In the interest of fairness and justice, I would like to share with you this very fascinating glimpse of the man who is now at the center of a political firestorm – Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The excellently written sketch was written by Maria Rosa “Bing” Nieva Carrion, a former schoolmate of CJ Corona’s wife, Cristina.
At the outset when I asked her permission to publish the piece, Carrion bluntly told me:
They’re good friends of mine. I love the couple. I adore them. The Chief Justice is a very principled person, you can quote me directly.
I love the couple, I wouldn’t want you to put anything that’s in my book in a negative light. You can quote me for that.
I promised her I would publish the piece in totality without any annotation.
Carrion said she conducted the interview with the couple one afternoon.
Incidentally, the love story of one of the prosecutors – Congressman Sony Angara and his wife Tootsy – is also in this book.
It is published by Carrion’s company, Seagull Philippines, Inc. which aims “to produce the highest quality collectible social history books that focus on the legacies of the human spirit.”
Carrion explains in her website the reason for her life’s work:
We shall leave this Earth as naked as when we were born, and the only legacy we can leave behind is the power of the written word which remains to create lasting impressions on the reader to transform, empower and touch lives and hopefully, change us all for the better.
Long, long after this controversy is over, the love story of the Chief Justice and his wife will remain as fresh as the day Carrion wrote it.
By the way, she also told me –
I can assure you he’s not resigning.
You will understand why the Chief Justice seems hell-bent in seeing his impeachment trial through when you read his love story:
When One is a Gift to the Other:
The Forty-Year Marriage of Best Friends
Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and Cristina B. Roco
By Maria Rosa “Bing” Nieva Carrion
Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato “Rene” C. Corona and his wife, the former Cristina “Tina” B. Roco, met in 1967 when the college newspapers that they were editing collaborated on a joint issue. She was the editor of the CHI RHO of Maryknoll College, where she was taking up her Bachelor of Communication Arts degree, and he, of the GUIDON of the Ateneo de Manila University, where he was pursuing his pre-law studies.
Their first meeting, which was in a printing press, was uneventful. “We were concentrating on the task at hand,” says Rene. “I wasn’t thinking of having a girlfriend, so I wasn’t on the look-out. Certainly, she was the most attractive in their staff. It was clear she was also very intelligent as we discussed matters pertaining to our joint issue. I have always been very observant by nature and I could see that she was well-liked by her co-editors and staff. She had a good writing style and there was substance in what she wrote. I have always been attracted to intelligent women. Matalino na, maganda pa. (She was beauty and brains.) More importantly, she was not sosyal (party goer and fun-loving). I have no special liking for women who are sosyal. Later on, Rene was to find out that Tina had always been elected class president in St. Theresa’s High School in Quezon City and officer of several campus organizations, not to mention receiving a number of gold medals and academic awards at each year-end Awarding of Honors and on her graduation from high school. For her part, Tina recalls, “The GUIDON staff was a big group, and I just saw Rene as one of them. We were beating a deadline. It was not a social meeting.”
Several weeks after, Rene called Tina. “I looked for their home number in the directory. Somehow, I knew that she lived on Lepanto Street in Sampaloc and when I saw their family name, I took a chance. I asked her if she was busy on April 6 (1967) because, if she was not, I wanted her to be my date in the Reserved Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Ball. She was my first and only choice. I was hoping she would immediately say yes, but she instead replied,’I will ask my Daddy first.’ She was only 18 then. When I called her again, she told me that her father had given his permission.” Her father is Atty. Vicente Roco Jr. President of a life insurance company and Chairman of the Board of the distributors of Volkswagen and Radiowealth. He also held important positions in various business and civic groups.
On the night of the ball, Rene recalls, “I was enthralled because she was the most beautiful girl in the ball. A lot of guys from the Ateneo knew her, and how they wished it was she they had for their date.”
After the event, he thanked her for her wonderful company. They did not see each other again, as both were busy with their studies, until a few months later when they represented their respective school papers in the National Congress of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines. “We were broken up into discussion groups, and Tina and I ended up being together several times. During mealtime, I made sure to sit on the same table with her.” By then, I was smitten by her. I told myself that I was going to court her,” narrates Rene.
