Day 42 #Cjtrialwatch: Of high and low moments. To Glorious & happy moments

by Wilfred Avila

The pictures, the sounds, the words and the feel of this day’s events would put many Telenovelas to shame. The pace was quick and the events seemed to be moving one right after the other if not even simultaneously. We could barely catch our breath in pursuing this story and what a story it totally turned out to be.

The learned, the nosy, the soothsayers, the bettors, the know it alls and most of the country were glued to their TV and/or radios so as not to miss this fast-unfolding event. Even the businessmen had their office TV sets on just to monitor the unfolding of the drama. The increased tempo was almost crescendoing to a climax that would leave everyone spent. Well, they have been that for several days now but plod along, afraid to miss a single beat, everyone did.

It began early enough in the morning. I received a phone call stating that Defense Spokesperson Karen Jimeno was rushed to the hospital a day before because she was feeling very ill. A quick call to Karen established that she was indeed in the St. Luke’s Hospital, brought there by her husband Evan, since Wednesday. She said that she was fine now but was connected to an intravenous tube that fed her both her medicines and food. She continued to say laughingly that she was sticking with the Defense Panel despite the pronouncements of Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon that the Defense was disentigrating. She will be in the hospital for a few more days. Nothing serious, just fatigue, she laughed. I heaved a sigh of relief. “My love” was okay.

In another hospital, Medical City, the Defense Attorney and the Chief Justice, Renato Corona, were discussing his appearance in the Senate for the Impeachment Trial later. For almost two hours, the huge blue ambulance remained parked at the side-entrance of the hospital waiting for its precious cargo, the Chief Justice.

At the Conference Room of the Presiding-Judge, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, was presiding over a caucus that would, in most likely, seal the fate of the Chief Justice regardless of what condition he was in and whether he appeared or not. It does sound ominous, doesn’t it? It is!

At 12:15 pm and in front of a phalanx of several more television vans, the blue ambulance of the Medical City hospital began its long journey towards the Senate grounds for the Chief Justice’s appointment with destiny. Following it were many more vehicles. On the other side of the building were more television vans ready to cover his motorcade as it entered the GSIS and Film Center area. Some of the media men were unsure as to what van he was on. They kept running back and forth the huge grounds of the hospital just to make sure but the ambulance was long gone.

The Senator-Judges, the Prosection and the Defense Panels, the VIP guests, the media and anyone else who could get tickets for this penultimate events began troooping into the Senate Hall much earlier than they used to do before. The Senator-Judges to their chambers. The Defense straight to the Defense waiting room and the Prosecution, to their’s.

The blue ambulance, lights flashing, turned the corner of the GSIS grounds at 1:15 pm. Suddenly everyone along the way and in the Senate perked up, excitement was in the air. The Chief Justice came to keep his word. Surprisingly, the ambulance was stopped at the entry point of the Senate grounds to be searched. Maybe, the over zealous security force of former General Balajadia (Senate sergeat at Arms, was making sure that the Chief Justice was on board. After a few minutes, the motorcade was allowed to proceed.

The ambulance turned towards the underground parking area of the Senate with lights still flashing. All cameras were trained towards it so as not to miss a single moment of posterity. It stopped and remained near the elevator entrance. Lights still flashing. Time stood still. No one came out. People wondered. Still no one came out. Cameramen were now not sure of what to cover. After about ten minutes, (Around 1:30 pm) the door to the ambulance opened. People began to crowd in. Onlookers were waved aside. The mediamen had something to focus on, finally.

The Chief Justice, seeming tired and out of it all, stepped out and was assisted by his family and security. He did not pause for any interviews and/or comments. He went straight to the elevator to proceed to the second floor to join the other Defense people in the Defense Waiting Room. On the way, mediamen, security men, reporters, on-lookers all jostled for a better look at the man of the hour. It did not seem like his future was at stake but, rather, a celebration of life.

At the Senate Impeachment Court

At 2:00 pm, the Presiding-Judge led the procession of Senator-Judges into the Senate Hall. All had faces on of pure nonchalance. To look at their faces, you’d think nothing was special with the day’s scheduled hearing. Majority Floor Leader Sotto led the day’s prayers. I must say that his prayer was truly a sincere one. At the very least, that is the way I read it.

