Statement of Secretary of Justice Leila M. de Lima:
Corona: A walking constitutional violation
[Released on December 15, 2011]
Yesterday, Corona called the President a dictator. He says that holding the Chief Justice accountable to the people through impeachment shows that the President is a dictator.
Every human being is accountable for his actions. The Constitution sets higher standards of accountability for public officials, more for judges, the highest reserved for Justices of the Supreme Court. In the case of the Chief Justice, accountability comes in only one form, by impeachment. As Chief Justice, there is no other manner by which Corona can be held accountable. But Corona says that for the President to hold him accountable in accordance with the Constitution is dictatorial, as Aquino wants control of the Supreme Court. According to Corona, his impeachment is an assault on the judiciary, the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and democracy itself. According to Corona, he cannot be held accountable without attacking the Constitution and democracy. This, according to Corona, is his very own apotheosis, for only human beings can be held accountable.
But the Filipino people know better. Judicial independence does not mean independence and exemption from justice and accountability. The highest form of accountability is demanded from no less than the highest magistrate of the land, whose title under our Constitution is deliberately termed Chief Justice, not Lord Justice, lest the title is misrepresented by its holder. This is what the President is demanding from Corona, not subservience, which Corona has already pledged to Arroyo, and certainly not capitulation. All that the President demands, what the people demand, is that Corona be held accountable. Corona, contrary to his protestations, is not exempt from the most basic human precept of accountability.
Yesterday, Corona claimed the whole judiciary for his personal retinue, ordering judges and court personnel to stop working for a day. Through the Court Administrator, he ordered that the judges and courts should not hold hearing for a day, and that everyone who went to the courts for justice yesterday should go home, because justice, that day, took a leave of absence. Yesterday, justice stopped because the Chief Justice wanted to say something to the judiciary he deemed more important than justice itself. So important were his words that the wheels of justice had to stop turning for a day.
Yesterday, the Chief Justice called the President a dictator. The title could very well apply to him. There can be no more apt description of a tyrant than someone who holds himself above justice and accountability. Clearly, the framers of the Constitution were thinking of Renato C. Corona when they did not put the Chief Justice in the line of succession to the Presidency.
The Supreme Court and the judiciary do not belong to Corona. Corona is not the judiciary. Corona may belong to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Some members of the Supreme Court may belong to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But the Supreme Court, the institution, the Supreme Court of the people, can never belong to Corona or to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The Supreme Court belongs to the people. And when the Arroyo justices start thinking that in protecting Arroyo, they are shorn of any accountability, not even by impeachment, then it is time the people, through their representatives in Congress, impeach them. It is time the President and Congress reclaim the Court for the people.
Yesterday, Corona said that President Aquino wants him impeached because he wants to appoint a Chief Justice he could hold by the neck. Corona said that the President’s quarrel with his midnight appointment is that the President was denied the opportunity to appoint a Chief Justice he could hold by the neck. What he did not say is that by being appointed Chief Justice by Arroyo despite the constitutional prohibition on midnight appointments, it was his own neck that was held by Arroyo. More than President Aquino appointing a Chief Justice he holds by the neck, which he never got to do, it is Arroyo who appointed the Chief Justice, Corona, so that she can hold him by the neck long after her term was over.
For this is the very essence of a midnight appointment, to hold the midnight appointee by the neck, the outgoing President making a tail-end appointment to assure her power in government long after her term is over, consequently depriving the President-elect his rightful appointing authority. The Constitution states that two months before a presidential election and up to the end of her term, then President Arroyo cannot make any kind of appointment. After depriving the eventual President of his constitutional authority to appoint the next Chief Justice, Corona claims that better a Chief Justice held by the neck by Arroyo, than a Chief Justice held by the neck by the rightful and constitutional appointing authority, the incoming President Aquino. At least he was clear about who was holding who by the neck.
With his impeachment by Congress, the Chief Justice now, like his patron Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, is nothing more than an accused. As Arroyo was the beneficiary of “Hello Garci,” Corona was the beneficiary of a constitutional violation. From the moment of his appointment, Chief Justice Corona was a walking constitutional violation. His appointment was the “Hello Garci” of the judicial department.
A midnight appointee held by the neck by Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo, Corona should be as he was rightly impeached for the simple reason that, like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, he is nothing more than a usurper to a public office. Corona, in his own twisted view of reality, may call the President a dictator, but he can never question Aquino’s mandate as the duly elected President of the people. Unlike the President, all that Corona can show for himself is his illegal and unconstitutional appointment as a usurper to the Office of the Chief Justice by the other usurper Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. And as history shows, usurpers make the worst tyrants, because of their false sense of entitlement to something that was never theirs from the start.
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