Justice Corona's voting record favors Arroyo

by Purple S. Romero, abs-cbnnews.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Feb 04 2010 11:21 AM | Updated as of Feb 05 2010 02:16 AM

MANILA, Philippines --The voting record of Supreme Court Associate Justice Renato Corona, who has finally broken his silence and accepted the nomination for Chief Justice, shows that he has consistently sided with the administration in politically-significant cases.

When Newsbreak tracked the voting pattern of Supreme Court justices, including the two leading contenders for chief justice—Corona and Justice Antonio Carpio—from 2001 to early 2008, Corona lodged a high 78 percent in favor of Arroyo, with Carpio at 42 percent. (Read: Voting pattern of Supreme Court justices)

Corona is the sole senior magistrate to consider, what many legal experts say, is a midnight appointment to the SC.

He has deviated from his colleagues in the High Court who have said they would vie for the post only under a new administration. His biggest rival for the post, Justice Antonio Carpio, agreed to be nominated if the appointment will be made by the next president. Another magistrate, Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, held the same view.

Various sectors have argued that President Arroyo should not pick the replacement of Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who retires on May 17, because of the appointment ban.

The 1987 Constitution bars the president from issuing appointments two months before the elections, which, in this case, starts on March 11, and until the end of his or her term.

Clashing positions

This is not the first time though that the two most senior justices, Carpio and Corona, clashed in their stance.

In Quinto v. Comelec, Corona voted with the majority, which struck down as unconstitutional the provisions in the Omnibus Election Code and the Poll Automation Act stating that appointive officials are considered effectively resigned once they file their certificates of candidacy (COC).

These provisions, the 8 concurring justices said, tilt the balance in favor of elected officials who can still remain in their seats despite filing their COCs.

Carpio sided with the 3 other justices in the minority. In his dissenting opinion, he wrote that “An appointive public official who files a certificate of candidacy violates the express constitutional ban on civil service officers from engaging in any partisan political activity except to vote.”

The petition was filed by Arroyo’s election lawyer, Romulo Macalintal. The case involved then Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Eleazar Quinto and DENR Director Gerino Tolentino, who argued that they should only be mandated to leave their posts at the start of the campaign period.

Philippine Star reported that then Solicitor General Agnes Devanadera filed her comment on the case and urged the SC to resolve the issue.  

Devanadera, as it turned out, was one of the Cabinet officials who would benefit from the SC ruling. Currently the justice secretary, she has filed her certificate of candidacy for the congressional seat of the first district of Quezon province.
Aside from Devanadera, other Cabinet officials who gained from the decision were:

  • Executive Sec. Eduardo Ermita, who seeks to represent the first district of Batangas in the House of Representatives;
  • Presidential legal counsel Raul Gonzalez, who’s running for mayor of Iloilo City;
  • Department of Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, who’s running for Congress in the 3rd district of Bohol;
  • Budget Sec. Rolando Andaya, who aims to reclaim his post as representative of Camarines Sur.

Kokoy Romualdez

Corona also voted in favor of another Arroyo ally, Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez.

The SC, in a vote of 8-4, reversed itself and ruled that Romualdez cannot be prosecuted for holding two government positions and receiving compensation for these posts because the charges against him had already prescribed. This means that the filing of charges was done beyond the 15-year prescriptive period. 

Romualdez’s youngest son, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, is the senior vice-president for finance of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD political party.

Romualdez was able to run unopposed in 2007 after Arroyo asked Leyte Rep. Remedios “Matin” Petilla, who planned to run for re-election in May, to give way. Petilla did, and was later appointed as chairperson of state-owned IBC-13 and vice-president of the Philippine Amusement Gaming Corp (PAGCOR).

Carpio dissented in this case.

Crucial cases  

Prior to these cases, Corona and Carpio had contrary opinions on other important policy issues:

  • The SC, in a vote of 8-7, declared the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front unconstitutional. Corona said it was moot and academic because the MOA-AD was not signed; Carpio sided with the majority.
  • The SC, in a vote of 9-4, ruled that the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement did not violate the Constitution, but said that the transfer of rape convict Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith to the US Embassy was not in accordance with the agreement. Corona was with the majority, Carpio dissented.   
  • The Court struck down the People’s Initiative case which sought to revise the Constitution and change the current presidential form of government from presidential to parliamentary. Carpio wrote the decision; Corona dissented.
  • The SC declared the joint venture agreement (JVA) signed by PEA and Amari null and void for violating Section 3, Article XII of the 1987 Constitution which prohibits private corporations from acquiring any kind of alienable land of public domain. The High Court also enjoined the said entities from implementing the JVA. Corona was with the majority initially, but when the SC denied with finality the motions for reconsideration filed by Amari Coastal Bay Development Corporation, he reversed himself and dissented. Carpio wrote the ponencia.
  • The SC upheld executive privilege, which then Socio-economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri invoked when asked in a Senate inquiry what Arroyo's instructions were to him on the aborted $329-million NBN-ZTE telecommunications deal. Corona sided with the majority; Carpio dissented

It will be worth watching now how the two will vote on the case questioning the constitutionality of President Arroyo's martial law proclamation last December.

Arroyo placed Maguindanao under military rule after armed supporters of the political clan Ampatuans allegedly caused unrest in the area, following the arrest of Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. for the November 23 Maguindanao massacre.

Ties to Arroyo 

Interestingly, though, the two were previously closely affiliated with Arroyo before they were appointed to the SC. Their appointment to the Tribunal initially even rang the alarm bells for court watchdogs and observers, who doubted their capacity to be independent jurists. 

Carpio was a senior partner of the Carpio Villaraza & Cruz law firm, (more popularly known as The Firm), whose clients included the Arroyos. 

During the height of calls for the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada in 2001, The Firm played a key role in ensuring a swift changing of guards, which entailed installing then Vice President Arroyo to the presidency.

Carpio helped draft the letter of Arroyo to then Chief Justice Davide, which stated that she will take over the position as Estrada was already “permanently incapable” of functioning as chief executive.

During that time Corona was also by Arroyo’s side, as her chief of staff and spokesperson.  He has also served her as chief presidential legal counsel, acting executive secretary, and presidential chief of staff.

When the two entered the Court, however, their differences emerged.