It was not a fast and easy courtship. While her father advised her not to have a boyfriend until after college, the family welcomed Rene to their home as a suitor. “They even invited me often to have dinner with them. I enjoyed the meals in their house because they had a very good cook.” He found an ally, surprisingly, in pressing his suit in the person of her very strict maternal grandmother, Lola Charing Guidote Basa. A fine lady with impeccable breeding, she was the epitome of gentility and urbanidad. She spoke Spanish fluently and enjoyed the company of people who similarly spoke Spanish. “Having learned of this particular soft spot, I asked Lola Charing if she could help me with my Spanish lessons. So, each time I visited Tina, I also brought my Spanish books. A few weeks after, Tina told me that Lola Charing was inquiring if I needed help with my Spanish assignments. From that moment on, I realized that I had made it to ‘first base.’ It was worth it making palakas (Filipino common expression meaning t0 ingratiate oneself’) to her. Many years later, I found out that it was Lola Charing who actually advised Tina that I was the right man for her
Rene and Tina went steady on September 9, 1968. He remembers visiting her that day and, although there was no formal “answer” she gave, he felt and knew in his heart – from the way they spoke to each other then – that it was a definite yes, no ifs and no buts.
She was his first girlfriend, and he, her first boyfriend. It was the typical relationship between college students then. As she was getting ready to graduate in 1969, and he was gunning for honors, they were focused on their studies. They got by with phone calls, his weekend visits to her home, and occasional disco dates at the 1571 of the Manila Hilton Hotel. During special occasions, they had dinner at The Plaza Restaurant in the Makati Commercial Center (now Ayala Center). When they went out, he would fetch her in a borrowed Volkswagen Beetle. She was always chaperoned by either her younger brother Ramon, or their helper, Rosario. Rene says he made sure to feed them well. Being good writers, Rene and Tina exchanged love letters, which they have kept to this day. In 1969, Tina graduated, followed by Rene in 1970. Although they are of the same age, Rene entered grade school a year later than Tina because Ateneo required strict compliance with its minimum age requirements for entrants to its elementary department. By early 1970, Rene could feel the unequivocal stirrings in his heart. He wanted to have Tina for his lifetime partner, and he wanted it soon. He only had to tackle the most difficult hurdle. He needed to ask permission from his father Atty. Juan M. Corona, whose greatest ambition in life was for his three sons to become lawyers like him. Rene knew that the person who had the greatest influence on his father was his mother, the former Eugenia Coronado.
Rene’s parents first met Tina ,when he introduced her to them on January 1, 1969 at the wedding of his older brother Arturo, nicknamed “Toti”: They warmly received her and immediately approved of her.
He relates, “By the start of 1970, Tina and I had been going steady for two years. I confided to my mother that after graduating from A.B. in April of that year, I intended to marry Tina. She told me that my Papa was sure to get angry because he wanted me to become a lawyer first before settling down. But as I kept nagging her to tell my father, she said that I should wait until September 6, her birthday, when he was most likely to give his permission. So I waited patiently, oftentimes impatiently, over several months for my mother’s birthday. When her birthday finally came, and my father asked what she wanted as a present, my mother said she only had one wish. And that was for him to allow me to get married. But, as I expected, he flared up! He refused to talk to me, and he reprimanded my mother for siding with me.” It did not have anything to do with Tina, of course, as Rene’s parents had come to love her as their own daughter. It was just that Atty. Juan did not think his son would ever become a lawyer if he married before he could graduate from law school.
Soon after, Rene, then 21, mustered enough courage to talk to his father. “I told him in no uncertain terms that I wanted to get married and that if he did not agree, I would leave the house and continue with my plans. I braced for another round of outburst.” To his surprise, however, his father said nothing. He was completely silent. All the while, Rene was being torn apart emotionally, “because I stood my ground for the first time in my life and it hurt me to go against my father’s wishes. It was the longest thirty minutes of my life.” After the long silence, his father asked him in an unexpectedly calm voice, “So, when are we going to Tina’s home for the pamanhikan?” (a Filipino custom in which the groom’s parents and family formally ask for the hand of the girl in marriage). Atty. Juan was hurting obviously to let go of Rene, for to him, it meant the end of his dream for his second son to become a lawyer. But at the same time, it would hurt him more for his son to leave the house and be estranged from the family. At that point, Rene promised his father, “I will not disappoint you in your wish. I will become a lawyer.” His father just nodded in quiet resignation, with his eyes questioning the truth and resolve in his son’s voice.
