MANILA, Philippines - He is head of the judiciary, the 23rd chief justice of the Supreme Court and served in the executive branch of government as Cabinet member under 2 presidents, Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But Renato Coronado Corona, at age 62, simply refuses to stop learning and has never given up on a lifelong dream – to earn a doctorate degree.
Donning a black robe on April 2, but this time, not his usual vestment as chief justice but his graduation robe, Corona led close to 400 quadricentennial graduates during the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Graduate School Solemn Investiture and commencement exercises as class valedictorian, graduating summa cum laude from its Doctor of Civil Law Program.
Only 6 summa cum laudes graduated from the quadricentennial batch.
Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Corona said he had always wanted an earned doctorate degree on top of the many honorary doctorates conferred on him.
He said he made sure that in spite of being an associate justice and later, as chief justice of the Supreme Court on Mondays through Fridays, he still attended his Saturday class at the graduate school.
"Dream ko iyan. I have several honorary doctorates already. Dream ko ang earned doctorate. And this is an earned doctorate. Pinaghirapan ko talaga that's why I am proud of it," Corona said.
"I was going to class from a totally different perspective now. I had taught in law school for 17 years and also in some semesters, I was teaching in the graduate school. I was more serious, I guess, than most of the other people taking graduate studies," he added.
The chief justice's dissertation is: "To Everyone His Due: The Philippine Judiciary at the Forefront of Promoting Environmental Justice," which he defended in a convocation attended by some 300 graduate school students, faculty members, and experts.
Corona said this was a topic close not only to his heart but also to that of his wife, Cristina Roco Corona, who placed the chief justice's hood during the graduation ceremony.
"It's about environmental law, and the implications of the new rules we issued and the way it can help the country. It's a long work. My wife and I are committed environmentalists," Corona said.
The chief justice was referring to the High Court's Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases issued in April 2010, which govern the procedure in civil, criminal and special civil actions in connection with the enforcement or violations of environmental and other laws before the Regional Trial Courts, Metropolitan Trial Courts, Municipal Trial Courts in Cities, Municipal Trial Courts, and Municipal Circuit Trial Courts.
Under the leadership of Corona, the Supreme Court issued for the first time a Writ of Kalikasan, which is a remedy available to persons, organizations, authorized entities and public interest groups who claim that their constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated or threatened.
The writ was issued in connection with the West Tower Condominium oil leak in barangay Bangkal, Makati City.
During his valedictory address, Corona said he was speaking neither as a public official nor as head of the judiciary, but "a most humble and grateful student."
His speech paid homage to education and UST, the alma mater of his late mother, Eugenia O. Coronado, who also graduated summa cum laude in Accounting more than 70 years ago.
"No speech will ever suffice to convey the gratitude that abounds in the heart of each and every graduate here today... We hold the highest regard for those who tirelessly study and unceasingly seek to learn new things. And we do because we have come to realize that with education come knowledge, understanding and finally, the holy grail of wisdom and everything that makes us human," he said.
The chief justice stressed that earned education and degrees are rendered useless when only the mind is used in one's day-to-day life. He said the heart has to be involved as well.
"How many brilliant people, with fancy degrees and titles after their names, have we met with no heart, no conscience and no moral values? There lies the tragedy - all shrewdness and foxiness but without the sine qua non (indispensable, essential action or condition) virtues that make us truly and completely human like Godliness, kindness, charity and love," Corona said.
"At the end of the day, we must accept the fact that our education, in specie aeternitatis ("under the aspect of eternity"), carries an unavoidable moral burden and a grave social responsibility - to God, to our fellowmen, to our country, to our society. That burden and responsibility are etched in our soul. Our soul is that part of us that sees the dream," he added.
The chief justice also paid homage to St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of Catholic schools, in his speech and closed his message by telling fellow graduates that there is no end to education.
"In fact, it should not even end at all for our life-long journey or discovery leading us back to our ultimate destination - our Father's home - only starts from there," Corona said.
The chief justice was a bemedalled true-blue Atenean from grade school to law school prior to his graduation from UST. He placed among the Top 25 during the bar examinations.
After law school, he took his Master’s degree in Business Administration at the Ateneo Professional Schools and obtained his LL.M degree from the Harvard Law School In 1982.
After the commencement exercises, Corona's family joined him where he received perhaps the most meaningful and priceless accolades from two grandchildren who personally made congratulatory cards to their grandfather with one that read "I love you so so so so so so so very much, Grandpa!" and the other, "Congratulations, Grandpa, for your hard work!"