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Senators, justices, judges, and lawyers on Friday mourned the death of former Chief Justice Renato Corona, extolling him for his defense of judicial independence.
Corona, who was removed from office for nondisclosure of his assets following a riveting months-long impeachment trial in 2012, died from cardiac arrest before dawn Friday. He was 67.
Corona, who was known to have battled diabetes for a long time, died at 1:48 a.m. at Medical City in Pasig City, surrounded by family. He is survived by his wife Cristina and their three children.
“We extend our condolences to the bereaved family of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona and join them in fervent prayers for his eternal repose,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and the associate justices “mourn the passing” of Corona, the high court said. The Philippine flag in all courts and the Supreme Court colors were flown at half-staff beginning Friday.
Corona was appointed Chief Justice in May 2010, but his term was cut short when he was impeached and found guilty of underdeclaring his net worth—the country’s chief magistrate in the country’s history to have suffered such a fate.
“My deepest sympathies to Chief Justice Corona’s family and loved ones,” presidential candidate Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said in her social media account.
Her running mate, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., said Corona was a victim of the Aquino administration’s “selective justice.”
“It is always sad to note the passing of a man like Chief Justice Renato Corona upon whom a great injustice was visited and it is unfortunate that at the time of his death he was still under this cloud that remained above him since the impeachment trial,” Marcos said.
Santiago and Marcos, together with Sen. Joker Arroyo who died in October last year, voted to acquit Corona at his impeachment trial.
Corona, an Ateneo de Manila University law graduate who earned his law master’s degree from Harvard University, served as former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s legal counsel and chief of staff before he was appointed Supreme Court associate justice in April 2002.
Arroyo appointed him Chief Justice on May 12, 2010 despite a constitutional prohibition on appointments during elections. Critics called it “midnight appointment.” Arroyo stepped down on June 30, 2010.
Her successor, President Aquino, showed his displeasure over Corona’s appointment by taking his oath before then Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales.
In December 2011, the House of Representatives voted to impeach Corona, initiating a trial against him at the Senate. The trial ended in his conviction for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
In San Pablo City, Laguna, judges and court employees vowed to wear crapes until Corona’s remains were laid to rest.
“For us, [Corona’s] name, honor, and reputation remain unsullied despite the injustice done to him by the powers that be,” said Judge Agripino Morga of the city’s Regional Trial Court Branch 32.
Vicente Joyas, former president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said Corona had considerable contributions to the country from his stint in Malacañang to his years in the judiciary.
Joyas remembered Corona as a “fair” justice whose “integrity is beyond question.”
Rico Quicho, a member of Corona’s legal team at his impeachment trial and now the campaign spokesperson for Vice President Jejomar Binay, remembered the late magistrate’s unparalleled “moral courage.”
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of CJ Renato Corona. He is a good man, loving husband and father. CJ Corona fought a good fight to uphold the independence of the institution he dearly loved,” Quicho said in a statement.
Karen Jimeno, also a member of Corona’s legal team in 2012, looked back at how Corona showed strength in the face of a painful and very public trial.
“What I remember from him is that I think he was also unfairly perceived by the public because of the trial by publicity that he had to go through. But at the end of the day, you have a person who is intelligent, which is why he was appointed to the Supreme Court in the first place as justice, and then later on as Chief Justice,” Jimeno told the Inquirer.
Jimeno could not recall the last time she saw Corona, but remembered that he would regularly meet the defense team for dinner even after the trial just to catch up.
“After the impeachment, we stayed in touch with CJ Corona. We would even regularly see him for dinners or get together with the whole defense team,” Jimeno said.
“At that time, he looked OK. He even lost weight in a good way, like he was able to exercise, [he was] spending a lot of quality time with the family,” she added.
Asked if she thought the trial took a toll on Corona, Jimeno said: “I think, to a certain extent, yes.”
“We saw even during the impeachment that his health declined. I think that came from months of having to deal with the media, most of all the stress. Even during the trial, there was one day when his blood sugar dropped very low because he had been with a serious condition of diabetes since before,” she said.
She said the wake of the trial, which led to the filing of tax cases against Corona, added stress to the then already ailing magistrate. “So those things take a toll on your health,” she said.
His death extinguished his criminal liability for cases pending in the Sandiganbayan and Court of Tax Appeals. With reports from Nikko Dizon, Dona Pazzibugan and Maricar Cinco, Inquirer Southern Luzon