The Philippines’ first impeachment trial of a Supreme Court justice opened yesterday, in a major battle of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s anti-corruption campaign targeting his detained predecessor and her allies.
Chief Justice Renato Corona was impeached by the House of Representatives last month on corruption allegations, as well as accusations that he tried to block the prosecution of former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has been detained on vote-rigging charges.
Corona’s trial before the Senate has sparked fears of a constitutional crisis pitting Aquino against the 15-member court, where 12 of the justices were appointed by his rival and predecessor, Arroyo.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile promised that his chamber would hold an impartial trial as the nationally televised proceedings got under way yesterday, attended by Corona, his wife and a dozen defense lawyers.
More than 300 left-wing activists demanding Corona’s conviction rallied outside the Senate, a block away from dozens of Corona supporters.
Representative Niel Tupas Jr, who leads a congressional team of prosecutors against Corona, said the chief justice was impeached because of eight acts of alleged corruption and improperly issuing decisions that favored Arroyo.
“We are not here to indict the Supreme Court as an institution,” Tupas told the senators. “We are here because one man — Chief Justice Renato Corona — has bartered away for the pot of porridge the effectiveness, independence and honor of the Supreme Court.”
A defiant Corona led a rally of hundreds of employees and judges at the Supreme Court before the trial, denying any wrongdoing and vowing to defend the high tribunal’s independence.
“I have not sinned against the president. I have not sinned against the people. I have not stolen from anyone,” Corona said.