The Corona trial: A summary

by Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 15 2012 10:03 PM | Updated as of Jan 16 2012 09:13 AM

(Editor's note:  January 16, 2012 will mark the first day of trial in an attempt to unseat a Chief Justice. Prosecutors claim to have evidence against Chief Justice Renato Corona. The defense team, on the other hand, has attempted to dodge what it calls a psychological war from the prosecution. Time will only tell how the impeachment trial will proceed. One thing is for sure, Corona’s fate now lies in the hands of the senator-judges.)

A summary of the case, as prepared by ABS-CBN News’ Ryan Chua:

Article 1. Respondent betrayed public trust through his track record marked by partiality and subservience in cases involving the Arroyo administration from the time of his appointment as Supreme Court chief justice and until his dubious appointment as midnight chief to the present.

ASSIGNED PROSECUTORS: Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza (lead), Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.

Corona violated Article 7, Section 15 of the Constitution—which prohibits presidential appointments within two months before the elections—when he accepted his “midnight appointment” from former President Arroyo on May 12, 2010. A 1998 Court decision bars midnight appointments to the judiciary. Corona is also biased for Arroyo in politically significant cases from the time he was still a Justice to his eventual appointment to the Court’s top post.

1. Corona’s appointment was not unconstitutional. A March 2010 Supreme Court decision (De Castro v. JBC, et al) ruled that members of the SC are not included in the election ban on appointments.
2. Corona denies being partial to Arroyo. Court decisions are collegial in nature and he casts just one vote. His votes are not consistently pro-Arroyo.
3. That Corona was Arroyo’s trusted aide before his appointment to the court is a non-issue, because it is not uncommon for SC justices to have worked as professionals with close ties to the president who appointed them.
4. The prosecutors are asking the Senate impeachment court to review SC decisions, which is not allowed under the principle of separation of powers.

1. Even if the SC has ruled that his appointment was legal, “the people saw it as immoral, felt betrayed, and were outraged.” Corona could have refused the appointment and placed the interests of the judiciary and the country above his own. But he did not, giving Arroyo a strong ally in the SC.
2. SC decisions may be collegial, but Corona’s individual vote is his personal action and his own responsibility. His votes reflect a bias for Arroyo.
3. Corona is accountable for Court decisions because as Chief Justice, he has special powers other justices do not have: chairing sessions of the en banc, directing the raffle of cases including applications for a temporary restraining order, etc.
4. The impeachment complaint does not call for a legislative review of SC decisions. It merely presents Corona’s voting record in those decisions to prove his bias for Arroyo.

Article 2. Respondent committed culpable violation of the constitution and/or betrayal of public trust when he failed to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth as required under Sec. 17, Art. XI of the 1987 Constitution.

ASSIGNED PROSECUTORS: Pangasinan Rep. Marlyn Agabas (lead), Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr.

BACKGROUND: Corona violated Article 11, Section 17 of the Constitution by not disclosing to the public his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth. Worse, some of his properties were not declared in his SALN—a violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act. He wealth, including assets of high value and bank accounts with huge deposits, is ill-gotten. Among others, he has a 300-square meter apartment in a posh property in Taguig, which he may not have declared in his SALN.

1. Corona has faithfully accomplished and submitted his SALN to the Clerk of Court through the years, in compliance with RA 6713. He has, however, no legal duty to disclose it to the public. The Clerk of Court has custody of his SALN. At any rate, Corona never issued any order forbidding the release of his SALN.
2. RA 6713 states that justices’ SALN should not be released for “any purpose contrary to morals or public policy” or for “any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.” The SC is usually cautious in releasing justices’ SALN because doing so could endanger their independence and objectivity and expose them to revenge, kidnapping, extortion, and blackmail.
3. Accusations that Corona has ill-gotten wealth is purely speculative and without any concrete statement of fact. It is merely hearsay that has no place in a pleading.
4. Corona admits owning a property in Taguig. It was purchased on an installment basis and was declared in his SALN.

