Vultures | Inquirer Opinion

Vultures | Inquirer Opinion

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“They are really trying to demonize the Chief Justice,” says Renato Corona’s counsel, Serafin Cuevas. His Bellagio unit in fact was bought with “hard-earned money.”

If Malacañang is truly serious about cleaning up the Judiciary, unnamed sources say, why don’t they look into the properties owned as well by Antonio Carpio who has been feuding with Corona and casting a moist eye at his position? Specifically, at an 800-square-meter unit atop the Avignon Tower on H.V. De La Costa Street in Salcedo Village?

Well, first off, we’ll know soon enough the full extent of Corona’s acquisitions. That was what happened to Erap in the course of his impeachment trial. The mansions he bought for his mistresses, major and minor, were paraded before the public in all their glory or gaudiness. Truth has a way of coming out in impeachment trials, and truth is the greatest demonizer of all.

But I recall that the photographs of Erap’s houses—and mistresses—did not always inspire reprehension in people. I remember a taxi driver telling me in breathless admiration, “Swerte ni Erap, nasa kanya na ang lahat (Erap is lucky, he’s got everything).” But Erap was widely seen as a rogue, and to many an endearing one. Corona is not. I doubt admiration is the thing that will fill the hearts of taxi (and jeepney and bus) drivers when they see his suite in The Bellagio splashed on TV and the tabloids. He is reported as well to own a two-bedroom, 113.02-square-meter condo unit in Bonifacio Ridge, a condo unit in Makati City, and a house and lot in Quezon City.

You grant only the Bellagio unit, you grant that P14 million (including three parking spaces) and not P26 million is a fair price for it, you grant that Megaworld gave that discount not because Corona helped make its legal problems disappear but out of the goodness of its heart, which is granting the moon, how in God’s name does a Chief Justice come by P14 million? Hard-earned? I don’t know that reopening cases adjudged with finality entails hard work.

As to the suggestion that Carpio also be investigated for his own condo and other properties, why ever not? I’m all for it, as well indeed as investigating the other justices, notably Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s appointees, for the same reason. I agree: Justice is not justice if it is selective. Justice is not justice if it is not universal. Frankly, I don’t mind that Corona’s defense exposes the extent of Carpio’s and the other justices’ wealth with a view to questioning how honest judges could possibly have come by it. It should allow the people to say like the dying Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet,” “A plague on both your houses!”

Why should the fear of Carpio becoming chief justice deter us from ousting Corona for being the biggest obstacle to the prosecution of Arroyo? I have heard friends express that fear: We might leap from the frying pan into the fire with Carpio, a pillar of the so-called “Firm,” replacing Corona. In the first place, I haven’t gleaned any signals from Malacañang pointing in that direction. That seems either like a ploy of Corona’s friends, to put the fear of God, or the Firm, in people, or that of Carpio’s friends themselves to put the suggestion in P-Noy’s head or ram it through as a fait accompli.

In fact, why should Carpio naturally replace Corona? Or indeed, why should a justice naturally replace Corona? Why shouldn’t Corona be replaced by someone outside the Supreme Court, by any one of the judges in the regional trial courts or Court of Appeals who have shown exemplary conduct in private and public life? Or who have practiced law in the grand manner, showing a grasp of it beyond its superficial aspects, showing a wealth of wisdom and compassion and imagination, as befits most judicious person in the land?
By itself, knowing the statute books inside and out does not a chief justice make. Nor indeed experience, if all that experience consists of is how to profit from knowing those statute books inside and out.

All this gives me to appreciate again what P-Noy has started by arresting Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, impeaching Corona, and prosecuting Jovito Palparan. Finally, it has opened wide the road to whistleblowing, encouraging everyone to expose wrongdoing. Finally, it has begun to put fear in the hearts of wrongdoers, where before they snuggled only in the blanket of impunity. Finally, it has made us want to have the best in everything, not least in chief justices, where before we settled only for the pwede na.

I am particularly glad that the judiciary has been opened up to this. Contrary to what Corona’s friends say, which is that his impeachment is an attack on the judiciary, it is the best thing to have happened to it. The judiciary is one of two institutions in this country that has virtually no accountability to the people. The other is the military. For a long time, the cabals of justices and generals that controlled these institutions have been free to do pretty much as they pleased, with only themselves to decree legal from illegal, moral from immoral. You go after corrupt generals, who also routinely own condo units in posh places, and they threaten a coup. You go after corrupt justices and they cry separation of powers.

That is a recipe for corruption, and corruption is precisely what it has bred. Secrecy corrupts, and absolute secrecy corrupts absolutely. Indeed, that is a recipe for the rise of Mafiosi, and Mafiosi are precisely what Arroyo’s justices and generals have become.

Well, things have begun to change, the wheels of justice have begun to turn, the engine of democracy has begun to hum. And a much abused people have found reason to hope. At long last we may start to see legal eagles flying in this land.

Not legal vultures hopping about corpses."
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