I have been glued to the latest developments regarding the impeachment case filed against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines Renato Corona. The case is in its concluding phase with a decision to be made by May 29. It is a pivotal time in the history of the Philippines. For the first time, a Supreme Court Chief Justice is undergoing an impeachment trial. It is a result of the daunting and challenging task and commitment of Philippines President Noynoy Aquino to eradicate widespread and long-standing corruption in the country.
Chief Justice Corona is undergoing trial by the Senate who will determine whether or not he is guilty of not disclosing all his assets, thus betraying public trust. He is also being charged of having issued biased rulings favoring former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who appointed Corona during her last remaining days as president of the Philippines. Arroyo herself is facing plunder and corruption charges and criminal complaints.
I have been lighting a candle vigilantly and sending light to the situation and the people involved — to the senator-judges, the prosecution and defense teams, and most especially to the Chief Justice himself. Of equal significance is the general public, be it pro or anti. The individual and collective Filipino psyche is undergoing healing and transformation, knowingly or not, as this momentous episode in the judiciary and history of the country is unfolding.
The drama in the court room
The Supreme Court Chief Justice testified on May 22 for the first time. To the surprise, if not shock of the senator-judges, and the millions of viewers, local and international alike, and even Corona’s own legal counsel team, the Chief Justice, after being liberally allowed by the Senate to give a three-hour long opening statement, walked out of the proceedings!
As he was closing the folder containing his very detailed and lengthy statement, Chief Justice Corona merely ended his statement with, “The Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused.” Without waiting for the Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to give him permission, as is standard in court proceedings, the Chief Justice confidently stood up and started walking out of the Senate court. He was followed by his aides and family members. There was no sign of dizziness, nauseousness, crisscrossing in his steps, no weakness in his stance, or any other signs of ill-health, as was later claimed by his defense counsel as the reason why the Chief Justice left the witness stand.
I watched the replay of the video several times to make sure I caught what truly happened as I may have missed it when I first saw it live. Did he really walk out? Could he have been really just disoriented from not having felt well?
A walk-out is a walk-out
After several replays, all I clearly saw was a man full of confidence, so full of himself, walking out of the Senate court, ignoring the declaration of the Senate President that he hasn’t been dismissed or given permission to leave the witness stand. It was very clear that he was taking off. It was, no doubt, a walk-out.
There is also no doubt in my mind, and in the minds of the many viewers (except perhaps his loyal staff and followers) that Chief Justice Corona’s behavior indicated that he didn’t want to be cross-examined. Strangely enough, he should have known that a cross-examination is a key and essential component in any trial. After all, he holds the highest position of the judicial system of the country.
Even if he was still in protest of and is not recognizing the legitimacy of the impeachment proceedings despite his appearance, no reason is justifiable enough to render such a behavior allowable or acceptable. Because it simply isn’t.
Not only was it disappointing, it was quite appalling. Not surprisingly, it caused the ire of the senator-judges and most especially the Senate President, and the Filipino people. Not once during Tuesday’s hearing was the Chief Justice shown any sign of disrespect.
On the contrary, the Senate was very generous in giving him the floor and allowing him to finish his statement. Even as the prosecution team made an objection a couple of times, the Senate President ruled in favor of the Chief Justice and allowed him to finish his opening statement. The Senate President himself interrupted him two or three times to clarify how much longer the Chief Justice would take. He had the floor, he had everyone glued to him, and he was given all the time he needed, a full three hours, to finish delivering his statement or what seemed like a speech.
Respect is a birthright
The Chief Justice was earlier assured that he would be given the utmost respect and the senator-judges and prosecution team no less than delivered on their promise. None of the senator-judges interrupted or objected. They all patiently listened and waited for him to finish.
When Chief Justice Corona opted not to follow standard court proceedings, he seemed to have implied, “I am still the Chief Justice and I am entitled to special treatment. I do not want to be cross-examined and my wishes shall be granted.”
