[This opinion-article was published in the GMA News Online on June 3, 2012]
The Senate, acting as an impeachment tribunal, voted 20-3 in favor of the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. It was a comfortable margin over the super-majority vote of 16 required for conviction. Politically, the outcome solidified the standing of President Aquino and his administration, both among the political elite and among the people themselves.
There was the view at the start and the middle of the impeachment process that the voting would be a close race, or even a bit in favor of CJ Corona. This was glaringly evident in the important 13-10 vote in favor of recognizing and following the Supreme Court’s Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the opening of CJ Corona’s dollar accounts.
The main political reasons given then were 1) the relative independence of the Senate vis-à-vis the President; 2) the presidential contest of 2016 will divide the ruling coalition this early and affect the impeachment vote; and 3) the efforts of the camp of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to influence the impeachment vote.
The latter was most effective in playing up the possible scenario of the ouster of CJ Corona leading to the favorable ruling for Mar Roxas in his protest against Vice-President Jojo Binay.
Insofar as these factors are operative throughout the proceedings, they constituted a continuing pressure for acquittal. However, there were countervailing factors which—in the end—proved stronger and more compelling towards a verdict of conviction.
First, there is the factor of evidence. The evidence for Article 2 showed that CJ Corona admitted owning properties, bank accounts and other assets amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos, and that he admitted he wilfully did not enter these in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
The prosecutor made the case that there is a substantive betrayal of public trust sufficient to remove him as a Chief Justice and justice of the Supreme Court. In addition, it stressed that CJ Corona lied and acted well below the standards set for members of the judiciary, much more as justice and chief justice of the Supreme Court. The body of evidence made it easier for the senator-judges to support a judgment of conviction and made it harder for those who want to vote for acquittal.
It is also contributory that CJ Corona himself admitted both the facts of his huge dollar and peso deposits and that he reportedly insisted on getting Ombudsman and former associate justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as a “hostile” witness. Without the benefit of advice from his legal team,he also reportedly wrote and delivered his disastrous opening statement, and reportedly staged his own surprise walkout.
He thus dug his own impeachment grave. Even the last-minute concession of an unconditional waiver for a look into his bank accounts and the seeming reconciliation of his wife’s family and clan were not enough to turn the tide.
Second, the strong public opinion against CJ Corona—as manifested in the March SWS survey of 73% who judged him guilty—provided an incentive to senators who have a political stake in the 2013 elections to vote against him.
Third, the impeachment was initiated and publicly supported by a very popular president Aquino and the ruling Liberal Party, with the acquiescence from most of the ruling coalition in the House of Representatives. This provided the necessary political and logistical framework to the impeachment campaign.
At the end, only three senator-judges (Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Senator Joker Arroyo, and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago) voted for acquittal. They all based themselves on the legal interpretation of the Constitution and pertinent laws provided by the defense and on their own opinion that the quantum of evidence did not support the verdict of impeachment. They would even accept the defense accusation of a persecution of CJ Corona by the Aquino administration.
As such, their position basically is a political position. While Senators Arroyo and Defensor-Santiago are at the end of their respective political careers, Senator Marcos runs the risk of a backlash in his own young political career.
The vote for impeachment, though a touch-and-go affair for a major part of the process, rapidly solidified into a decisive one after the CJ Corona walkout. He never recovered after.