Rene and Tina were married on November 7,1970, right after the final exams of first year, first semester, at the Pope Pius XII Catholic Church in United Nations Avenue, Manila at seven in the morning. The breakfast reception followed at the Alta Vista at 8:30. By 11 in the morning of the same day, their plane was taking off to take them to their honeymoon in Hong Kong for three days and ten days in Japan. “Japan, during our honeymoon, was beautiful at winter time,” remembers Tina.
When they returned to Manila, they rented an apartment 15 minutes away from the Corona home in Sta Ana, Manila. He worked in Malacañang as a Technical Assistant in the Office of the Executive Secretary, little realizing that thirty years later, destiny would see him occupy that very same position of his boss. Tina, on the other hand, taught English and Christian Life Education at Xavier School in Greenhills.
They lived a simple life. There were office assignments he had to attend to and Rene had to give up his break time and lunch hour to read his law books and study his notes. By 5 in the afternoon, he would leave the office and commute to Ateneo Padre Faura for evening classes. “Tina would not eat dinner,. until I was home at 9 p.m.,” proudly shares Rene. “From the very beginning, she has always been a dedicated wife. She spoiled me. She would stay awake waiting for me when I was studying late.”
Two years into their marriage, in 1972, eldest child Carla was born. Tina used to look for santol fruit and pizza pie when she was infanticipating. Rene would always accede to her food cravings. Carla was born at the Marian General Hospital which was owned by a close friend of Tina’s Lola Charing. Rene says of Carla, “She’s the daughter every parent would pray to have. She has given us so much joy, happiness and fulfillment, and has never given us any problems.”
In 1974, Rene graduated from the Ateneo Law School. Tina recalls, “After being called to the stage to receive his diploma, he was supposed to give his hood to me because I was his spouse. But after he came down from the stage with his diploma, he gave his hood not to me but to his father. Papa told him, ‘Give the hood to Tina so she can place it on you Rene replied, “No, papa, I want you to be the one to do it. I promised you that I would finish my law studies but you refused to believe me.” Tina understood. A few years earlier, the old man Corona had given way to their marriage, skeptical if his son was ever going to graduate from law school at all. Now, it was Tina’s turn to give way. “My father-in-law truly deserved the honor of putting the hood on Rene. On my part, I felt proud, being Rene’s wife,” says Tina. That Rene finished his law degree with honors within the prescribed four years when he was married and had a family was, to their friends and relatives, the best proof that Tina was a supportive wife who inspired her husband to succeed in his studies.
Francis, their second child, was born in 1977 at the Makati Medical Center, with Dr Constantino Manahan attending Tina. By then, Rene had been a lawyer for three years. “While we were a bit more comfortable by then, we were actually still in our struggling phase,” shares Rene. In 1978, Charina, the youngest in the family, was born. Their family was complete – three beautiful, talented and wholesome kids, nurtured by Rene and Tina who believe strongly in solid family values and a good education. Rene was doing well and Tina kept at her teaching, respected and admired by her students. The best compliment Tina received did not come from her colleagues or those she mentored but her mother-in-law, Eugenia, a summa cum laude accounting graduate of the University of Santo Tomas, who told her son, “God gave you a good wife who is also very intelligent,” Tina did her mother-in-law proud. They were very close to each other.
Rene had become accustomed to his wife’s caring presence for, despite her job as a school teacher, she made time to be present for him, whether it meant seeing him off in the morning or waiting for him at night for dinner. When their schedules coincided, he took her to Xavier and then reported to work. Between the two of them, he discussed his days work and Tina, ever smart and sensitive, always understood what he was saying.
Rene, in the meantime, was reaping early successes in his career. As a young lawyer, Chief Justice Rene served as special counsel at the Development Bank of the Philippines. He became senior vice-president and general counsel of the Commercial Bank of Manila and later, a senior officer of the Tax and Corporate Counseling Group of the Tax Division of Sycip Gorres and Velayo (SGV & Co).
