Corona: I rebuffed Aquino bid for truth body
Chief Justice Renato Corona on Thursday said President Benigno Aquino III discussed with him shortly after his inaugural a plan to set up the Philippine Truth Commission, but that he told the latter if he had evidence against wrongdoing this should be pursued by the judiciary in accordance with the law and the Constitution.
Corona also revealed in a radio interview that before talk of his impeachment surfaced last year, Senator Teofisto Guingona III, an administration stalwart, attempted to convince him to enter into a “term-sharing” agreement with Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio but that he rejected this.
“I told him I was appointed to a specific term. The term-sharing was not mentioned (in the Constitution). When I told him it was not legally possible, he dropped the idea,” Corona said in the hourlong program “Karambola” over dwIZ on his second day of “media-hopping” ahead of his defense presentation beginning on Monday in the Senate impeachment tribunal.
Corona said that Mr. Aquino met with him shortly after he was sworn in on June 2010 and asked him about a plan to create a “truth commission” to go after “some personalities.”
“I told the President that if we have evidence, then let’s pursue cases against them. That’s our role in the judiciary,” Corona recalled telling Mr. Aquino. “But we need to abide by the Constitution and the requirements of the law.”
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, commenting on Corona’s claim, said at the regular news briefing in Malacañang: “What the President asked the Chief Justice was, ‘Can we expect fairness from your court?’ And the Chief Justice said, ‘Yes, you can expect fairness from us. We will render decisions based on fairness and legal precepts.’”
In a statement earlier, Lacierda said that during the meeting in the house of Mr. Aquino’s sister, Pinky Abellada, the President and Corona had an “an exchange of opinions and views about various topics on how to strengthen the relations between the executive and the judicial branches of government.”
“In fact, the President gave him the chance to prove that he was partial to no one, that he was only after the truth and that the interest of the majority would prevail.”
Lacierda said Mr. Aquino had nothing to do with Senator Guingona’s purported offer to Corona.
Guingona confirmed in an ambush interview that he invited Corona, his former professor at the Ateneo Law School, to lunch with his father, former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, in the latter’s New Manila home but denied as “totally untrue” the allegation of the Chief Justice.
He described the meeting as “a social lunch.” He said that the two men had served under the Ramos administration—his father as executive secretary and Corona as legal adviser.
“It was ‘hi, hello, how are you’ and all that stuff. It was nothing of the sort that he was saying was discussed.”
The former law partners of Carpio at the influential Villaraza Cruz Marcelo and Angangco, known as “The Firm,” said in a statement that Corona’s claim that the law firm was a “hatchet job” on him was “absolutely false” and was intended to “divert public attention from his trial.”
Carpio, one of the founders of the “The Firm,” was Corona’s closest rival when then Chief Justice Reynato Puno retired in May 2010.
On Tuesday, Corona was the guest in three news programs of GMA 7 during which he belied the allegations leveled against him by the prosecution and Ana Basa, his wife’s first cousin, concerning his bank accounts.
In Thursday’s radio interview, Corona referred for the first time to media reports earlier that Guingona, one of Mr. Aquino’s allies in the Senate, had tried to persuade him to leave the judiciary way before his scheduled retirement in 2018 to give way to Carpio.
According to Corona, the lunch meeting with the Guingonas took place “sometime before the talks of impeachment started filtering out” last year.
“After we ate, he proposed to me: ‘What do you think about retiring early and sharing your term?’ … He was asking if I was amenable to exploring talks in that direction,” Corona said in a mix of Filipino and English.
“He mentioned specifically Justice Antonio Carpio,” Corona said. He said he told his former student that such an agreement was “in violation of the Constitution.”
Corona said the meeting between him and Mr. Aquino took place at the house of Ballsy Cruz, the President’s elder sister, over lunch but Lacierda said it was at the residence of Pinky Abellada in July 2010.
Corona said the meeting was arranged by a retired Supreme Court justice whom he declined to identify, but a Philippine Daily Inquirer source said it was Antonio Eduardo Nachura, a member of the ruling Liberal Party. Also in the meeting was Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, a brod of the Chief Justice in the Fraternal Order of Utopia.
“After having lunch, Ochoa and the justice stood up to smoke outside. The President and I stayed behind and we started to talk,” he narrated.
In their 30-minute conversation, he said he told the President: “Our only hope is that the cases should not be filed haphazardly.”
He said he also advised the President not to indiscriminately file cases “because that’s difficult.”
“After that, we shook hands. He was not extraordinarily friendly to me,” Corona said.
In the radio interview, Corona defended the Supreme Court’s decision to declare unconstitutional the creation of the Philippine Truth Commission since it violated the constitutional provision on equal protection.
He said the truth body “targeted only one group,” referring to his erstwhile boss, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her political allies.
“They should have amended the executive order which created the truth commission,” he said.
President Aquino took his oath of office before then Senior Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales instead of Corona.
Corona was then being criticized for being a midnight appointee of Arroyo, having been named Chief Justice after the May 10, 2010, national elections, although the Supreme Court later ruled that the appointment was legal. The Constitution bans presidential appointment two months before an election.
The Chief Justice also disclosed that he had decided to rent a bulletproof sport utility vehicle after receiving death threats. He did not elaborate.
“I was told by a friend that I should not take it as a joke. The friend is from the intelligence community, from the police intelligence,” he said.
Corona is scheduled to appear in veteran broadcaster Joe Taruc’s program over radio dzRH at 8 a.m. Friday. With reports from Norman Bordadora and Cathy C. Yamsuan
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