MANILA, Philippines - Chief Justice Renato Corona will be celebrating his 2nd anniversary as 23rd Chief Justice on May 17.
In a well-applauded speech before an audience of 2,000 court employees at the Philippine Association of Court Employees (PACE) 15th National Convention in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan today, Corona lashed at what he called as "vicious and brutal attacks" on the Judiciary the last two years -- the years the Aquino administration had been in power.
In spite of these attacks, the Chief Justice said the Supreme Court (SC) and the Judiciary remained on course in the performance of its mandate and obligation to the people.
"We have indeed made a strong start notwithstanding the vicious political and media attacks, completely unjustified, against the Judiciary the last two years. Our work in the Judiciary was never ever based on popularity and electoral mandate; it has always been centered on principle and our sworn duty to uphold and defend the Constitution," Corona said.
The Chief Justice stressed that the Judiciary is a branch of government that should be insulated from politics. Nevertheless, he pointed out that he took all the attacks in stride and kept in mind his oath to the Filipino people.
"Tayo po ay nanunungkulan sa hudikatura hindi upang magpasikat kundi magtrabaho nang tahimik at tapat alinsunod sa ating sinumpaang tungkulin na ipagtanggol ang Saligang Batas... We freely and voluntarily chose this life committed to principles and this life we have lived without complaint and without expectation, except only for the satisfaction of serving God and country," he said.
Corona, who had been on the receiving end of repeated bashing from Pres. Noynoy Aquino and his allies, whether in formal speeches or chance interviews and commentaries, said these attacks never ceased for the past two years -- the very same years he was appointed to the High Tribunal as Chief Magistrate, and almost the same amount of time Aquino was elected as President.
He stressed that while he can let personal attacks pass, it's a different matter when the Supreme Court and the Judiciary as institutions are targets of the "unjustified" blows.
"Dalawang taon na po ang nakakalipas at sa kabuuan ng panahong iyon, walang humpay ang pagbatikos at paglait sa inyong abang lingkod sa radyo at telebisyon, sa pahayagan at mismong mga talumpati ng Pangulo. Nagpasya akong tumahimik at mag walang-kibo na lamang sapagkat sa aking isipan, kailangang tanggapin ko ito dahil ito'y bahagi ng buhay na aking pinili," he said.
"Ngunit ibang usapan na kapag ang kalayaan na ng hudikatura ang nalalagay sa panganib," he added.
Judicial independence must be preserved at all times, the Chief Justice stressed, "as it relates to the Judiciary's institutional separation from the Executive and the Legislative" and "concerns the freedom to render decisions without political pressure or outside influence" in order to ensure that justice is served to litigants.
"They will not stop until they crush me because of SC ruling on Hacienda Luisita"
He pointed out how "the vast powers of government can be unleashed without mercy on perceived political enemies," especially at the Judiciary, as seen these past months. The Chief Justice did not mince words in saying attacks against him heightened after the high court ruled on the decades-old Hacienda Luisita agrarian reform case. In November last year, the high court unanimously ruled to distribute Luisita to its farmers.
Impeachment proceedings against Corona were initiated weeks later.
The high court affirmed its decision last month, ruling with finality on the case.
While Mr. Aquino divested his shares in Luisita upon his election in 2010, his family still owns the estate.
"The viciousness and brutality of the attacks on the person, honor and family of no less than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and head of one of the three co-equal and coordinate branches of government, came on the heels of the decision on Hacienda Luisita. The controversy spanned over the terms of nine Presidents and almost 60 excruciating years. Harinawa'y matapos na po ang kalbaryo ng mga naaaping magsasaka. Ngunit nag-umpisa naman po ang kalbaryo ng Punong Mahistrado," Corona said.
Because of the landmark ruling, Corona said he expected the worst -- a takeover of the Supreme Court by magistrates sympathetic to Luisita.
"Inaasahan ko na hindi sila titigil hangga't hindi nila ako nadudurog at hindi nila napapasakamay ang buong Korte Suprema. Yan lang po ang tanging paraan upang maipabaliktad nila ang desisyon o dili kaya'y mapabayaran sila ng bilyon-bilyong pisong kanilang hinihingi para sa lupang hindi naman sa kanila. Ang aking kaisa-isang konsuwelo sa nangyayaring ito ay ang kaalaman ko na kayo ay nandidiyan sa aking tabi at buong-loob at tapang na sumusuporta sa adhikain at laban na ito," he said.
Aside from total land distribution, the high court also ruled that Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) shall be compensated based on Nov. 21, 1989 real estate values, the date Luisita's stock distribution plan was revoked by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC). The high court junked HLI's bid for Jan. 2, 2006, at least, to serve as the date of "taking," the day the Notice of Coverage was issued on Luisita, which would mean some P5 billion for HLI.
"Judiciary's fiscal autonomy under the Constitution undermined"
Corona also scored how the Judiciary's budget was "used as a pawn or leverage to force [the Judiciary] to kowtow to the two other branches of government." He was referring to the proposed Miscellaneous Personnel Benefit Fund (MPBF) authorizing the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to impound funds for unfilled positions.
Corona pointed out that fiscal autonomy is enshrined in the Constitution and vital to the independence of the courts from political influence.
He also cited a veto message from Pres. Aquino that "Personal Services shall be valid for release and obligation only until the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, while Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) and Capital Outlays shall be available for release and obligation until the end of FY 2013."
In closing his speech, the Chief Justice said his decision to fight for the independence of the Judiciary against all odds and face the arduous battle at the Senate Impeachment Court is not for himself or his family alone.
"This fight is not mine alone. It is a struggle of all freedom-loving Filipinos who believe in the rule of law, the independence of the Judiciary and the separation of powers -- principles which define us as a people and our worthiness to live in a democracy. At the end of the day, we do not even have any other option except to fulfill our sworn duty to defend the Constitution and assure our people that they can trust us (the courts) with their lives, liberty and property," he said.
Corona is expected to testify before the Impeachment Court, after another round of "fabricated allegations" on his supposed dollar accounts recently surfaced.