Speech of Chief Justice Corona at the Ateneo Law School, February 10, 2012

Speech of Chief Justice Renato Corona:
At the blessing of the Justicia Room, Ateneo Law School

[Delivered on February 10, 2012]

Justices of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, Dean Sedfrey Candelaria (our congratulations for a well-deserved appointment), members of the faculty and students, guests, ladies and gentlemen, a pleasant good evening to all.

Let me first express my appreciation to the Ateneo law School for inviting me to this evening’s blessing of the Justicia Room. As you all know, I belong to Class ’74, remembered as the batch that produced a three-peat topnotcher who, incidentally, is here with us, Associate Justice Arturo Brion of the Supreme Court.

One of my most memorable professors in the old Padre Faura campus, aside from Fr. Joaquin Bernas, S.J., was one of the very strict professors at that time, then Dean and former Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeals Pompeyo Diaz. Dean Diaz’s difficult exams made me realize early on that the study of law, or a career in law for that matter, exacts extraordinary sacrifice from an individual who wishes to go into it. One needs to give ample time and exert great effort to excel in this study or profession. This was particularly true in my case because I went through law school as a married student with a family and a full- time job. I was lucky of course to have Tina, my loving and understanding wife who was, from the very beginning, the wind beneath my wings and whose dedication to me has never waned through all these past 44 years.

The four years of rigorous study, hard work and sacrifice we undergo in law school are part of our initiation and training as lawyers. And we are proud of the law school that gave us that training. The facts speak for themselves: in the 2010 Bar Exams, Ateneo Law School produced the bar topnotcher, along with four other graduates who placed in the Top Ten. With a passing percentage of 88% for first-time takers, and an over-all passing percentage of 86.63%, Ateneo Law School is definitely one of the best law schools in the country today.

Former Dean Eduardo de los Angeles used to say, “the spirit and attitude of excellence are in the character of its graduates.” “He or she is trained to work hard to scrutinize the law and evidence, to pay attention to details, to formulate novel arguments and to communicate and persuade,” Dean de los Angeles added. Now you know why there are so many Ateneans in my defense team.

I would like to introduce them to you:

My lead counsel, Justice Serafin Cuevas, is unable to join us today. My venerable professors, Dean Eduardo de los Angeles and Professor Jacinto Jimenez, Atty. Ramon Esguerra, Dean Jose Roy III, Atty. German Lichauco II, Atty. Dennis Manalo, Atty. Noel Lazaro, Dean Tranquil Salvador III, Atty. Rico Quicho, Atty. Karen Jimenez and Atty. Joel Bodegon who has a previous appointment and can’t be with us this evening.

We are very proud of the legacy of the Ateneo Law School. For 75 years, it has produced lawyers who are not only competent but also conscientious, actively participating in the effective administration of justice and the improvement of Philippine society. On this score, allow me to thank Batch 85 of the Ateneo law School, led by my junior brods, the Batch Lakas Loob of Utopia, for this Justicia Room that now houses portraits of former and current Supreme Court justices who are alumni of this great institution.

Legal education is the first step to the practice of law and success in the legal profession. Trite as this may sound, things are not measured by the number of cases a lawyer wins but by his contribution to advancing the cause of justice. After all, the practice of law is a matter of privilege, and our students here at the Ateneo Law School have been imbued with the ideal that they will someday be officers of the court and active agents in the dispensation of justice.

This event will not be complete without remembering Dean Pompeyo Diaz. He was my and our inspiration. I remember Dean Diaz for many things but, of these, one particularly stands out. He used to tell us, his young students then, that there are many evil people in this world but the most dangerous is the one who knows the law but has no conscience.

I have seen how true that statement is in the course of my life as a lawyer. Having said this, the magistrate’s only real defense is a good conscience. I have always strived to be a man of the law. Despite the pain and the difficulties, I willingly submitted myself to the constitutional process to prove one point: that fear has no place in the magistrate’s heart. What is right is right and what is wrong is wrong. People can demonize you and picture you to be the most evil and unworthy person around. In the final analysis, however, what they say does not really matter because you and you alone know the truth. Unfortunately, it is so easy to destroy a reputation which a person has taken a lifetime to painstakingly build. Well-funded media campaigns can and have destroyed reputations even before the target has even had the opportunity to present his side. Talk of ruthlessness and lack of the most basic tenets of decency and fair play! The objective here has been to, from the very beginning, destroy me and my family without even giving us any fair chance to defend ourselves. As if the impeachment trial were not enough, some Senator-Judges have taken on the role of Prosecutors and have converted what should be an adversarial proceeding into an inquisition. I can no longer count how many of my constitutional rights have been blatantly and grossly violated. The BIR, not to be outdone, has launched a concurrent tax investigation of my entire family, including my son-in-law. Two daily newspapers and one broadcast network have crucified me and my family without let-up the past two months. Paid netizens are all over the Internet vilifying me and my family 24 hours a day. Obviously, taxpayer’s money is being used to destroy us and such ruthlessness and malice the likes of which I have never seen in my entire life. And for what?

Recent events show we are teetering towards one-man rule, where the rule of law is undermined and the system of government, particularly the principle and mechanism of checks and balances, is destroyed. The Ateneo Law Alumni Association, Inc. and other strategic sectors of society have raised their collective voice in expressing their unequivocal support to the supremacy of the Constitution and the judicial independence of the Supreme Court. For that we are truly grateful.

Nevertheless, this whole sordid affair has all been about politics from beginning to end. It is about Hacienda Luisita: the P10 billion compensation which the President’s family reportedly wants for the land that was simply lent to them by the government; the need to terrorize and instill a chilling effect on the Justices of the Supreme Court to be able to bend their decisions in favor of the Malacanang tenant; the need to nullify the constitutional election of the sitting Vice-President; the need to appoint a new Chief Justice who will deliver anything and everything the President wants. I want to tell you that I have nothing to gain but everything to lose in this fight. But I will have proven true to myself. I thank God for this one great opportunity of a lifetime (which does not happen often) to show that, in this world, there are still men who are willing to lose everything, including their lives, for what they believe in.

Thank you and good evening to all of you.