1. Corona has no proof that he regularly files his SALN. He has not even attached a copy of it in his answer to the impeachment complaint.
2. Corona’s claim that the law merely requires completing and submitting the SALN is misleading. He should have made sure that his SALNs were accessible to the pubic.
3. SC justices have nothing to fear about their SALNs being scrutinized if they have nothing to hide.

Article 3. Respondent committed culpable violation of the constitution and betrayed the public trust by the failing to meet and observe the stringent standards under Art. VIII, Section 7 (3) of the constitution that provides that "a member of the judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence" in allowing the Supreme Court to act on mere letters filed by a counsel which caused the issuance of a flip-flopping decision in final and executory cases; in creating an excessive entanglement with Mrs. Arroyo through her appointment of his wife to office; and in discussing with litigants regarding cases pending before the Supreme Court.

ASSIGNED PROSECUTORS: Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, Akbayan Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, Cibac Rep. Sherwin Tugna

1. The SC under Corona’s leadership reversed a supposedly final decision declaring Philippine Airlines’ retrenchment of thousands of flight crew as illegal, after entertaining a mere letter from PAL’s lawyer, Estelito Mendoza. The Court entertained the letter even without seeking the comment of the other party, the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines, showing Corona’s lack of ethical principles. Earlier, it also entertained a letter from Mendoza, which caused a flip-flopping in the case of League of Cities versus Comelec (discussed in detail in Article 5).
2. Corona compromised his independence when his wife, Cristina, accepted a 2007 appointment from former President Arroyo to the board of the John Hay Management Corporation, a subsidiary of the government-owned Bases Conversion Development Authority. Her appointment was a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which states that “judges shall not use or lend the prestige of judicial office to advance their private interests, or that of a member of their family.” It was meant to secure Corona’s loyalty to Arroyo.
3. In JHMC, fellow board members accused Mrs. Corona of misconduct and negligence, and filed complaints against her. Instead of acting on the complaints, Arroyo ordered all JHMC members to resign and promoted Mrs. Coroana as OIC chairman of the board.
4. Corona met with Lauro Vizconde and Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption to discuss the Vizconde Massacre case, violating the Court’s rule of confidentiality on pending cases. According to Vizconde himself in a sworn affidavit, Corona told him that Justice Antonio Carpio was trying to influence his colleagues to acquit Hubert Webb. Corona not only discussed a pending case, he also sowed intrigue against a fellow Justice.
5. Fernando Campos, a lawyer and businessmen, accused Corona of unethical conduct when he met with the lawyer of the other party in a pending case. Corona allegedly dismissed his appeal on a ruling of the Securities and Exchange Commission against his company with undue haste and impropriety.

1. It is a normal practice for lawyers and litigants to write the SC or the Chief Justice regarding their cases. The SC treats all letters as official and acts on them if needed.
2. Atty. Mendoza wrote a letter pointing out a mistake in raffling the FASAP case to the SC Second Division following the retirement of Justice Nachura. Since the Second Division could not agree on the reassignment of the case, the SC en banc took it up. Corona took no part in it.
3. The Court’s changing of rulings should not be blamed on Corona. The SC is a collegial body whose decisions are based on the consensus of the majority. Also, Corona’s vote in the case was consistent.
4. The Court did not flip-flop in the case of the League of Cities. The two parties filed appeals and the justices had to perform their duties to act on them. More so, only three judges of the total of 23 who took up the case in various stages changed their minds, and these were not in the same instance.
5. In the first place, a judge has the right to change his mind regarding a case. Even the Court’s rules recognize that judges are human and commit mistakes.
6. Mrs. Corona was appointed to JHMC in April 2001, even before CJ Corona’s appointment to the SC. No law prohibits the wife of a Chief Justice from pursuing a career in government. Her appointment also never influenced Corona’s decisions in the Court.
7. The impeachment court is not the forum to hear Mrs. Corona’s alleged misconduct as part of the JHMC board. She has answered the charges and is prepared to face her accusers in the proper forum.
8. It was only Dante Jimenez who was supposed to pay a courtesy call on Corona. Lauro Vizconde just tagged along, and Corona was surprised to see him.
9. Corona never told Vizconde and Jimenez that Justice Carpio was lobbying for Webb’s acquittal. Vizconde and Jimenez were the ones who brought up Carpio’s alleged maneuvers in the case during the meeting. In 2006, a Court of Appeals Justice warned Corona and Vizconde that someone in the SC was lobbying to acquit Webb.
10. Fernando Campos was never able to prove that Corona met with the lawyer of the other party in a pending case. Corona dismissed Campos’ appeal through a minute resolution because it should have been brought to the Court of Appeals, and because he failed to show that SEC committed grave abuse of discretion in its decision against his company.