As Senator Koko Pimentel yesterday said in the morning TV program ANC Headstart, if the Chief Justice didn’t want to be cross-examined, he could have specified so and made it known to the senator-judges prior to the hearing. Of course, there was no guarantee that his request was going to be granted and I highly doubt that it would. But at least, some compromise could have been reached. Unnecessary drama and stress would have been avoided.
This is the highest magistrate of the Philippines. What message was he delivering to the Filipino people? His behavior may or may not have any bearing on the decision of the senator-judges. It may or may not have any impact on the outcome of the trial but it most certainly left a lasting impression in the minds of the people, not to mention a mark in the history of the country. This is one of those situations again that substantiates a local saying, “Only in the Philippines!”
Order in the court: Apology is the order of the day
What Chief Justice Corona did was a blatant disrespect of the Senate court. He has this afternoon to redeem himself. He was ordered to return today for direct and cross-examination. And as I am writing this, latest news update is that the Chief Justice is appearing in court this afternoon. He is defying doctors’ orders and signing a waiver.
I am extending as much compassion to Chief Justice Corona as this certainly is a most stressful time. Regardless if one is guilty or innocent, facing a legal battle and taking the witness stand is very draining — emotionally, mentally, physically.
His attending physicians disclosed the state of his already failing health condition — diabetes, weakening kidneys, hypertension, two-time heart bypass survivor. I’m not surprised if this was worsened by the trial and the events leading to Tuesday’s hearing, and for that I truly feel sorry for him.
Did his blood sugar level truly go down? Was he really too weak to walk and head back to the court after his walk-out, which is why he had to be taken on a wheel-chair when so ordered to go back to the session hall? Was there in fact an emergency situation and an urgent need for him to be rushed to the hospital to be confined for examination and observation?
Initial and immediate reactions in social network sites pointed, quite understandably, to the conclusion that it was merely a pathetic tactic to elicit sympathy and avoid prosecution. After all, it was already earlier used, although unconvincingly, by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
I am not a medical physician and only his doctors can truly attest to that. I do know for sure that anybody taking the witness stand for three long hours would feel exhausted and weakened.
What I also know for sure is if in fact the Chief Justice did not feel well, it happened only after he was done with his statement, not during or towards the end, contrary to what he and his defense team claim. Otherwise, as Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile expressed to lead defense counsel Cuevas in the midst of the commotion, why could the Chief Justice not have explicitly stated so? Rather than, “The Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused,” he could have easily and simply said and added a few more words, “The Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines isn’t feeling well and wishes to be excused”?
If in fact Chief Justice Corona truly felt weak, it was only after he realized that he wasn’t being allowed to leave the Senate building and was being required to head back to court.
When the reality of what he did, the walk-out (or failed escape) and avoidance of being cross-examined finally settled in, it was only then when he was completely or truly stressed out and maybe even wiped out. It was only then when his blood sugar level went down, his blood pressure raised, and he felt weakened.
Either that or he realized he needed to quickly come up with a good enough explanation for his ill-behavior.
At that point, all his power and strength, physical or otherwise, went out the window.
And with no other choice but to go back to the court room as ordered by the Senate President, the [over]confidence he exhibited while at the witness stand and while walking out of the court, was replaced by helplessness and utmost silence, maybe even shock, as he sat on his wheel chair, listening to the instructions of the Senate President for him to come back the following day to be cross-examined. I can surmise that the Chief Justice wanted only one of two things that very moment: to be taken to the hospital before he might eventually collapse (if he was truly ill), or to leave the scene as quickly as possible and save face.
After all that’s been said and done, the arrogance and inappropriate behavior that he displayed is so unbecoming of an individual of such a stature. It is clearly a manifestation of a dysfunctional solar plexus chakra, the energy center that is the seat of personal power. It is a condition common amongst power-hungry politicians and unscrupulous business people.
And if and when he appears this afternoon, I most certainly await his apology not only to the court but to the Filipino people and nation. After all, he is a public servant. Ironically, what he did was evidently a disservice not only to the judiciary but to the country and her people.
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