most senior justice after Corona, was expected to be the acting Chief Justice until after President Benigno Aquino III shall have named a new Chief Justice.
Guerrero said he was not surprised with how the vote went but still the employees watched the voting because they wanted to hear the explanation of each senator for his or her vote.
In fact, the employees even cheered one senator who voted to convict—Senator Francis Escudero—when he called on other public officials to now waive the confidentiality of their bank accounts.
Guerrero said Manila court employees had prepared to set alight fireworks while Supreme Court employees had also wanted to celebrate if Corona had been acquitted.
“Maybe we should also celebrate because this is democracy. At least there won’t be much traffic here (in front of the Supreme Court). We also have a lot of red shirts to give away. We have so many,” he said.
Good for judiciary
Judge Meinrado Paredes of the Cebu Regional Trial Court said Corona’s conviction was good for the judiciary.
“The conviction will strengthen the judiciary because one rotten egg (is) out of the basket,” Paredes said. “This is also a triumph of the system of check and balance.”
But Negros Regional Trial Court Judge Franklin Demonteverde, president of the Philippine Judges Association, disagreed.
“Today is a sad day for the judiciary. Judicial independence has passed away,” Demonteverde said. “But we will abide by the decision of the impeachment court,” he said.
With Corona no longer at the Supreme Court, the budget of the judiciary might be further reduced, he added.
In Tanauan City, hometown of the Chief Justice, Benedicto Corona, a cousin of his, said his family was sad with the verdict.
He said that they were already expecting that the Chief Justice would be convicted since it was a political game.
“Even if that happened (the conviction) we did not lose our respect for him. He fought for what he knows is right. Proof of this is that he did not resign,” he said.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. wished Corona and his family “all the very best.”
“From the very beginning, it was nothing personal,” Belmonte said. “Many of us took our oath before him, and I’m sorry it has come to this but we need this cathartic experience for the nation to move forward.”
The Speaker said the prosecutors were sad that the impeachment had taken its toll on Corona’s health.
He acknowledged that this was a “very sad chapter in his life” but that it should not be the end of things for the county’s 23rd Chief Justice who is only 63 years old.
Belmonte said this “triumph of the people” should make all public officials more responsible and truthful when reporting to the people.
No House celebration
Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr., chief House prosecutor, said there would be no celebration as the House members won under a very difficult situation.
“The lesson learned here is the power of the people, the power of the sovereign will of the people,” Tupas said.
In Geneva, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima wasted no time in trumpeting the conviction of Corona before the United Nations Human Rights Council, where she reported on the country’s human rights situation.
Near the end of the periodic review of the Philippine human rights record, which was shortly after the final vote in the impeachment trial was cast, De Lima announced before representatives of UN member countries that the Philippine delegation was “quite ecstatic” about the major development in the country.
De Lima said the verdict of the Senate impeachment court was “historic,” “unprecedented” and a “major development.”
“This is one sign of the Aquino [administration’s] seriousness in combating corruption,” she said during the session.
Renato Reyes, Bayan secretary general, who is in Geneva for the periodic review, said there was no visible reaction from the delegates to De Lima’s announcement.
In a statement, the Makati Business Club expressed the hope that the process that led to the senator-judges’ final decision against Corona “will lead to the strengthening and deepening of the commitment to build a culture of integrity.”
With Corona’s conviction, the Aquino administration no longer has an alibi in not speeding up the prosecution of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Kilusang Mayo Uno, a militant labor group, said.
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines called on the government to quickly move to ease the wounds of divisiveness and politicking that characterized five months of trial.
Most lawyers said the conviction should be accepted. “We must respect the verdict because that is how democracy works,” said Vicente Joyas, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) governor for Southern Luzon.
Victory for justice
Jose Flores Jr., a former IBP Quezon president, said the trial was a victory for justice and transparency. “Hopefully, it will pave the way for honesty in public service,” he said.
Lawyers interviewed from Lipa City in Batangas, Legazpi City in Albay and in Sta. Cruz, Marinduque also believed the verdict should be accepted.
Earl Bonachita, president of the IBP Cebu City chapter, said Corona’s conviction would send a strong message to the nation “that our institutions are working and that the check and balance of country is also working.”
In Iloilo, Msgr. Meliton Oso, director of the Social Action Center of the Jaro Archdiocese, called the conviction of the Chief Justice a triumph of truth and justice.
“Now the fight against corruption can be pursued more vigorously! The corrupt in the past and present administration must all be brought to court,” said Oso.
Corona’s conviction has given teeth to the SALN as a means to check the corrupt in government, according to Andres Hagad of the Negrenses for the Conviction of Corona.
“Justice has been served today. Let this be a lesson to us lawyers and judges … We are not here for the money nor for profit,” said Roy Perez, president of IBP-Leyte chapter.
Democracy at work
Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Acting Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said the impeachment trial was “democracy at work, with the people and truth the real victors.”
Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu said the verdict should be “an eye-opener for political leaders and workers in government to be transparent, aware of the fact, that public office is a public trust, and therefore, they should be accountable to the people.”
But Jojo Gonzales, a resident of Kauswagan town in Lanao del Norte, was watching the voting on the television when a power outage occurred early Tuesday afternoon. With reports from Leila Salaverria and Jerome Aning in Manila; Marrah Erika Lesaba, Romulo O. Ponte, Maricar P. Cinco, Gerald Gene Querubin, Mar Arguelles, Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Redempto Anda and Madonna Virola, Inquirer Southern Luzon; Nestor Burgos Jr., Carla P. Gomez, Joey Gabieta, Jhunnex Napallacan and Elvie Roman Roa, Inquirer Visayas; Germelina Lacorte, Julie S. Alipala, Carlo Agamon, Charlie C. Señase, Richel V. Umel, Inquirer Mindanao