MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Chief Justice Renato Corona on Monday said he is prepared to "lose everything" in his fight to uphold his principles.
Speaking before graduates of the Philippine Law School where his father finished his law degree, a nostalgic Corona said his arduous battle before the Senate Impeachment Court, where he is slapped with 8 articles of impeachment by allies of President Benigno Aquino at the House of Representatives, is for the sake of democracy and judicial independence.
He could have taken the less painful route for himself and his family -- that of resignation -- Corona said, but that is an option he is not willing to take.
"Many times I've been asked why I submitted myself to the impeachment process knowing that everything will be thrown at me and my family... You should be prepared to lose everything when you are fighting for your principles," Corona said.
"Acquittal will give me nothing new which I already do not have, but if i am not upheld, my life will turn upside down; losing everything that has always been dear to me -- my pride, my honor, the stability and peace of our family, my friends even, my retirement pay and pension for which I worked so hard on all these years, and yet, why am I risking all these? Yes, indeed, why?'
"For one reason alone and it is the fact that in my heart of hearts, I'm fighting for democracy and the preservation of the fundamental freedoms that guarantee the preservation of our way of life," he said.
The chief magistrate, whose turn to present his defense before the Impeachment Court has already begun, said recent attacks against the Supreme Court and the judiciary have but one purpose: "to create a compliant and malleable judiciary."
Corona's speech was interrupted several times by the crowd's applause.
Join the fight
He urged the new law graduates to join him in his fight for the independence of the courts and the rule of law.
"Kung hindi sa ating kamay manggagaling ang magtatanggol sa Korte Suprema, sino ang aasahan nating mangunguna para mapanatili ang kalayaan ng ating husgado? Sa mga tulad ninyong maalam sa batas, pairalin ang tama na naaayon sa inyong kunsyensya hindi kung ano ang gusto ng nakararami o ng malalakas," he said.
"Ipakita nating karapat dapat tayo sa pagkakaroon ng isang malaya at malakas na demokrasya; marami ang naniniwala sa ating adhikain. Makiisa at manindigan," he added.
Corona said the judiciary "has been on the receiving end of relentless attacks of its independence -- from media bashing to budgetary cuts and impounding, to impeachment and unending threats of impeachment."
He lamented how key officials in government "undermine" the role of the judiciary, the third co-equal branch, and its mandate as provided in the Constitution.
President Aquino, in several public speeches and interviews, lambasted the chief magistrate and the Supreme Court for allegedly blocking his reform agenda. Aquino has made public his support for Corona's ouster.
In his commencement speech, Corona stressed that for democracy to work, the Constitution and the laws must be respected and upheld at all times.
"It is indeed unfortunate that there are those -- some even in the higher echelons of government -- who refuse to acknowledge the role of the Judiciary to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution. We are a government of laws, not of men, and the foundation of our laws is the Constitution," Corona said.
The chief justice pointed out that the interpretation of the laws and the Constitution is the "proper, peculiar, and exclusive province of the courts."
No room for popular opinion
Corona said the judiciary should be free from political influence and popular opinion in rendering judgment in legal questions.
Only the Constitution and the laws, he said, should guide the courts in rendering impartial judgment, nothing else.
Unlike the executive and legislative departments, the judiciary must be spared from politics, he stressed.
"Ang Republika ng Pilipinas ay isang bansa sa ilalim ng batas kung saan ang saligang batas ang namamayani; walang sinuman ang mas mataas o higit pa sa Saligang Batas. Popular opinion or political expediency does not sway the way we decide cases in the Judiciary .
"We do not have constituencies whose interests we have to protect nor any agenda we have to espouse. It is the ability to render independent judgment without fear or favor that separates us and makes us distinct from the two other branches of government," he said.
Judgments of the court, should not be based on the "whim of those with money or power enough to sway the judiciary," Corona said.
"At the end of the day, the Supreme Court, often referred to as the Court of last resort, must never compromise its duty to safeguard [so] that in accordance with the fundamental law of the land, sovereignty will always reside in the people and all government authority will always emanate from them," he said.
'Vicious attacks, fabrications, lies'
Amid allegations of culpable violations of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust contained in the Articles of Impeachment against him, Corona maintained he is innocent.
He said in and outside the impeachment court, lies have been pedaled to destroy his name and that of his family's.
"I have done no wrong nor ever violated my oath as a magistrate. My adversaries can fabricate all the lies they want to besmirch me and my family, but in the end, it will still be between me and the Lord God Almighty. That is what I learned from my father; that is what I want my children to live by," he said.
"Tayo po ay narito na may iisang dahilan lamang -- ang pairalin ang batas at tiyakin ang karapatan ng mga mamamayan na naaayon sa Saligang Batas," he added.
Mrs. Cristina Corona joined the Chief Justice in greeting the 2012 graduates of the Philippine Law School at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).