The Manila Times - Legacy of the Corona impeachment

News & Interviews
17 January 2021

By The Manila Times

THE impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona was something that I detested from the start.

During the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presidency, CJ Corona served for a short time as presidential spokesman until he was plucked out and later appointed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at the close of the term of GMA.

When Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd was swept to power in 2010, Corona became the target of a nasty move to remove him. I recall the arrogant Aquino henchmen from the House of Representatives, led by then congressman Neil Tupas, who argued the case for impeachment in the Senate.

Embarrassingly, it was a hodgepodge of offenses, but later it boiled down to Corona’s innocuous, harmless mistakes in the filing of his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, or SALN.

Corona’s impeachment struck a deep chord within me as a member of the Philippine bar. I came to see the move as nothing more than a vicious political attack by a new president against the allies of former president Arroyo.

For me, it was nothing more than an attack against the judiciary itself, which was forced to bend its knee in humiliation in the face of presidential tyranny, smashing its vaunted independence.

I saw the impeachment as being designed to ensure Noynoy Aquino’s bid to control the Supreme Court, given that Chief Justice Corona earlier penned the controversial decision in the agrarian case against the Hacienda Luisita that badly hurt the Cojuangco-Aquino family.

I was disheartened by what I consider as an affront to the whole judiciary, and as a member of the bar, I could not accept it.

By then, Noynoy Aquino had emerged from an election that saw him gaining a broad popular mandate. But his targeting of CJ Corona made me recoil in protest despite his popular mandate, prompting me to send a text to lawyer Michael Musngi, whom I called Mike.

It was the first time that I voiced an opinion to Mike Musngi against the Aquino administration. In my text, I criticized why they were impeaching CJ Corona on what was then turning out to be a mere error in his SALN, which could simply be corrected.

My text was awkward because Mike Musngi, I knew, was very close and loyal to Noynoy Aquino. Mike replied to me, and I can still vividly recall his text: “Kung wala kang alam sa pangyayari, tumahimik ka na lang.”

Mike Musngi’s closeness to Noynoy Aquino dates back to his days as a student of the Ateneo Law School. Back then, Noynoy Aquino courted a lady student of the Ateneo Law School hailing from the prominent Roman political dynasty in Bataan.

Mike happened to be a close friend of the lady student, and he came into contact with Noynoy Aquino. In short, Noynoy Aquino also courted Mike Musngi to win the object of his heart.

As part of the spoils of electoral victory, Noynoy Aquino appointed Mike Musngi as senior deputy to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa. I came to know from reliable sources that Mike Musngi became a key official in Malacañang’s inner circle, being the guy who brought papers to the desk of Noynoy Aquino.

When Aquino’s term was to end, he made sure Mike Musngi retained a position. Noynoy Aquino appointed him as Sandiganbayan justice. He has been serving in such capacity up to now.

Mike was my classmate for four years at the Ateneo de Manila University when we studied for our college degree in political science. We even saw each other during a homecoming at the Ateneo when he was already in Malacañang.

Bordering on insult, his text to me embittered me even more, serving to further disillusion me in the face of the illegitimate assault of his boss Noynoy Aquino. Since then, I have never again sent even one single text to my erstwhile friend and classmate Mike Musngi.

My disillusionment with the Aquino administration became permanent in the time to come.

In fact, I never became a political supporter of the Aquino administration even if I have a number of friends with key ties to the Liberal Party.

Notably, Kiko Pangilinan — who called me “balimbing” when I withdrew that communication from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in January 2020 — was my classmate at the UP College of Law for five years when we were evening students.

A scion of the Tañada family, lawyer Toby Tañada, who is the brother of then Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada and son of former senator Bobby Tañada, was my Ateneo college classmate for four years along with Mike Musngi.

Oddly enough, I became the lawyer of Matobato in 2016, ultimately bringing me to personally file that communication in the ICC in April 2017 against President Duterte. With Senators Trillanes and de Lima backing up Matobato, the public perceived the hand of the Liberal Party-led opposition in the state of affairs.

As I have repeatedly said, I did it just as an independent lawyer, not for politics.

In fact, ever since the Corona impeachment that saw the judiciary being humiliated by an all-too powerful president, I came to detest the Liberal Party which could not have exerted its political dictation and influence upon me.

It is my utter rejection of Corona’s impeachment that made me laud and idolize the three senators who voted against it: Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. For me, they represented a valiant stand against what I perceived as presidential abuse against the judiciary.

Years after the fall of CJ Corona, the very same senators and congressmen who axed Corona in support of Aquino came to be the very same persons who wanted to axe CJ Sereno in support of the wish of the Duterte government, in the all-too familiar perennial pattern of political turncoatism.

It was a reversal of fortune and karma for CJ Sereno, who later came to replace CJ Corona, and for Noynoy Aquino who is very close to her. For me, CJ Sereno’s removal is bittersweet revenge for CJ Corona.

It is now a matter of speculation whether our lawmakers would have also removed CJ Sereno due to the same SALN violations if the impeachment went on. As it turned out, it was the quo warranto in the Supreme Court that removed her based on her longstanding failure to file the SALN.

But one thing is sure: Sereno’s removal is a vindication for judicial independence and a divine retribution for CJ Corona who died a broken man.

Nevertheless, CJ Corona’s removal that painfully hit me on a personal level left a lasting mark on the political history of the country. It paved the way later for the tandem of Senators Santiago and Marcos to rise in the 2016 national elections.

Although I supported Ambassador Seneres for president in 2016 — who died during the campaign period — the Santiago-Marcos tandem fired up popular imagination, creating so much fear in the Liberal Party of a Marcos revival in the offing.

With the backdrop of the Corona impeachment, the tandem emerged as a powerful symbol of a continued campaign of resistance to the previous Corona impeachment and to the continuing folly of the Aquino administration.

Their tandem came to represent the people’s rejection of the political abuse of presidential power of Noynoy Aquino against the independence of the judiciary.

My former professor in agrarian reform law in the UP College of Law, Miriam Defensor Santiago may have lost the election once again; but after her death, her political legacy for the country remains strongly rooted in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people through Sen. Bongbong Marcos.

Senator Marcos reaped a winning vote and almost won. But he was cheated by no other than the Liberal Party, which fears a Marcos revival. In honor of the late Miriam Defensor Santiago, it is now Bongbong Marcos’ turn to carry on her torch in triumph.

This political torch represents all the political ideals and virtues that she embraced, and on the crest of a massive popular acclaim, these ideals and virtues bid Bongbong Marcos to bring the torch in victory all the way to Malacañang where his father once reigned supreme.

In the event it becomes a political reality, it is the ultimate revenge against the arrogance of power represented by Mike Musngi, his boss Noynoy Aquino and the Liberal Party-led opposition.

Even if impeached and broken in death, CJ Corona may yet turn out to have not died in vain. His legacy, which was recorded in that vote against his impeachment and later immortalized in the Santiago-Marcos tandem, still lives on in a continuing political saga in our country’s history.