1. That Corona sees nothing wrong with entertaining mere letters from lawyers without informing the other party shows that he is not fit to be a judge, more so a Chief Justice.
2. It is not true that Corona did not take part in the FASAP case. The October 4 en banc resolution indicates that he was not one of those who inhibited. In short, he took an active part in deliberating the FASAP case and voted in favor of recalling what should have been a final decision of the SC.
3. Even if Corona’s vote in the League of Cities case was consistent, he did not do anything as the SC’s leader to prevent the seemingly never-ending change in its decisions.
4. The Court’s flip-flopping cannot be denied and has been widely criticized by legal experts.
5. Corona’s claim that there was no impropriety in the appointment of his wife to the JHMC board was unsubstantiated.
6. Corona’s meeting with Jimenez and Vizconde, even if Vizconde just tagged along, smacks of “extremely disturbing” impropriety. He could have politely declined a meeting with them, knowing they are parties to a pending case.

Article 4. Respondent betrayed the public trust and/or committed culpable violation of the Constitution when he blatantly disregarded the principle of separation of powers by issuing a status quo ante order against the House of Representatives in the case concerning the impeachment of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

ASSIGNED PROSECUTORS: Akbayan Rep. Kaka Bag-ao (lead), Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali

BACKGROUND: In September 2010, the SC issued a status quo ante order blocking the impeachment proceedings against then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez in the House of Representatives. They promulgated the order a day after Gutierrez filed her petition even if not all the judges had received or read it. The SC, under Corona, committed a “tyrannical abuse of power” and violated the principle of separation of powers when it issued the order against Congress, a co-equal branch of government.

1. There was no undue haste in the issuance of the status quo ante order. Under the SC’s internal rules, petitions for a temporary restraining order can be included in the Court’s agenda and acted upon promptly.
2. The Court’s internal rules do not require copies of petitions to be furnished to all Justices when it is identified as urgent. Only the member-in-charge and the Chief Justice are required to have copies.
3. The principle of separation powers is not absolute. Following Article 8, Section 1 of the Constitution, he SC has the power to determine whether the House of Representatives abused its powers in the impeachment proceedings against Gutierrez. Gutierrez also raised a valid issue in her petition: whether the House violated a ban on more than one impeachment complaint against an official within a year.

1. It is undeniable that Gutierrez’s petition was acted upon with undue haste. The SC issued the status quo ante order on September 14, 2011, just a day after Gutierrez filed her petition.
2. Corona was protecting Arroyo’s interests in blocking efforts to impeach Gutierrez, who is also known as a coddler of the former President.
3. Corona should have respected and not encroached on the powers of the legislature, a co-equal branch of government. He acted like a “judicial bully,” trampling upon the principle of separation of powers.
4. Like the principle of separation powers, the SC’s power of judicial review is also not absolute and must be exercised responsibly.

Article 5. Respondent betrayed public trust through wanton arbitrariness and partiality in consistently disregarding the principles of res judicata in the cases involving the 16 newly-created cities, and the promotion of Dinagat Island into a province.

