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Aquino draws battle lines with Corona

MANILA — There were handshakes and exchanges of pleasantries between President Benigno Aquino III and Chief Justice Renato Corona all right. The President even acknowledged the Chief Justice when he spoke unlike during his inauguration last year.

But the President’s speech at the 1st National Criminal Justice Summit Monday (December 5) at Manila Hotel proved to be the harshest rebuff that Corona took so far.

Aquino started by slamming the Supreme Court’s decision regarding the Truth Commission that he created to look into the alleged widespread acts of corruption during the Arroyo administration.

“We had no other purpose for this than to address past wrongdoings as quickly as possible. But we all know what happened: The Supreme Court said that the formation of the Truth Commission was unconstitutional. From the onset, obstacles had already been put in our path,” he said.

The President also noted that it is the Commission on Elections’ job to make sure the polls remain fair. He said it is but natural that the Comelec ask for the assistance of the Department of Justice in investigation the allegations of cheating back in 2007.

“The formation of such panels is not uncommon, and yet once again the Supreme Court is questioning it. They are also questioning the legality of the warrant of arrest issued by the Pasay Regional Trial Court to Mrs. Arroyo,” he said.

“Also, note this: The Supreme Court handed down the TRO together with certain conditions. But not long after that, they themselves admitted that the conditions need not be met for the TRO to be in effect. How baffling of them to include conditions they had no plans of seeing fulfilled. We have been following all the right processes, and still we are being accused of picking a fight. May I ask: who in their right mind would not be suspicious of their true intent” Aquino said.

The strongest criticism followed as the President questioned the legality of Corona’s appointment as chief justice. He cited Article 7, Section 15 of the Constitution as saying that the President cannot issue appointments two months immediately before the next presidential elections except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.

Aquino said, “but we all know how Mrs. Arroyo insisted on appointing the Chief Justice. He was appointed, not two months before the election, but a week after. According to the law and one of their previous decisions, the Supreme Court ruled that the President could not appoint any official two months before an election, except for temporary appointments to the executive position.”

“But they turned their back on their pronouncements when Mrs. Arroyo appointed the Honorable Chief Justice Renato Corona—in a position that was not in the executive branch, but of the judiciary. The question now is: is the Supreme Court in violation of the Constitution” Aquino added.

The President also noted another questionable decision of the High Tribunal concerning the creation of districts in Congress. Citing Article 6, Section 5 of the Constitution that says every district must have a population of more than 250,000, Aquino said the problem rose when there were areas that could not achieve this number such as Camarines Sur, which has a population of about 176,000.

“When I was still in the Senate, as Chairman of the Committee on Local Government, I questioned the creation of this district, though the Supreme Court only junked the inquiry. The question now is: If the establishment of a district no longer relies on population, on what basis, then, will lawmakers rely? Does this mean that we continue to have rules on the creation of cities, but we have none for provinces or districts in provinces? I commiserate with the new Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local Government, Senator Bongbong Marcos: I wish you good luck in resolving this problem; I tried my best to do so in my time,” Aquino said.

The President said despite all these, he remains respectful of the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive branches and he has no intention of encroaching on the duties, disregarding the rights, or tarnishing anyone’s reputation. “But we need to remind ourselves of the bedrock principles of our democracy. We in public service owe it all to our Boss, the Filipino people. We are here only to serve the people, and to serve our fellow Filipinos with utmost industry and integrity,” he said.

“Now, if there is one public servant who thinks he does not owe his countrymen—who, after all, is the wellspring of our power—but a patron who had snuck him into position, can we reasonably expect him to look after the interests of our people” Aquino said, again referring to Corona.

Aquino stressed the power of the Supreme Court, the President, and Congress all emanate from the people. “Therefore, we should only favor and fight for the people’s interests. I swore to preserve and defend the Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. I have no intention of violating my sworn oath; I have no intention of failing the Filipino people,” he said.

When asked for comment later by reporters, Corona said in Filipino, “Let it go. It’s Christmastime. Let’s speak of peace.”

What’s clear from Aquino’s latest tirade against Corona is that the antagonistic relationship between the Executive and the Judiciary will remain.

The sad part is that the two branches have a great task to carry out government policy. For instance, the 1st NSCJ was a perfect venue for Aquino to bring together stakeholders of the justice system to reexamine institutional criminal justice issues and forge strategies towards the enhanced delivery of justice.

Aquino was supposed to unveil the draft of Book 1 of the new criminal code he himself mandated in his first State of the Nation Address. Though Justice Secretary Leila de Lima signed on his behalf, the President missed an opportunity to exhibit and consolidate the government’s drive against crime and corruption.