Tina, all the while, remained steadfast in giving him her unconditional support, which he once again needed when he believed it was time to Pursue his dream of earning a Master of Laws degree in the United States. This was in November, 1980. Tina shares, “Rene sent his application to the Master of Laws program of Harvard Law School and several other universities. When he received the response letter from Harvard in March 1981, he became sullen and looked dejected. I initially thought he did not make it. But when I read it and saw he had been accepted, I asked ‘Aren’t you elated by this?’ He answered, ‘we don’t have enough money. I thought I was not going to be accepted.’ I told him, Kaya natin ito! (we can handle this.) So we borrowed money not only to pay for his Harvard tuition and expenses but also to take me and our three young kids in tow, to Harvard. I did not realize then that he was ready to forgo Harvard if he could not take us with him. It turned out that Harvard gave him a scholarship the following semester because of his good grades.”
Rene recalls that were it not for his wife’s prodding and insistence on initially getting a loan to be able to bring the whole family to the United States, he would not have had the courage to do it on his own. She encouraged me to continue sending in the requirements for my admission after I was accepted. She never had any doubt it was for me and the Lord was going to provide for everything that we needed, including the resources to bring the family with me to Cambridge, Massachusetts. Indeed the Lord took care of our every need, shares Rene. ln the States, Tina did household chores from washing to ironing to cooking. He loved her cannelloni and adobo. (A chicken and pork dish cooked in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce.) “He loved roast turkey so I asked around for recipes I could try,” recounts Tina.
The school-year they spent in Harvard in 1981-1982 was one of their happiest and most memorable years. Practically everyday was family day and they were able to tour and visit many places in New England together.
Rene seeks and values her opinions. “She can connect with me” says Rene. *Like my mother, Tina is very strong and confident. Like my mother, she is a giving tree.”
Truly, they are a compatible couple. “We like the same food,”says Tina. They are not adventurous and, instead, conservative, veering towards Filipino, American and the usual Hispanic-inspired dishes they grew up with.
“We enjoy romantic music,” says Rene. “Our favorite songs are ‘Magnificent Obsession by Nat King Cole, Brenda Lee’s version of Edith Piaf’s ‘If You Love Me’ and the French song ‘La Vie En Rose.’ The last we particularly like because it is so full of feeling.”
Unlike other couples who keep rules in their marriage, Rene and Tina only try to be sensitive to each other’s needs, habits and quirks. Rene clarifies, “She knows what turns me off so she tries to avoid them. Like when a wet towel is hung, it should be spread out from one end of the towel rod to the other because it is the only way to dry it well.” Through the years, they have followed a certain lifestyle and standards of behavior – making sure that the toothpaste cap is placed back, the toothpaste is pressed from the lowest end and not at the middle part, and at night, the bed has to be neat with the sheets fresh and well-ironed, among others.
And most importantly, he insists that his clothes and accessories be always kept and arranged ever so neatly in his closet. “This way, he knows exactly where to get whatever he needs,” she says. He has a box of medicines he takes every morning. It has to be returned and arranged the same way it was taken out. She has since learned,like a good housewife, what pleases and displeases him. Rene follows very strict rules for himself in almost everything.
“We have fashioned the world we live in,” affirms Rene.”We are very private people and we hardly go to parties. we seldom socialize. We would rather just stay at home together. You will see us in public only when we dine out with the children and grandchildren or when we bring our grandson to his favorite bookstore. Tina and I are very family-oriented. All these years, I made sure to be with my family on weekends until I became Chief ]ustice. Now, I also work on Saturdays and sometimes also on Sundays and holidays.”
Breakfast is sacred to both. “That’s our laughing time, says Tina. “I am at my joking best unlike at night when I am tired,” clarifies Rene. Breakfast is simple, consisting of oatmeal, scrambled eggs and toast with a spread, while catching up on the previous day’s events. He loves fruit juice and soya milk, and she, coffee.
Their marriage is successful because they do not make unreasonable demands on each other. “We are very simple people and disdain the high-profile, complicated life,” says Rene. “When we were just starting, Tina always took it in stride when we could not afford certain things. Later on, I made up for the struggling years by giving her nice things. When we are in a department store or a boutique, and she takes time looking at something, I know she likes it. So, if I can afford it, I buy it and give it to her. or when I am traveling abroad and I see something I know will look lovely on her, I get it as my pasalubong (gift from one’s travel) to her.”
While being a good wife, Tina has done an equally wonderful job as a mother. Between the two, it was Rene who disciplined the children when they were growing up. “I just gave them the stern look and they knew I meant business. Or if necessary, I would give them a tiny bit of a spanking using a calsador (shoe horn),” relates Rene. As always, Tina was the caring and sympathetic one.