Only 22 Senator-Judges were present. The Defense in a manifestation made at the caucus asked that some evidence be corrected as to their markings. This was approved. Then the Chief Justice was called in as the Conitnuing witness.

Meanwhile, in the corridors of the Hall, a wheelchair was brought to the Defense waiting room. But, when the Chief Justice came out, there was no need for it. The Chief Justice walked on his own placing a hand on Mrs. Corona and the other on a security aide. All could see that he was weak. Yet, he braved the gauntlet of mediamen who covered his every step towards the Senate Hall.

The doors of the Senate Hall opened and there was Corona walking slowly to the stand. He immediately apologized to the Impeachment Court for the so-called “walkout” while insisting that he meant no disrespect but simply wanted to avoid “vomiting” on the witness stand when he started feeling nauseous as a result of a drop in his blood sugar. Chief Justice Renato Corona apologized to the Senate
impeachment court on Friday for his abrupt departure from the session hall on Tuesday, but denied that he had walked out on the chamber. Corona aologized to the court, the public, the prosecution and his own defense team for the departure.

“Ako po’y nagpapakumbaba at humihingi ng inyong paumanhin sa nangyari nung Martes. Hindi ko po inaasahan na ganun ang mangyayari, kaya lang po alam ninyo ang pinagdaanan namin, particularly pinagdaanan ko nung nakaraang halos anim na buwan (I am humbling myself and asking your pardon for what happened on Tuesday. I did not expect that would happen, but you know what we have been through, particularly what we have gone through in the past almost six months),” Corona said.

In an interview, Former Senator Rene Saguisag, reacting to Corona’s apology to the Senate, said the Chief Justice “could have told JPE [Enrile] what he was saying now, instead of imperiously excusing himself last Tuesday.” He described it as “a sheer glaring afterthought, reached after three days.” Saguisag, in a message sent to media, said, “He could have told the Sgt.-at-Arms that he felt unwell, instead of asking if he was being arrested, or Mrs. Corona could have said that he needed medical attention, instead of asking about martial law while the engines of their three vehicles were running.

“He could have gone to Makati Medical Center but chose Medical City where a son-in-law is associated.” Saguisag concluded by asking, “How long will the Coronas abuse our patience? Quo usque tandem abutere patientia nostra? We can tell when Rene lies, his lips move.” This was the unkindest cut of all since all could see (both pro and con) how the Chief Justice really was and after the pronouncement of his doctors on his condition. We pray this never happens to him as he, himself, is already weak.

After apologizing, Corona announced that the waiver he signed last Tuesday, allowing authorities to look into all documents pertaining to his assets, was now unconditional—meaning, it was not premised on his challenge earlier for Senator-Judge Frank Drilon and all 189 complainant-congressmen in the impeachment case to sign similar waivers. This would have been the biggest moment of the Chief Justice in the last hearing had he not placed any condition on it. But, still, this was greeted with screams from the gallery. It showed that the Chief Justice was being real while all those he challenged to do the same, looked for reasons why they wouldn’t. The tables of public opinion had turned in his favor but it might have been too late.

As the Chief Justice Renato Corona finally submitted his unconditional waiver to the impeachment court, allowing authorities to publicly release details of his peso and dollar accounts, the court, however, through Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile, merely “noted” the waiver and said that, being merely a “hearer of facts” and not a “producer of evidence,” it cannot act on it.

Corona presented his waiver before the impeachment court, adding he will no longer wait for the 189 lawmakers and Senator Franklin Drilon to sign their waivers. This was a total reversal of his earlier condition of allowing the Senator-Judges and the Prosecution to see his bank accounts.

The Presiding Judge hastily called a break to didcuss the waiver of the Chief Justice and his suggestion to call on the Bank managers to testify and verify his statements before the Court.

And then another sub-plot emerged. Maybe, a blessing is a better word. During the break in the proceedings, as the Senate met to discuss the unconditional waiver on bank secrecy offered by Corona, the Chief Justice’s wife, Cristina, walked up to her cousins, the siblings Ana, Carmen, Isabel, Francheska and Eric Basa and embraced them one by one. The Corona’s daughter, Carla, also approached the siblings to hug them.

