Corona speaks up on court controversies

Posted at 03/10/11 5:29 PM

Says disagreements within court 'healthy'

MANILA - In one of few rare occasions, Chief Justice Renato Corona granted an interview today on the brewing controversy regarding the issuance of a status quo ante (SQA) order in September which temporarily halted impeachment proceedings against Arroyo ally Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez at the Lower House.

The chief magistrate defended Supreme Court administrator Justice Jose Midas Marquez, who is now receiving flak for issuing a statement to media that the justices received copies of the ombudsman's main petition prior to the en banc session on September 14, the day after the petition was filed, and the day the SQA order was issued.

Corona said the statement of Marquez is accurate on the basis of what was relayed to Marquez by the Clerk of Court and the Assistant Clerk of Court. He said Marquez only did his job in answering questions from journalists.

Marquez is actually in a sticky situation because, when he relayed to ABS-CBN News what was attested to by the clerk of court and her assistant, that was purely on the basis of what he was told by the two officers of the Office of the Clerk of Court.

When the justices sit in session, whether it be an en banc session of all 15 magistrates or a division session, no one else is present, not even the Clerk of Court, or Court Administrator Marquez, no stenographer, no staff. Only the justices are present.

Notes and actions are handwritten by the Chief Justice or division chief, and only handed to the Clerk of Court or division clerk after the session.

Why only now?

The Chief Justice also raised the question on why the SQA issue is being raised now, 6 months after its issuance in September, and even after the court decided on the main petition itself. The ruling junked the Ombudsman’s petition thereby giving the SC's green light to the impeachment process, a decision well-received by the public.

He stressed that SQAs are not the case decision but mere temporary reliefs, which can even be issued by the chief justice himself, alone, for confirmation later by the en banc.

Corona said, not only was the temporary relief sought by Gutierrez discussed by the en banc itself; there was, he revealed, even a heated and thorough discussion among justices present on the relief sought by Gutierrez, which was precisely the reason why he had to call for a vote.

The justice in charge, who prepared the synopsis or brief of the petition, recommended a temporary restraining order (TRO), but the outcome was an SQA by virtue of the debates and discussion that took place. 

Asked if there is a need for the justices to sit down and iron out this issue instead of issuing statements to media, Corona said there was no need because he stands by the decision to issue the SQA. He maintained that what the court did is consistent with the Constitution and its internal rules.

Diversity is good

The chief justice said the public should welcome that there are disagreements within the Supreme Court, and that there are varying opinions. If the court were to have only one mind and all justices thought exactly the same way, then that would be more dangerous to the civil liberties of citizens, he said.

Asked about his comment on a supposed concerted effort to undermine the credibility of the Court—the Chief Justice said it depends on how one looks at it.

He, however, intimated that there has been a series of events directed at the court to undermine its integrity. He said it started during the inauguration, referring to the inauguration of President Aquino, where he was snubbed. He also  noted that the Court has been called deaf and blind.

Corona also raised the judiciary budget cut, from the proposed P27 billion budget to a mere P14 billion, and finally, the repeated impeachment threats against the magistrates.

In the middle of all these, and amid criticisms and controversies hurled at the court—14 of whom are appointees of former President Gloria Arroyo and only one is an appointee of President Aquino--Corona said only two things can happen. He said these can destroy the court, if true, or strengthen it, if untrue.

Corona said there will always be criticisms against the court when it makes decisions, but he stressed that politicians should not insist that the court decide their way or decide on the basis of what's popular, because that would be the end of democracy.