The Loyalty of Chief Justice Corona

by Rodel Rodis
September 16, 2011
Friends and foes alike may not agree much on anything about recently impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona but all may likely concede that his most outstanding and endearing quality is loyalty.  Unfortunately, the Encyclopædia Britannica’s definition of loyalty is “allegiance, personal devotion and reverence to the sovereign” and further expounds that “one who is loyal, in the feudal sense of fealty, is one who has full legal rights as a consequence of faithful allegiance.”
Corona’s critics will certainly argue that his “full legal rights” to be appointed as Chief Justice in clear violation of established precedents against such midnight appointments, is a “consequence of faithful allegiance.”
Loyalty is sometimes viewed as a virtue on par with honesty and integrity. Others may even argue, as Josiah Royce did in his 1908 book, The Philosophy of Loyalty, that it is even more valued. Royce considers loyalty “the heart of all the virtues, the central duty amongst all the duties…the basic moral principle from which all other principles can be derived.”
In her book, “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court”, Maritess Danguilan Vitug wrote that in all his years on the Supreme Court, “Corona’s loyalty to the appointing power was indisputable. He consistently voted for President Arroyo in a number of politically consequential cases.”
Pres. Noynoy Aquino expressed his frustration at Corona’s loyalty to his “sovereign” in a speech at a Criminal Justice Summit held in Manila on December 5 where he listed 19 cases involving Arroyo where Corona supported her position in all the cases.
One example he cited was his plan to set up a Truth Commission, as Nelson Mandela did in South Africa, to investigate charges of corruption during the Arroyo administration. Because Arroyo had appointed Merceditas Gutierrez as Ombudsman and she had made it clear that no criminal investigation of the Arroyos would happen during her watch, which would cover much of Aquino’s presidential term, this was the most that Aquino could hope for. Even though it would be a “toothless” body without the power to even subpoena witnesses, it would have been an annoyance to Arroyo.
No problem. Corona’s Supreme Court immediately ruled that Aquino’s creation of a Truth Commission was unconstitutional.  
When Aquino’s Secretary of Justice, Leila De Lima, issued a hold order to prevent the departure of Arroyo because criminal charges were about to be filed against her, Corona’s Supreme Court immediately issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to void the hold order of De Lima.
What was especially galling to Aquino was that the Supreme Court had scheduled a full hearing on the legality of De Lima’s hold departure order against Arroyo for November 22. Corona had even reportedly traveled to San Francisco for a vacation expecting to return in time for the November 22 hearing. But when Arroyo decided that she could not wait until November 22 as the Aquino government would have filed the charges against her by then, an emergency “ex parte” TRO application was made to the Supreme Court for immediate action on November 15.
Corona had to immediately cut his vacation short in order to accommodate Arroyo’s request for a special hearing. Without bothering to hear the government’s position on the Arroyo motion, Corona and 7 other Arroyo appointed justices granted the TRO requested by Arroyo.
The Supreme Court majority imposed three conditions before the TRO could be effective. Before she met the conditions, Arroyo was already at the airport ready to leave Manila barely hours after Corona’s court had issued the TRO. De Lima refused to accept the legality of the TRO because the conditions imposed by the Court had not yet been met by Arroyo. Corona’s spokesman, Midas Marquez, announced that for the first time in the history of legal jurisprudence, the TRO was effective even if the conditions required for it to be issued had not yet been met.
Why is Corona so fiercely loyal to Arroyo?
In her probing book about the Supreme Court, Vitug wrote: “Among Justices, when he is relaxed, Corona can be quite open. He once told some of his colleagues that President Arroyo took care of his hospital bill when he underwent an operation to ease his bad back. He was already on the Court then.”
After Arroyo appointed him to the Supreme Court in 2002, he told Newsbreak in a taped interview about the rewards he reaped as Arroyo’s chief of staff when she assumed the presidency. “When you’re a Malacanang official, it just takes one call. If there’s an emergency case and you really need an operation, you can call the Heart Center and you’re really prioritized.” (Corona had a coronary bypass in 1995).
Corona has another reason to be grateful. On March 23, 2007, Arroyo appointed his wife, Maria Cristina Roco Corona, as a member of the Board of the John Hay Management Corporation (JHMC) which Arroyo created by Executive Order in 2002. According to the Baguio Sun Star news report on June 6, 2011, the John Hay firm incurred a P2.6 billion ($60 million) debt for a 2008 lease of 247 hectares in the John Hay Special Economic Zone in Baguio City.
Mrs. Corona was appointed to the John Hay Board over the objections of JHMC board members, management and rank-and-file employees who accused her of acts of misconduct and negligence and opposed her election as director and president.
According to Rep. Jesus Remulla, instead of acting on the complaints, President Arroyo “instructed all members of the JHMC to tender their courtesy resignations immediately. After the resignations, Mrs. Corona was retained and even promoted after President Arroyo expressed her desire for Mrs. Corona’s election as OIC Chairman of the JHMC Board.”
But Corona is not the only Arroyo appointee to the Supreme Court to express his gratitude to the “feudal lord” who appointed him. Justice Mariano Del Castillo, the justice known for plagiarism who was appointed by Arroyo in 2009, has also expressed his deep gratitude to Arroyo.
After he went through a quintuple bypass in 2007, Del Castillo needed a second opinion. To accommodate his need, Pres. Arroyo flew in noted heart surgeon Dr. Alex Yap from San Francisco to provide it to him.
To express his gratitude, Del Castillo wrote a letter to the Philippine Star praising Arroyo: “Her single indiscriminate act of kindness in my momentary blow is something of eternal value, let alone something that highlights how admirable she is. She may be marred by shrill criticisms and accusations because of some unpopular decisions and boo-boos, but as we all are, she is only human prone to mistakes.”
Knowing of what Arroyo also did for fellow justice Corona, Del Castillo added: “I can bravely say that surely I am not the only one who had been directly benefited by the personal intervention of the President.”  
When Arroyo was seeking candidates to appoint as justices to the Philippine Supreme Court, she wanted only those who possessed certain qualities she most admired. At least eight of her SC appointees have proven the wisdom of her choices.
In his 1987 essay, A Damaged Culture, James Fallows wrote about how Filipinos pride themselves about their lifelong loyalty. “When observing Filipino friendships, I thought often of the Mafia families portrayed in The Godfather: total devotion to those within the circle, total war on those outside.”
Chief Justice Corona has declared his total devotion to those within his circle and his total war on those outside of it. The Godmother is quite pleased.
(Send comments to or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.34.7800).

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