MANILA, Philippines >> The Philippine House of Representatives impeached the Supreme Court chief justice Monday over alleged corruption and favoritism toward the country’s former president, now under hospital arrest for alleged election fraud.
A majority of the 284 members of the powerful House signed the resolution to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona, who will now be tried by the Senate in an impeachment tribunal. Corona, who became the only known Supreme Court chief to be impeached in Philippine history, vowed to fight back.
Among its allegations, the impeachment complaint accuses the Corona-led court of ruling improperly in ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s favor when she sought to leave the country last month before she was arrested.
The surprise move is the latest twist in the Philippine political drama pitting Arroyo against her popular, reformist successor Benigno Aquino III, who has blamed her for a decade of corruption scandals that eroded public trust in government and held back foreign investors.
Arroyo appointed the Supreme Court chief justice shortly before she stepped down last year. Aquino has been at odds with Corona, accusing him of being biased for Arroyo and hampering her prosecution.
Aquino, son of revered democracy icons, succeeded her last year after a landslide election victory largely credited to his illustrious name and promise to battle corruption and poverty in his Southeast Asian nation. His allies dominate the House, which had been the bedrock of Arroyo’s power.
Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., who heads the congressional justice committee, said Corona was impeached due to eight acts of alleged corruption and improperly issuing decisions that favored Arroyo.
A Manila court ordered Arroyo arrested on Nov. 18 in her hospital room after she was charged with ordering the rigging of 2007 senatorial elections to favor her candidates. She has denied any wrongdoing and has hired a battery of lawyers to defend her.
Arroyo, 64, is detained in a government hospital while awaiting trial. She has sought treatment for a bone ailment.
Last month, the Supreme Court lifted a travel ban on her, and she tried to leave the country with her husband. Aquino’s justice secretary, however, defied the Supreme Court order and asked airport authorities to stop her from leaving.
Corona "betrayed the public trust through his partiality" when his court issued the order to allow Arroyo "an opportunity to escape prosecution and to frustrate the ends of justice," the impeachment complaint says.
The high tribunal, where 12 of the 15 justices were appointed by Arroyo, said the order was valid.
Corona also allegedly violated the constitution and an anti-graft act when he failed to publicly disclose all his properties. "Respondent is suspected of having accumulated ill-gotten wealth, acquiring assets of high values and keeping bank accounts with huge deposits," according to the complaint.
Corona has served as Arroyo’s chief of staff, spokesman and acting executive secretary. Arroyo appointed his wife in 2007 to the board of a state-run corporation, said the complaint, which also cited alleged irregularities in Corona’s handling of court funds.
Corona said efforts to illegally oust him would destroy the country’s democracy.
"We do not want to see a constitutional crisis befall our democracy," Corona said. "But if we are challenged to defend our independence, we shall not meekly walk away."
Corona stressed he would not resign.
Rep. Edcel Lagman, an Arroyo ally, accused the Aquino administration of coercing lawmakers to sign the impeachment complaint by threatening to block budgets for their provincial districts. The complaint, Lagman said, "is the mother of all blackmails."
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said senators would likely tackle the impeachment complaint in January after a monthlong Christmas break starting on Wednesday.