ASSIGNED PROSECUTORS: Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga (lead), Pangasinan Rep. Marlyn Agabas


1. The SC under Corona “flip-flopped” or reversed its decisions on a number of cases many times, violating the principle of res judicata, or the immutability of final judgments.
2. The SC ruled on November 18, 2008 in League of Cities v. Comelec that the conversion of 16 municipalities into cities was unconstitutional because they failed to meet the income requirements for cities under the Local Government Code. Denying an appeal by the 16 municipalities, the Court affirmed its decision on April 28, 2009, and it became final on May 21, 2009. Still, the 16 municipalities filed several pleadings, even a prohibited second motion for reconsideration. Their lawyer, Estelito Mendoza, also wrote a letter asking the SC to reconsider its decision and allow the participation of judges who were not present when the November 18 ruling was being discussed. On December 21 of the same year, the Court reversed its decisions and declared the conversion of the 16 municipalities into cities as valid. But the League of Cities appealed the decision, citing the principles of finality of judgment. On August 24, 2010, the SC reversed its decision again and said the 16 municipalities may not convert into cities. Despite this, the Court again entertained an unprecedented fourth motion for reconsideration from the 16 municipalities. On February 15, 2011, the Court granted their appeal and allowed their conversion into cities, in effect reversing the “reversal of the reversal of the original decision.”
3. In Navarro v. Ermita, the SC decided against the creation of the province of Dinagat Island on February 10, 2010. The ruling was final and executory, and an entry of judgment was made on May 18 of the same year, meaning it was irrevocable. But months later, the Court reversed its decision, acting on the motions of prospective officials and congressional representatives of Dinagat even if they were not parties to the original proceedings.
4. Associate Justice Arturo Brion said in his dissenting opinion on the Dinagat case, “Unlike the case of Lazarus who rose from the dead through a miracle, Dinagat resurrected because the Court disregarded its own rules and established jurisprudential principles. Of course, it can similarly be called a miracle as no reversal could have taken place if just one of the series of transgressions pointed out did not take place. How such resurrection can happen in the Supreme Court is a continuing source of wonder!”

1. The prosecution may not question the SC’s collegial decisions. That amounts to encroaching on the Court’s judicial power.
2. Corona was not yet Chief Justice when the SC received letters appealing its original decision on the case of the 16 municipalities. As an Associate Justice, Corona was merely furnished copies of the letters.
3. Corona never flip-flopped; his votes affirming the constitutionality of the 16 municipalities’ cityhood was consistent.
4. Contrary to the prosecution’s claim, the May 21, 2009 decision declaring the cityhood of the 16 municipalities unconstitutional was not yet final because the SC recalled the entry of judgment. Recalling entries of judgment is not unusual. Thus, the second motion for reconsideration filed by the 16 municipalities was allowed. Under the Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court allows a second appeal when it grants a motion for leave to file and admit a second motion for reconsideration. This is usually done to correct errors in decisions. A second motion for reconsideration is also not considered so and is thus allowed if it delves on a new issue or presents new evidence.
5. Corona refuses to comment on the cases of Dinagat and FASAP since these are still pending with the SC.

PROSECUTION’S REPLY: The prosecution reiterates that the SC under Corona violated the principle of res judicata. “No longer can the public look to the Supreme Court for a final resolution of disputes and controversies, for ay judgment, even if final, can still be revisited and reversed, at the whim of the Supreme Court.”

Article 6. Respondent betrayed public trust by arrogating unto himself, and to a committee he created, the authority and jurisdiction to improperly investigate a Justice of the Supreme Court for the purpose of exculpating him. Such authority and jurisdiction is properly reposed by the constitution in the House of Representatives via impeachment.

ASSIGNED PROSECUTORS: Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Farinas, Cibac Rep. Sherwin Tugna

BACKGROUND: The SC under Corona created an Ethics Committee to probe the case of Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo, who was accused of plagiarizing portions of several books and articles in international journals in a decision on Filipino comfort women during the Japanese occupation. Because Del Castillo is an impeachable officer, however, only the House of Representatives through impeachment has the power to investigate him and hold him accountable. Corona in effect disregarded the House’s power by forming the Ethics Committee, which later found Del Castillo not guilty.

1. Corona did not create the Ethics Committee. It was established during the term of former Chief Justice Reynato Puno to investigate “complaints involving graft and corruption and violation of ethical standards, including anonymous Complaints, filed against Members of the Supreme Court, and of submitting findings and recommendations to the Supreme Court en banc.” The committee was not created for the purpose of absolving Del Castillo.
2. The SC en banc, not just Corona, referred Del Castillo’s plagiarism case to the Ethics Committee. The en banc absolved him on a vote of 10-2. Corona cast just one vote.
3. The committee’s power is only recommendatory. If an offense is impeachable, the SC en banc will refer it to the House for investigation. If not, the en banc will decide on the case and impose sanctions against the erring official if needed.

