The chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court warned Wednesday that President Benigno Aquino III's moves to oust him could lead to a dictatorship and vowed to defend himself in an impeachment trial.
Chief Justice Renato Corona accused Aquino of seeking to impose his will on the court to contol the entire government.
It was Corona's most scathing public statement against Aquino after the House of Representatives impeached the chief justice Monday for alleged corruption and decisions favoring ex-President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is detained on election fraud charges.
A spokesman for the president objected to Corona's dictatorship comment, pointing out that the president's opposition-leader father was assassinated during the rule of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Corona spoke with his wife at this side surrounded by several members of the 15-member bench and black-clad court employees and hundreds of supporters, including lawyers and judges who declared a "court holiday" to show solidarity with the beleaguered chief justice.
Aquino has called the Corona-led court a stumbling block to his administration's anti-corruption campaign.
"If this impeachment succeeds, what do you think will happen?" Corona said in a speech on the steps of the Supreme Court building. "Very simple, my beloved countrymen — Mr. Aquino already has his Cabinet, he controls Congress and he will have the Supreme Court in his hands."
"What he is sowing will surely yield a dictatorship — a dictatorship that results from deception and the poisoning of the minds of the people," Corona said. "I will resist the emerging dictatorship of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III."
The impeachment complaint against Corona was signed by 188 members of the House of Representatives, which is dominated by allies of Aquino.
Senators convened themselves as the impeachment court in brief ceremonies after Corona's speech. They gave Corona 10 days to answer the charges and will reconvene on Jan. 16.
Among other allegations, the impeachment complaint accuses the Corona-led court of ruling improperly in Arroyo's favor when they allowed her to leave the country last month before she was arrested.
Corona dismissed statements by Aquino's supporters that he is only targetting the chief justice, not the entire court.
"That is a big lie," Corona said. "The real objective is to destroy the judiciary, destroy democracy and impose the will of the 'beloved king.'"
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Corona "has no right to identify the president with a dictatorship."
He said the Aquino family was a victim of dictatorship, referring to the imprisonment of Aquino's late father, former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. under the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos. His father was assassinated by Marcos soldiers on his return from exile in the United States. His mother took over the mantle of the anti-dictatorship struggle and became president following Marcos' ouster in 1986.
Lacierda urged Corona to take a leave during his trial because "he is trying to involve the entire judiciary in the impeachment case against him."
He said the Aquino administration did not want to take control of a branch of government. "What we are after is that we have justice, and that our cases be tried based on justice and equity," he said.
He said Corona's objectivity has been undermined because the chief justice was formerly one of Arroyo's most trusted aides having been her chief of staff, spokesman and acting executive secretary.
Corona said Aquino allegedly wants to appoint his own chief justice so that the court will become a "mere lackey" of the president.
"The enemies of the court probably hope that I and other members that they cannot dictate upon will resign," Corona said.
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.