Renato Corona sworn in as new chief justice of the Philippines
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Renato Corona sworn in as new chief justice of the Philippines

Renato Corona is the new chief justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Corona took his oath today before President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, his former boss and the one who appointed him as associate justice and then chief magistrate of the Philippines’ highest court.

Critics, including apparent President-elect Noynoy Aquino, continue to question the constitutionality of Corona’s appointment as chief magistrate, citing the constitutional ban on appointments by the President two months prior to leaving the presidential office.

After Corona’s oath-taking, it would take an impeachment process to remove him from the post, said Justice Secretary Alberto Agra.

Arroyo’s critics claim that her appointment of Corona does not augur well for the expected avalanche of court cases against her. She loses immunity from suits as soon as she relinquishes the presidency to Aquino on June 30. The Supreme Court would be the final arbiter of such cases.

Presidential immunity from suit has been the sole stumbling block to the prosecution of President Arroyo in connection with a string of scandals since she first assumed the presidency on January 20, 2001, the day a nationwide anti-corruption uprising compelled President Joseph Estrada to flee the presidential palace.

Arroyo has never been known to have taken criticism lightly. Her husband, First Gentleman Mike Arroyo, filed libel (defamation) suits against dozens of journalists whose offense was to expose excesses or “crimes” of the Arroyo administration. The journalists have fought back with a class-action suit against Mr. Arroyo.

Arroyo’s appointment of Corona as Supreme Court chief justice may not be her final blow on institutions that seek to promote accountability and transparency in the Philippine government.

She will be sworn in as Member of Congress, representing her home district in Pampanga province, a position that may catapult her to the speakership of the House of Representatives. She will be joined in Congress by close relatives and allies who may have the numbers to thwart moves to hold her accountable for her acts as president for the past nine years. She may also wield enough numbers in the House of Representatives to threaten Aquino with impeachment.

Less than 80 Members of Congress are needed to transmit to the Senate the Articles of Impeachment against any impeachable official, including the President. During her tenure, Arroyo mobilized her allies in Congress to “kill” impeachment complaints filed against her by the political opposition and mass movements.