More polls from the Philippines. According to Pulse Asia, 58% of respondents disapproved of Chief Justice Corona’s job performance, while only 14% approved. Moreover, just 11% trust him. Moreover, both numbers dropped precipitously from November 2011, when the impeachment case against the chief justice began.
While Filipinos are notoriously cynical when it comes to politicians, it’s worth comparing those numbers to President Aquino’s, who received a 70% performance rating. Given these numbers, I just don’t see politically how the chief justice can survive. Senators in the Philippines are elected on a national basis, so I’m sure they’ll take note of these numbers when they vote on the impeachment case in the next few weeks.
I’ve included a convenient table below summarizing the survey results (click to enlarge):
Of course, there’s always been a large potential conflict of interest underlying the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona. Namely, President Aquino would have a chance to appoint another justice to the court if he succeeds. However, two recent articles raise other possible conflicts of interest. The Supreme Court of course decided the fate of the Aquino family’s plantation in Hacienda Luisita. President Aquino adamantly denies any connection and points out that impeachment started with the Supreme Court’s decisions on Arroyo and the TRO. Second, and perhaps more interesting, Chief Justice Corona has accused Justice Carpio’s old firm (commonly known as “The Firm”) as behind the “black propaganda” against him. Of course, should Corona be removed, Carpio would probably be his successor. The Firm denies any involvement in the impeachment, but the accusations do raise the question of whether Carpio can keep his hands entirely clean in this whole affair.
Looks like there’s going to be a second impeachment trial coming soon to the Philippine Senate. The House voted 38-10 that there is probable cause to impeach Justice del Castillo, infamous for allegedly plagiarizing a Yale Law Review article. Some might argue this impeachment is based on stronger grounds than the politicized impeachment of Chief Justice Corona. However, it’s also quite convenient for the Aquino administration to not one but two additional Supreme Court appointments if both impeachment cases reach conviction. Indeed, as it currently stands, only Roberto Abad’s term will expire before the end of Aquino’s presidential term, meaning that barring any deaths or unforeseen retirements Aquino would otherwise only have had opportunity to appoint one more justice.* By the looks of it, Aquino could leave the presidency with 6 of his justices on the bench, plus sympathetic justices like Carpio.
* Martin Villarama’s term ends in April 2016, during the election season. This whole impeachment saga against Corona started when President Arroyo appointed Corona during the 2010 election season, which Aquino argued violated the ban on midnight appointments. Villarama’s retirement should be an interested test of if Aquino accepts the midnight appointment ban when it constrains his presidency – or alternatively, if he suddenly decides that the Supreme Court made the right call in de Castro v. JBC.
There’s been no shortage of rude words between Chief Justice Corona and President Aquino. As the impeachment trial against Corona has progressed, the Senate has focused on his SALN and allegations of corruption. Now, the chief justice has responded by challenging the president to release his psychological records. According to PhilStar, Corona said that the President has an obligation to assure the public that their leader is “in his right mind.” Harsh words! I can’t imagine that the relationship will ever be repaired if Corona escapes impeachment.
I haven’t written much about the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona in the Philippines partly because events are moving so quickly that it’s hard to post anything without it becoming obsolete the next day. Nonetheless, the main development now seems to be that prosecutors have found inconsistencies on Corona’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) (for an overview of the charges, see here and here). This alone is an impeachable offense. Other allegations of corruption have arisen, including misappropriation of World Bank project funds (see the World Bank memo asking for the return of 8.6 million pesos here).
While I’ve been following the news pretty closely, I certainly don’t recall any discussion of corruption as the basis for impeachment before the House voted last December. While these allegations of corruption certainly paint a disturbing picture of Corona’s chief justiceship, I’m surprised that the trial has moved in this direction rather than focusing on the stated basis for impeachment, namely Corona’s decisions. I hope the focus on real crimes means that the Philippines can minimize the damage the impeachment trial will have on judicial independence. If future judges see this impeachment as the legitimate removal of a corrupt official rathe than a politically motivated attack then all the better. However, while judges don’t often state their positions publicly, what I’ve seen in news reports is that judges are sticking by their chief justice – at least for now.
Aquino’s legacy on the rule of law is still being determined. On the one hand, judges complain that the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona is becoming essentially trial by publicity. On the other hand, some human rights activists credit the president for going after former general Jovito Palparan, one of the masterminds behind extrajudicial killings against suspected leftists (although Palparan remains at large). Ironically, under the Puno Supreme Court had pushed for bringing human rights violators to justice while the Arroyo administration stalled.
The central question for Aquino is whether he can get beyond the image as the “anti-Arroyo”. Mark Dern in Asia Times
highlights the problems plaguing the Philippine criminal justice sector. Perhaps justice-sector reform could be a way for Aquino to demonstrate his reform credentials and leave a legacy beyond simply rectifying the sins of the previous administration.
While there has been much talk about a final showdown between the Aquino administration and the Corona Court, I was shocked to hear from BBC yesterday that the Congress actually impeached Chief Justice Corona. Just a few hours before I had read an article in which Corona talked of a secret conspiracy to oust him. Normally I’d have dismissed such talk, but at this point I’ve really got to wonder what the Aquino administration is thinking. The Philippines Supreme Court has been relatively independent since the EDSA. It has waded into a variety of politically charged questions, including term limits for President Ramos, the legality of EDSA II, and extrajudicial killings. The impeachment against Corona is the first time a Philippine justice has been impeached on blatantly political grounds. Even the impeachment against Davide nominally focused on the Court’s alleged misappropriation of funds. Sadly, even if the Senate refuses to convict Corona the whole imbroglio might make Philippine justices think twice about taking on political cases.