1. A Supreme Court justice may only be investigated and removed through an impeachment proceeding. Thus, it was improper for the SC to refer Del Castillo’s case to the Ethics Committee.
2. The law allows the SC to discipline members of lower courts, but not its own. Only the House has the power to discipline SC Justices because they are impeachable officers.
3. Corona preempted Congress and protected a fellow Justice from impeachment.

Article 7. Respondent betrayed public trust through his partiality in granting a temporary restraining order (TRO) in favor of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo in order to give them an opportunity to escape prosecution and to frustrate the end of justice, and in distorting the Supreme Court decision on the effectivity of the TRO in view of a clear failure to comply with the conditions of the Supreme Court's own TRO.

ASSIGNED PROSECUTORS: Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares (lead), Northern Samar Rep. Raul Daza

1. The SC under Corona quickly issued a temporary restraining order allowing former President Arroyo and her husband, Mike, to go abroad despite a watchlist order by the Justice Department. This was done even without heeding the member-in-charge’s recommendation that a hearing be held first, and despite inconsistencies in Arroyo’s petition that cast doubts on her sincerity and the urgency of her need to leave the country to seek medical treatment.
2. The TRO for Gloria was extended to Mike because the SC consolidated their cases.
3. Events show the TRO was granted with undue haste: the SC extended its office hours to allow the Arroyos to post a P2-milion bond, and they booked several trips on the day the TRO was released, as if they knew about it beforehand.
4. The SC affirmed the TRO even if the Arroyos failed to comply with one of its conditions that they appoint a legal representative to attend to legal matters during their absence. Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno pointed this out in her dissent. The Court Administrator and SC spokesperson, Midas Marquez, misinformed the public by saying that the TRO was effective.

1. The Rules of Court allows the consolidation of cases for actions involving common questions of law. There was a common question of law in the separate petitions of Gloria and Mike Arroyo: whether Justice Secretary Leila de Lima violated their right to travel by issuing a watchlist order against them. The consolidation of their cases was collegial and not just Corona’s own move.
2. There was no undue haste in issuing the TRO. SC Justices received copies of the Arroyos’ petitions and deliberated on them carefully.
3. The en banc is not bound by the member-in-charge’s recommendations. The decision of the majority prevails.
4. That the SC would take up the TRO on November 15, 2011 was widely known. It is not surprising then that the Arroyos prepared for a possible issuance of it by, among other, booking several flights. The SC never informed them about it beforehand.
5. Corona cannot be held liable for a collegial decision such as the release of TROs.
6. The SC expressly made the TRO “immediately executory,” and so it was effective even if one of the conditions was not met. The Court ruled 9-4 that the TRO remained in force. Thus, the prosecution’s claim that the SC’s ruling did not reflect what was discussed in its deliberations is untrue.
7. Corona did not feed Marquez wrong information on the Court’s deliberations on the TRO.

1. Corona used his administrative powers as Chief Justice to expedite the issuance of a TRO.
2. Corona’s own arguments reveal his premeditated scheme to let the Arroyos leave.
3. Majority of the Justices (7-6) voted to keep silent on whether the TRO was effective despite the Arroyos’ failure to comply with a condition, because they believed it was commonsensical for it to be suspended. But Corona told Marquez to tell the public that the TRO was still in full force.
4. Justice Sereno’s dissent filed on December 2, 2011, which details irregularities in the issuance of TRO, was promulgated only on December 13.
5. Corona’s actions show a clear bias for Arroyo.