My dear friend, Maria Fatima Nebrida (Baby Nebrida) brokered the reconciliation. She was also responsible for the Octave Masses that have been said for the Chief Justice lately. Baby was the classmate of Cristina in school and a friend of the Basas. She approached one of the Basas and asked whether they wanted to reconcile with the Coronas. They replied in the affirmative. She then went to Cristina Corona to ask the same and with a shine in her eyes, she also affirmed that she did.

It will be recalled that the hearing prior to this, the Basas were heard saying scathing remarks about the Coronas and praising their own Jose Basa to high heavens. A reconciliation of any sort was not expected by anyone after those remarks.

Of the many shining moments during this hearing, this may be considered as a another one. The Basas and Cristina with her children hugged and the tears overflowed. It was not a perfunctory hug but a real and emotional one. The floodgates of anger and hatred had been opened to show that blood is, certainly, far stronger than water. The tears kept flowing and the joy they all felt was reflected behind the veil of tears and recorded for eternity.

The Chief Justice wondering what was happening was informed by Baby of the event and he also expressed joy. Cristina later took the siblings to the witness stand, where Corona continued to sit during the break. The Chief Justice also embraced the siblings. It would seem that the feud between the two families, triggered by a property dispute between Cristina and her uncle, the late Jose Basa that has stretched for three decades and dragged into the Impeachment Trial of Corona is now all finished and over with. At least, for now.

The trial re-convened and, “This court is not a producer of evidence. It is a hearer of facts … So therefore given the fact that the defense has already indicated they will not anymore propound direct questions on the honorable Chief Justice and will terminate presentation of evidence and the prosecution indicated on record they wil not do anymore cross, it is the understanding of this court that in effect both sides of this adversarial proceeding is actually submitting the evidence, the case for decision,” said Senate President Enrile.

Enrile said they will “take note” of the waiver but could no longer subpoena other persons for the hearing. “We take note of this waiver, but we cannot subpoena any other person mentioned here, given the fact that we are not supposed to produce evidence for the defense or the prosecution. “And so, I hereby state for the record that we take note of the waiver of the CJ but we cannot act on it.”

That done, the Defense told the court it was skipping direct examination of its star witness; and the prosecution scuttled the cross examination, prompting Enrile to direct Senator-Judges to field their clarificatory questions. Six senators fielded questions: Miriam Santiago, Francis Pangilinan, Drilon, Alan Peter Cayetano, Chiz Escudero and Jinggoy Estrada.

Earlier, Defense lawyers of the Chief Justice said they might waive the direct examination of the magistrate given his physical condition. Lawyer Ramon Esguerra said they want to spare Corona a “stressful situation. I don’t think so. I don’t want him to go through another stressful situation so we try to avoid as much as possible a situation like that,” Esguerra told reporters in an ambush interview.

Questioned by Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, Corona said the dollars had built up from interest since he first opened the accounts in the 1960s. Corona stood pat that all the money was acquired legally — from salaries, savings, interest on deposits, foreign exchange investments and commingled funds, including his wife and three children’s — over the past 40 years.

Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada was next at the podium to ask questions of the Chief Justice. Corona acknowledged having $2.4 million in dollar deposits and P80.7 million in three peso deposits, or around P180 million in total deposited in various banks. He stressed that all the money was acquired legally — from salaries, savings, interest on deposits, foreign exchange investments and commingled funds, including his wife’s and three children’s — over the past 40 years. The dollars had built up from interest since he first opened the accounts in the 1960s, he said.

Asked further by Estrada asked whether he, at any one time, ever had $12 million in the banks, Corona said, “no” and stressed that, “the biggest I got was the $2.4 million.” The peso deposits, on the other hand, came from proceeds from the sale of the Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. property to the city of Manila, which amounted to P34 million; the interest earned by this money for 11 years, which amounted to P11 million; and the commingled P15 million from his children — Carla, Francis and Charina. “We did this to get a higher interest from the bank,” he said.

