Thursday, March 15, 2012

Renato Corona, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines

He sits alone in his mahogany dining table, eating crispy chicken skin, when we left him. An hour before, he looked frail and weak, like he’s not eaten in weeks. Though he cast an imposing figure, his green barong cannot hide one singular fact—the Chief Justice has lost weight. He silently limbers around his office, which looks ordinary for a distinguished lawyer like him, except that, at the middle of this office, bears the mighty Seal of the Supreme Court. That seal is above his black leather chair and table. Unlike any other though, instead of sofa seats, his dining table fronts his office table. I wonder how many people have eaten in that table, which can easily dine ten people at one time. And I wonder how many times the Chief Justice has shared his passion for lechong manok, and of course, crispy chicken skin.

This office does not look like a place for a beleaguered man, I told myself, as I perused hundreds of books which adorn his office. Months ago, he was pilloried by his counterpart and accused of being a hindrance to this government’s alleged “tuwid na daan”. He has since then, been kicked, punched, and spit at his face, his family threatened and his very self exposed nakedly for all the whole world to see.

Any Batangueno worth his worth would have gotten his bolo or even cocked his gun. Any lesser man would have gotten one of his 31 guns in his armoury and shoot the lights off his detractors, he being a former straight shooter like his counterpart. But no.

Renato Corona, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, is no butangero. He does not lose his cool. Fact is, he’s even proud of telling people that he rarely loses his composure. “Ever since this happened”, says Corona, “ I have never thought of taking revenge. Ask my wife. Ask my kids. There has never been an instance where I thought evil against any man. I was not raised by my parents to be vengeful, oh no. I am proud of being a Corona. I am proud of my family’s legacy to this country.”

“ When I was young, I used to love guns. I was a gun shooter. I competed in several competitions. I had a passion for it. However, when I aged, the passion for practical shooting hit me less and less. Now, I don’t love it anymore. “

What had happened that transformed this man, from a gun lover to an advocate of peace? Without battling an eyelash, Corona says, it is his love for the law. And God. 

Ever since he was a kid, Renato Corona had always aspired to be a lawyer. His forebears were land surveyors. He was raised comfortably by his parents. Of course, he’s not a Cojuangco, but he was never the man Malacanang pictured him to be---a poor, struggling one who only enriched himself when he entered public service.

“ I am proud of my heritage. I am proud of the service my forebears brought to this country. Fact is, go to Mandaluyong, and you’ll find a street named after my grandfather.”

Corona was equally proud of his wife, Cristina Basa. He shared with us, his wife’s family heritage. Her great grandfather, Jose Maria Basa, was the financier of the 1896 Revolution. Prior to Bonifacio, Basa was the Katipunan Supremo. When the Spaniards discovered the revolt, Basa was one of those who were exiled abroad, and had to surrender several thousand hectares of his property to the state. Yet, he never complained. Basa was a patriot, says Corona, and he’s proud that that same blood runs through the veins of his lovely wife.

When someone asked why the Basas now want his head, Corona just shrugs and says that that was not his fight. The Basas and the Guidotes had that fight long ago, and he was just dragged into it because he’s Cristina’s husband. The Basas suspected that he used or is using his vast network to influence the cases. Corona denies any allegation, saying that if he did, those cases pending before the courts of Manila would have been resolved a long time ago.

He, Renato Corona, is such a man, a man of integrity and character. He does not lose his temper. He claims never to have lifted a finger against any man. Yet, like any other, he also feels bad against some, even his closest of friends, but never ever thought of using his powers to get back at them.

When I asked him about Associate Justice Antonio Carpio if they are still buddies, Corona had this to say: “ No, we are not anymore buddies. We are just civil to each other. Each member of this court is learned, each civilized. I don’t harbour any grudge against any of them. Of course, I feel bad, but feelings aside, I don’t feel revenge.”

Corona and Carpio, many of my lawyer friends say, were the best of friends. They both served during the time of former president Fidel Valdes Ramos, Carpio being appointed as Chief Legal Counsel while Corona served as a Deputy Executive Secretary for Legal Concerns. It was during the time of Ramos that both started their careers in public service and both flourished.

Sick with tonsilitis but I'm a fool if I'll pass
this chance to interview the controversial
Chief Justice
Several close in associates say that the two became estranged shortly after an internal investigation conducted by Malacanang found one of them guilty of using his influence to affect the Fraport case. That Fraport case was the one which  broke the strong ties of Carpio and Corona. Both of these gentlemen respected each other, especially Corona who even considered Carpio as a brother. After Fraport and that very public severing of ties between Carpio’s law firm and the Arroyo administration, Corona and Carpio had rarely spoken to each other.

Was Fraport really the cause behind these latest efforts to dislodge Corona from his seat as Chief Justice? As punishment, the Arroyos reportedly vowed to block Carpio’s ascension to the Chief Justice seat, something which, when I asked Corona about, he was tight lipped. He says:

“ Even if that happened, no one would corroborate that. You know, in government, and I have stayed for so long in government, these things, even if it did happen, no one would be brave enough to admit that it did happen.”

So, why is he being castigated by this administration which is reportedly very close to the Firm, that law office founded by Carpio in 1981?

Corona propounded four reasons, one of which is the oft-repeated line of Hacienda Luisita. The other, he says, is the fear of a close Aquino buddy that he will influence the pending electoral case before the Supreme Court questioning the election of the Vice President and third, he is perceived to be a stumbling block to the interests of some groups which he did not identify. And the fourth, he’s perceived closeness to the former dispensation.

“ The fourth one is the one that truly troubles me. I am just being dragged into this mess. They have a beef against the former administration, why drag me into it? Probably, if only some people there in Malacanang really knows me, they will not consider me an enemy. I am just collateral damage here, “ says Corona who was appointed by former president and now suspect in numerous criminal cases, Gloria Arroyo.

(Part II: Issues and the Shakedown")