Article 8. Respondent betrayed public trust and/or committed graft and corruption when he failed and refused to account for the judiciary development fund (JDF) and special allowances for the Judiciary (SAJ) collections

ASSIGNED PROSECUTORS: Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali (lead), Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Agabbao

BACKGROUND: Corona failed to remit to the Bureau of Treasury collections for the Special Allowance for the Judiciary, which comes from docket fees from people filing complaints, and the Judicial Development Fund sourced from legal fees. He also reportedly failed to account for the funds spent for unfiled positions in the judiciary. Unremitted funds to the treasury amounted to P5.38 billion, according to the annual audit report of the SC. P559.5 million consisting of the SAJ, JDF, and General Fund, meanwhile, was misstated in the audit report.

1. The prosecution is attacking the judiciary’s so-called fiscal autonomy in its accusations. The legislature seems to want to control its funds, which is not allowed under the Constitution.
2. All disbursement vouchers for the SAJ and JDF are submitted to the resident auditor from the Commission on Audit.
3. The Department of Budget and Management was furnished a copy of the report on the status of SAJ and JDF collections covering several periods on December 12, 2012. The reports were also submitted to the COA, Senate, and House of Representatives.
4. Corona is not required to remit all SAJ collections to the Bureau of Treasury. Under RA 9227, the judiciary has exclusive control over the SAJ. Also, in a resolution on January 18, 2011, the SC resolved that interests on deposits of the JDF shall not be remitted to the National Treasury.
5. The SC did not fail to account for funds for vacancies in the judiciary. It has submitted the Statement of Allotment, Obligation, and Balances for 2010 showing how the SC’s savings were used. As Chief Justice, Corona is authorized by Article 6 Section 25 (5) of the Constitution to realign savings or use them for other purposes.
6. The alleged unremitted and misstated funds accumulated long before Corona became Chief Justice. These matters have been reported to Congress in 2010.

1. Corona’s answers are merely sweeping denials, without any documentary proof showing that he fulfills his duty of accounting for the funds.
2. Curiously, the day Corona submitted reports on the status of JDF and SAJ collections (December 12, 2011) was also the day the impeachment complaint was transmitted to the Senate. It is a clear indication of Corona’s desperate bid to fend off the people’s cry for accountability.

* * *

1. The impeachment complaint, filed in a “blitzkrieg fashion” like a “thief in the night,” was the handiwork of President Aquino and other members of the Liberal Party to ensure an Aquino-friendly SC. From the very start, Aquino has been against Corona. He even refused to take his oath before the Chief Justice.
2. The impeachment process has become a “partisan orgy” meant to destroy Corona by associating him with the unpopular former President Arroyo.
3. The impeachment of Corona is an attack on the judiciary’s independence, and therefore also an attack on the Constitution itself.
4. The impeachment complaint should be dismissed for failing to fulfill the verification requirement: the signatories had not carefully read and evaluated its contents. (This is Corona’s main argument in his motion for preliminary hearing.)

1. The impeachment was filed by the Filipino people through their representatives in Congress. It was a “sovereign act.”
2. The impeachment is not an attack on the judiciary and the Constitution. “Corona is not the judiciary and the articles of impeachment are leveled against him and him alone.”
3. The impeachment seeks to strengthen the SC by removing Arroyo’s influence, restoring the people’s faith in it.
4. Corona should have seen his impeachment coming. Long before it was filed, the people had lost faith in him and the SC.
5. Corona’s argument that President Aquino wants a Chief Justice who would kowtow to him reflects his belief that an appointee is always beholden to the appointing power. In effect, Corona admits being beholden to Arroyo, who appointed him.
6. On Corona’s claim that the impeachment complaint was defective and not properly verified:
a. The impeachment complaint, having been transmitted to the Senate, is sufficient to proceed to trial. Any objections based on technicalities should no longer be entertained.
b. The number of congressmen who had not read the complaint is not enough to reduce the number of complainants to less than the required 1/3 of all the members of the House.
c. Article 11 Section 3 (4) of the Constitution only requires filing of the complaint by at least 1/3 of House members, not verification by all of them.
d. The verification requirements under the Rules of Court do no apply to the impeachment process, as it is political and not strictly judicial in nature.
e. Those who have not read the complaint by now had sufficient time to evaluate it. If they don’t agree with it, then they can withdraw their signatures. But no one has withdrawn his or her signature so far.