Midas: Corona's legacy is judicial independence

by Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jun 05 2012 03:31 PM | Updated as of Jun 06 2012 03:51 AM

Hopes next CJ will come from ranks of judiciary

MANILA, Philippines - Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said he believes he can work with acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio amid the widely publicized tiff the latter had with deposed Chief Justice Renato Corona, whom Marquez served as spokesman for a year.

In an interview with ANC's Headstart on Tuesday, Marquez said, “I’ve always been professional so I can work with anyone.”

He added he has worked with five to six justices even if they did not previously know him.

It was during the time of Chief Justice Reynato Puno when Marquez first became Supreme Court (SC) spokesman. Until then, Puno had not worked nor known Marquez personally.

Marquez said that even during the impeachment trial, “I went to see him [Carpio] because he was the one who presided over the [PSBank] case. I asked him, ‘What do you want to tell the media?”

Corona had to inhibit from the case filed by Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) in connection with the opening of Corona's dollar accounts. Carpio, being the most senior, had to take over the reins of the court.

Carpio and Corona were rivals for the top post in the judiciary. Carpio dropped his bid in 2010, saying then President Gloria Arroyo’s did not have the right to choose the next chief magistrate since it was within the midnight appointment ban during an election period.

During the impeachment trial, Corona also hinted that Carpio was one of those who wanted him out of office.

Marquez was dragged into the controversy with some activist groups and concerned citizens saying he was being loyal to Corona alone rather than to the entire court.

Marquez said, however, that he was not involved in the tiff between Corona and Carpio.

Loyalty issues

Marquez reiterated that the appointment of SC spokesman is a privilege given to the Chief Justice. He dismissed criticisms that he was speaking for Corona alone.

“The interaction between the chief justice and the spokesman will have to be often…We’re all humans, we work together everyday, we become closer. This is something [that was] inevitable,” he said.

He said he knew the confines of his job as high court spokesman. Still, “Chief Justice Corona was still chief justice until Tuesday. So I don’t see a reason why I should go slow or maintain some distance.”

After Corona was ousted by the Senate impeachment court, Marquez said he continued to do his job and even went to see Carpio the following day.

“I asked what he wanted to do with the PIO [Public Information Office], if he wanted to put someone there to take my place so that there will be a good transition,” he recalled asking Carpio.

Carpio then told him to “focus being [Court Administrator] for the time being and let [my PIO deputy] Gleo Guerra to handle the PIO.” Marquez said he readily agreed and said, “OK, I’ll do that.”

Job as court administrator

Marquez said he has never neglected his position as Court Administrator, which has administrative supervision over some 2,000 judges and about 27,000 court employees. As court administrator, Marquez is technically a “justice” and has the same level as the presiding officer of the Court of Appeals.

Now that he is no longer spokesman, he said that he has more time to focus on his work as court administrator. "There’s so many things to do there," he said, including the full computerization of courts and linking them to the Office of the Court Administrator.

He said he does not see any reason for him to resign as court administrator. He was appointed to the position during the time of Puno. He was chosen over other personalities by the full court. 

Court's confidence

In a separate interview with ABS-CBNnews.com, Marquez hopes that this trust has remained. “I hope that they still have trust and confidence in me.”

He said he can be booted out if a case is filed before the Supreme Court. Nonetheless, he believes that SC will give him due process.

However, he said: “I won’t wait for that [charges] if they’re after my head. My gauge has always been the effect of the service I give. If I think I’m no longer effective, If I think that the service is already suffering and I can no longer protect the judges and employees, I’ll be the first to go.”

Institution building

“We all belong to an institution and no one is bigger than the institution we serve. We’re all expendable. We come and go and the institution will remain,” he said.

Asked if he can work with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima or BIR Commissioner Kim Henares as chief justice, he said: “I’m an institutionalist. I hope the next chief justice will come from the incumbent members.”

On whether he is willing to become spokesman again, he said: “Let’s wait for that. I’m comfortable where I am. Let’s focus on being Court Ad.”

Judicial independence

Even with Corona out, Marquez said the judiciary should continue fighting for independence. Marquez said this was what made him admire Corona.

He noted that even if many quarters had already called for Corona to resign during his trial, he chose not to. “He was standing for judicial independence, he was fighting for judicial independence, and I admire him for that.”

Marquez said that when things have settled down, “let’s see how history will judge [Corona].”

No allegations of bribery

He said Corona was found guilty for not declaring his dollar assets in the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) which, he said, is “not graft and corruption.”

He reiterated that Corona was never a poor man, having studied at prestigious schools including Ateneo de Manila University and Harvard Law School.

Marquez said he was not shocked over Corona's ownership of US$2.4 million. “That’s roughly P100 million. If we ask senators or congressmen who [among them] do not have that large amount of money, only one or two will probably raise their hands.”

He also noted that no has come out to say that Corona was bribed. “Isang tao lang ang magsasabi na nabayaran sya, bakit walang lumitaw?” he asked.

The Corona walkout

Asked to describe Corona, Marquez said: “The justices of the SC, more so the Chief Justice, are perceived not to be like us human beings. It’s like they’re on a pedestal. He [Corona] is different. You see the person in him. You see the human side right away.”

He said this was apparent when Corona appeared, on his own volition, before the Senate.

He said he was just as shocked as anyone else when Corona left the witness stand unceremoniously last May 22. But contrary to what many had described as a walkout, Marquez said he did already notice that Corona was looking disoriented toward the end of his 3-hour opening statement.

Marquez denied it was only him who knew of the alleged walkout. After Corona left the witness stand, he said he rushed to Corona's side and asked if the magistrate was feeling well. “He was murmuring, I could not understand.”

He said he raised his hands to signal to the defense lawyers to give them a few minutes, which was misconstrued by some senators that Corona did walk out off the proceedings.

Medical City links

He said it was a physician who told them Corona already had to go to the hospital. He said he had nothing to do with the decision to go to The Medical City, where Marquez's father-in-law is chairman of the board.

In fact, Marquez said he asked some people to call the Manila Doctor’s Hospital, which was nearer the Senate. It was Corona’s son-in-law, Constantino Castillo, who works for The Medical City, who asked that the chief magistrate be transferred there. All of Corona’s physicians also work in The Medical City in Ortigas Ave. in Pasig City.

“I did not have anything to do with it. My parents-in-law were out of the country together with my family at that time,” he said.

Marquez was also supposed to be with them for a family vacation, which was a gift from his parents-in-law to his son, who had just graduated from high school.

He said he had to beg off at the last minute because “it was already a crucial moment” of the trial.

SALNs, waivers

Marquez said the greatest legacy of Corona is “standing up at all cost for judicial independence.”

Corona was also able to push stakeholders to sign bank waivers for the sake of transparency.

In the aftermath of the Corona trial, the Supreme Court has also decided to release copies of the justices' SALNs. The guidelines for this policy will be issued on June 13.

“The waivers, I think, are also forthcoming. The Court will just have to decide the PSBank case,” he said.

Marquez said he has always been willing to disclose his own SALNs. “Let’s just wait for the guidelines, let’s not pre-empt the court.”

Asked if he has dollar accounts, he said: “Sorry, I don’t have.”