Indeed, the family has come a long way from the years when they were raising their children. Carla, the eldest child and most analytic of all, is a physical therapist from the University of the Philippines (UP). She worked in the United States for almost seven years until she came home to marry her boyfriend, Dr. Constantino Castillo III, a top surgeon and urologist. She now has three children, Franco, Anika and Natalia. A psychology graduate of Ateneo, the second, Francis, is the creative force in the family. He writes poetry, lyrics and music for patriotic and spiritual songs. Charina, the youngest, graduated from the Philippine Science High School and is also a physical therapist from UP. She is connected with a hospital in San Francisco, California where she resides with her family. she is married to Carlos Salgado. They have two daughters, Katrina and Caia.
Rene, in time, rose in the legal profession. In 1992, he joined the administration of then President Fidel V. Ramos as Assistant Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs, concurrently head of the Malacañang Legal office. In 1994, he was promoted to Deputy Executive Secretary and later Chief Presidential Legal Counsel and a member of the cabinet.
He held, in concurrent capacity, the positions of vice chairman of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission, member of the Presidential Committee on Bail, Release and Pardon, the cabinet consultative committee on the Government of the Republic of the Philippines-National Democratic Front (GRP-NDF) Peace Talks and the Cabinet Committee on National Security. He also chaired the Appeals Committee of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) as well as various other presidential committees. In 1998, he became the chief of staff and spokesman of then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. When she became president, Rene performed a crucial role in her administration as presidential Chief of Staff presidential Spokesman and later, Acting Executive Secretary.
A legal scholar, he served as a member of the faculty of the Ateneo Law School for 17 years, teaching Commercial Law, Taxation and Corporation Law, the same subjects that became the focus of his many articles and columns in several newspapers and periodicals. He also wrote for the Ateneo Law Journal. He still teaches International Law at the University of Sto. Tomas.
On April 9,2002, he was appointed the 50th Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and on May 17,2010, he became its 23rd Chief Justice. It was a defining moment in the life of Rene and Tina, as Rene’s appointment to the-highest post in the judiciary did not only affirm his outstanding qualifications, it also underscored the. role of his parents in forming the character of their son, not to mention the inspiration that Tina gave him as a wife.
When the distinguished members of the Judicial and Bar Council, which vetted recommends to vacancies in the Supreme Court, asked him why he wanted to become Chief Justice, Rene replied, “I am not seeking the position of Chief Justice but if you think I deserve it, then I will be happy to accept it as a matter of duty. The two greatest gifts God can give a man in his lifetime are a faithful and dedicated wife, and a happy family. I already have both. I don’t need anything else to make my life complete, not even to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.”
Upon his appointment as Chief Justice, Rene was showered with congratulatory messages, testimonials, multimedia write-ups and numerous calls from well-wishers. Through all this, Tina was ever the soft spoken, supportive and self-effacing wife beside her husband, now the head of one of the three co-equal branches of government.
As Chief ]ustice, he has had his share of critical comments coming his way. “We turn to prayer and ask for strength,” says Tina. She points out, “We are prayerful in the privacy of our home. We never make a public show of our faith. We leave everything to God, and we bow to His will.”
On October 12,2010, Rene was invited as guest of honor and speaker at the awarding ceremonies of The Outstanding Women in the Nations service (TOWNS). Towards the end of his speech, he accorded a special compliment to Tina. He said, “before I end, I would like to pay my own little tribute to the wind beneath my wings, my wife Tina, who has given me three beautiful, intelligent children who are, in turn, contributing their share to the betterment of this country.” He got a standing ovation from the audience.
As he always tells people, “I am successful because of Tina.”Almost always, this compliment is said within the earshot of Tina. “We always attend functions as a couple and her presence enhances me. She speaks well and can carry on an intelligent conversation on virtually any topic in any occasion. I am never worried that she will do or say anything that is embarrassing to me or to the Court I represent.”
Rene can be humorous. During a television guesting one time, the interviewer asked him,”People have observed that you always take your wife with you to official functions.” Rene quipped with a poker-face, “Because she’s the only one who laughs at my jokes.”
The couple are happy because of their constant and strong love, enhanced by their loyalty and respect for each other. “We are best friends,” says Tina. “We have nothing to ask for as our children and grandchildren complete us,” says Rene. “We have each other, and we are our best gifts to each other.”