Philippines’ top judge faces impeachment

(AFP) – MANILA – Philippine President Benigno Aquino’s parliamentary allies moved Monday to impeach the country’s top judge, who in turn accused his opponents of seeking to destroy the Supreme Court’s integrity.

The unprecedented push to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona came after the Supreme Court made a series of decisions that hindered government efforts to prosecute ex-president Gloria Arroyo for alleged corruption.

House of Representatives Speaker Feliciano Belmonte said 175 members of the 285-member Congress had signed the impeachment complaint, well above the one-third needed to begin the process.

Belmonte said Corona was being impeached for “betrayal of public trust”, “violation of the constitution” and “undue closeness to Arroyo”.

He said the complaints largely centred on the decisions that were favourable for Arroyo, but also because Corona had allegedly broken the law by not publicly disclosing his own assets.

The impeachment proceedings will now move to the 24-member Senate, which will hold a trial to determine if Corona must step down.

Aquino, who won presidential elections last year in a landslide, has never fully recognised Corona’s legitimacy as the Supreme Court chief justice.

This is because Arroyo appointed Corona shortly before she stepped down as president, in what Aquino said was a violation of a constitutional ban on so-called “midnight appointments” by an outgoing leader.

Aquino’s allies have said Arroyo planted Corona in the Supreme Court as part of her efforts to protect herself from future criminal prosecutions.

Arroyo, who ruled the Philippines from 2001 to 2010, has been accused of rigging elections, plundering state coffers and a wide range of other corruption while in power.

She has denied all the accusations.

The government filed the first of what it promised would be many charges against Arroyo last month for allegedly rigging the 2007 senatorial elections. Corona made a defiant speech to court officials on Monday in which he vowed to resist the political pressure.

“I assure you, I do not intend to leave them to do as they please. I am not going anywhere,” Corona said in a speech to court employees.

“I want all of you to know that your chief continues to be in command and will lead the fight against any and all who dare to destroy the court and independence of the judiciary.”