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.
Category Archives: Philippines
Prosecutors in the impeachment trial against Chief Justice Corona announced that the chief justice had favored Arroyo in 80% of the 31 cases involving the former president. While likely to be damning in the public eye, it’s worth thinking about what those numbers actually mean. First of all, on average one would expect a the average unbiased judge to vote 50% in favor of any random plaintiff in a borderline case, so Corona voted 30% (80% – 50%) more often in favor of Arroyo than one might expect. The first question is whether that difference is meaningful, given that there were only 31 cases in the sample. The difference is large enough that it should be statistically significant, although one would also want to consider other factors that might account for the difference.
Moreover, of course judges are not unbiased, plaintiffs are not random, and not all legal claims are borderline. It’s difficult to assess the numbers without a sense of the underlying merit of the cases. How many of those cases were split decisions in controversial cases, as opposed to unanimous opinions in rather mundane cases? Also, we would also have to compare Corona’s voting pattern to other justices on the court. If the majority had a similar vote pattern, Corona wouldn’t be such an exception.
Finally, if the prosecution is right and Corona favors Arroyo, why would he vote against her in 20% of cases? Again, we’d want to be sure that 20% is statistically significant, but it still must be explained. After all, if Corona was so loyal to Arroyo, why vote against her at all? It would be interesting to find out more about those cases.
In U.S. law, prosecutors are generally not allowed to use general statistical patterns as evidence. This announcement shows why. While Corona might have been unduly loyal to Arroyo, the headline oversimplifies the situation.
I have reposted the article below:
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.
The Supreme Court recently dismissed a complaint by several losing litigants against three Court of Appeals judges. Of course, losing parties often have an incentive to complain that decision was not fair. However, the Supreme Court then turned around and threatened the complainants with contempt “for degrading the judicial office of respondent Associate Justices of the Court of Appeals, and for interfering with the due performance of their work for the Judiciary.” You can read more about the current case here.
One of the themes that emerged from Marites Vitug’s Shadow of Doubt is that the Supreme Court protects its own. While the Supreme Court has every right to dismiss frivolous complaints against judges, is it taking things too far to threaten contempt? The real concern is that overusing contempt might discourage legitimate and useful public scrutiny of the courts. There is some research suggesting that public accountability, transparency, and media attention are key to improving judicial independence and quality.
This issue came up before when several law professors publicly complained that Justice del Castillo had plagiarized a U.S. law review article – a serious charge made by serious individuals. Then as now the Supreme Court accused them of contempt. Congress is in the process of deciding whether to impeach Justice del Castillo. However, it would probably be better for the courts if the public rather than the Congress acted as the judicial watchdog.