Will the Philippines’ Chief Justice be brought to justice?
The Chief Justice of the Philippines, Renato Corona, is being prosecuted. Nobody here can escape from the stories about the lawsuit as they are filling the front pages of the daily newspapers and tv shows. The Philippines is under the spell of the allegation of corruption against its highest judicial officer and the chairman of the Supreme Court. This historic lawsuit is part of the attempts of the current government to battle the widespread corruption. It started with a lot of chaos and verbal fighting and the outcome remains uncertain.
Renato Corona was impeached on the 12th of December when 188 of its 286 members of the House of Representatives ordered his prosecution. His appointment as the Chief Justice already reeked of nepotism. It is suspicious that former president Arroyo, whose reign was characterized by accusations of corruption, appointed an acquaintance to be the most powerful person of the judiciary. Furthermore, the timing Corona was appointed is questionable: two days after the elections that ended Arroyo’s last term of presidency. In the month that followed she was formally still the president of the Philippines until the transition of power was completed. In this period she appointed Corona, while she knew she would resign soon.
Now, both are accused of corruption and being sued. The prosecution stated that it is surprising that Corona owns assets worth more than 40 million pesos (almost 1 million dollars) while he earned 40,000 pesos a month (almost 1000 dollars). The case against Corona will resume on the 12th of March when the defense and prosecution can make comments of evidence after they had time for examination. Nevertheless, the trial so far has been a theatrical spectacle with judges, lawyers, the defense and persecution fighting each other in a way I personally never saw in a courtroom. Emotions predominate the controversial lawsuit. Especially the prosecution was fiercely attacked. I cannot judge if those attacks were justifiable, but the fact is that the prosecution only could find evidence on three of the original eight articles of impeachment.
It’s everyone’s guess what the outcome of this lawsuit would be. There are sixteen of 23 members of the senate involved in the lawsuit needed to find Corona guilty. Those senators are not only prone to believe the evidence but are also led by their voters, the public opinion. Therefore the public opinion can be decisive, giving a complete other dimension to the lawsuit that should stick to the facts.
There is still a long way to go. My hope is that justice will prevail and that Corona faces a fair court not influenced by political games and public opinion. Maybe this hope is in vain when senators can act as judges. Who knows? If Corona is not found guilty this would be a great blow for the current government and president Aquino. Not only for the anti-corruption program. Corona stressed he will accept the verdict of the court, and will step down if he is found guilty. But if not, he will remain at his post as the most powerful judicial officer of the country. In that case one thing is sure: Aquino did not gain a friend on a post that could be of great help or disruption for a president and his government.