THE ice between President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and Chief Justice Renato Corona was finally broken when the Chief Executive finally acknowledged the Chief Magistrate during the Red Mass at the Manila Cathedral Wednesday.

The centuries-old tradition of the liturgical celebration, officiated by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales, was dedicated to members of the judiciary, specifically to lawyers and judges to guide them in improving the justice system.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

During the mass, Aquino went up to the podium to recite the prayer for the nation's leaders.

He addressed the Cabinet members present and members of the Church, then addressed Corona as the "Chief Justice of the Supreme Court", a departure from his general reference to the members of the high court during his inauguration last June 30.

Corona told reporters that he was able to say to Aquino "Mr. President, peace be unto you" when the latter passed by him after reading the prayer and they shook hands.

After the mass, Corona took the initiative to shake Aquino's hands, to which the President smiled and shook back his hand.

When asked how the President responded, Corona said: "Tumawa siya. Pinisil niya kamay ko. Yun ang gusto kong sabihin pagdating niya."

He said that during the part where the laity was asked to give the sign of peace, he particularly sought out Aquino in the front pew across the church aisle, but did not see him there.

He said he was only able to shake hands with Vice President Jejomar Binay and other Cabinet officials. It turned out that Aquino arrived 30 minutes late into the mass, and sat at the pew several rows back so as not to draw attention.

"Akala ko nakaupo siya sa kabila. Nasa dulo na ako wala pa siya. Akala ko nakaupo siya dun. Siya talaga ang target ko. Gusto ko sabihan ng 'peace be with you," said Corona.

Corona admitted that he was thrilled when Aquino finally acknowledged him.

"Sino ba ang hindi matutuwa na i-acknowledge ka publicly ng Presidente? Hindi naman ako kailangan maging chief justice para i-acknowledge ng president," he said.

He explained he and Aquino just wanted the same thing, which is to do their jobs well and serve the people.

Corona said that from the very start, he has been praying for the President and that he has forgiven the people who criticized or questioned his appointment.

"Pinagdadasal ko siya from Day One naman. Lahat nga ng bumatikos sa appointment ko napatawad ko na. I think it's time. Gusto ko i-extend ang hand of peace and reconciliation ko. Hindi naman kami nag-away eh. Wala kami pag-aaway."

Aquino earlier said he would not acknowledge the appointment of Corona as chief justice, having been illegally appointed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the election period, which is prohibited under the Constitution.

The Supreme Court (SC) however in a decision dated March 17, declared that the SC is exempted from the coverage of the prohibition on midnight appointments, which became the basis of Arroyo in appointing Corona.

President's tardiness

Aquino meanwhile reacted on the issue of being late in meeting his schedules.

He said he finds it "a bit unfair" to say that he is always late and questions his punctuality in every event he is attending.

"I am not every time late and in fact on June 30 during the induction of Cabinet members, how can I be late when I was already in Malacanang. They told me that it is not proper for me to wait for others so they put me in the holding room," he explained.

He was also more than an hour late during the Red Mass at the Manila Cathedral Wednesday morning.

Explaining his tardiness, Aquino said he had an upset stomach and he was not able to sleep Tuesday night due to brownouts.

"There were two brownouts. Well, hindi ako nakatulog ng maayos," he said, adding in jest that he would have wanted to call the secretary of energy to know if there were rotating brownouts happening.

In an interview with Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, he said that the President did not make it on time because he came home late Tuesday night from a seminar of Liberal Party in Tagaytay.

Aside from Lacierda, several Cabinet officials of the President were also present during the mass such as Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.

Last Friday, the President arrived late during the change of command at Camp Aguinaldo.

Aquino said he would have there earlier, but his securities and his driver said he will be coming too early at the, event which they believed is not good also.

He recalled that his late mother President Corazon Aquino preferred to go to an event five minutes before the schedule so that the people will not wait for so long or be pressured to start ahead of time if she came too early.

Aquino maintained that he will still refrain from using siren because he feels happy to see his countrymen following him as example.

Prayers for leaders, nation

In his homily at the Red Mass, Manila Archbishop Rosales prayed for the country's leaders so they may be guided by the Holy Spirit.

"Today, we pray, with you and for you, that the Holy Spirit will, as He did for the apostles in the early days of the Church, continue to guide those who serve our people, taking advantage of no one," he said.

"We continue to invoke that the manner of serving may never disaffect the people's trust in transparent governance and the selfless politics of the public servants," he added.

The mass was delayed by 30 minutes as its organizer tried to wait for the arrival of Aquino. A source from the Archdiocese of Manila however stressed that the Chief Executive did not ask for them to wait for him.

For his part, Aquino prayed for the nation the guidance and protection of the Lord in fulfilling their promise to lead the country with integrity and honor.

"We pray that the leaders representing co-equal branches of government-judges, justices, mayors, governors, congressmen and senators will all strive for unity at the risk of sacrificing their personal ambition so that the people's ambition to achieve a decent quality of life for every citizen becomes more real," he said.

He added: "May the greatest of all your commandments, of emulating your unconditional love for us through our love for our fellowmen, serve as a constant reminder of how we must choose to surpass the challenges that we face today, especially when confronted with choices to either love other's or to love just ourselves."

At least 22 other bishops concelebrated the Mass together with Rosales and Tandag Bishop Nereo Odchimar, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Under the Catholic tradition, the Red Mass requests guidance from the Holy Spirit for all who seek justice, and offers the opportunity to reflect on what Catholics believe is the God-given power and responsibility of all in the legal profession.

It originated in Europe and derives its name from the red vestments traditionally worn in symbolism of the tongues of fire that descended on the Apostles at Pentecost. (Jill Beltran/JMR/FP/Sunnex)