Corona added that the peso accounts also included the so-called “Corona fund,” which he said was from his mother and was used for her hospitalization and burial expenses. He said they had also drawn P15-20,000 a month for the treatment of his brother Arturo.

Asked why the dollar accounts were not declared in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, Corona said: ““I believe that the dollar deposits need not be reported in the SALN because of RA 6426,” or the Foreign Currency Deposits Act.

Section 8 of the FCDA states: “All foreign currency deposits authorized under this Act … are hereby declared as and considered of an absolutely confidential nature and, except upon the written permission of the depositor, in no instance shall foreign currency deposits be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office whether judicial or administrative or legislative, or any other entity whether public or private … ”

Corona himself acknowledged that “there seems to be a conflict” between the FCDA and the SALN law, which requires public officials and employees to bare all their wealth.

Asked about his relationship with Associate Justice Carpio, his perceived replacement as Chief Justice if convicted, Corona replied that they were civil with each other. Corona’s impeachment brought to the fore his damaged relationship with Carpio. In a scathing speech before SC employees in January, Corona said one of those who lobbied for his impeachment is an associate justice who has been itching to get the position from him.

Lawyers knew he was referring to Carpio. But while they were aware of the differences that set the two apart, some of them were not prepared for the nasty, publicized fight. “It was a tragedy. Ambition got in the way,” said the lawyer who saw the old photo of the two former buddies displayed in the old CVC office.

In the old office of one of the country’s biggest law firms, a picture of two men in their target-shooting gear hung on display. One of them was a co-founder of the firm, whose most prominent client was Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The other was his shooting buddy and schoolmate, whose boss was also Mrs Arroyo. When the law firm left its old office in Makati in 2010, it left the picture behind. Suffice it to say that the photo could not be seen in the new office anymore.

Asked if he meant his challenge to the Ombudsman, (to resign) the Chief Justice replied, “YES”. Estrada then asked teasingly if the Chief Justice would resign, the reply was just as simple, “NO!”

This only excacerbated his conflict with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. He accused her of being used by Malacanang to ruin his reputation when she testified last week in the Senate impeachment court. Corona claimed the Ombudsman, through a “clerk of court,” once asked him for an exorbitant “special budget” that is “at least” double that for retiring Justices. The regular budget for retiring Justices is between P500,000 and P600,000.

Calling an urgent press conference, Morales denied sending anyone to Corona to lobby for an illegal increase in her retirement package. “I suffered in silence,” Morales said. “My retirement was reduced in half. I never asked for reconsideration. You ask me if I have a conscience? Yes, I have a conscience. I have one dollar account, one and only,” Morales fired back. ” I hope he [Corona] has a conscience and as clear as mine.”

“I never wanted to have a press con,” Morales told reporters. “This time I’m raring to talk to you because I feel that I have been maligned.” The ombudsman denied being used by anybody when she testified last week in the Senate impeachment court. The Ombudsman also denied that she decided to present the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report on Corona’s alleged 82 dollar accounts without it being authenticated. Morales said she went to the impeachment court with a verified document. “I didn’t pick it up from the gutter. It was handed to me by the AMLC head,” she said.

Corona earlier dared Morales to resign from her post, especially after the chief justice proved that he did not own the 82 dollar accounts containing between 10 and 12 million dollars. The ombudsman remained firm in her position and said she wouldn’t. When asked what she thinks if Corona is convicted on Tuesday, Morales replied: “Amen!” In an earlier TV report, a “fuming mad” Morales accused Corona of being a “certified liar.”

Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon never let up. He insisted that Corona had hidden wealth that he never mentioned in his SALN. He even prepared a Powerpoint presentation to match what he was saying. His obvious bias was too much to take. It was obvious that he was never prepared to listen to what the Chief Justice had to say because he was in a totally different world or had a totally different agenda.

Lead Defense Counsel Serafin Cuevas then asked the Impeachment Court to excuse the witness since he was beginning to feel bad again. The Presiding Officer automatically approved it. He seemed in a definite hurry to get things over and done with.

The Presiding Judge then reiterated the guideline for the Hearing on Monday where the summation of evidences was to be delivered by both panels. He then immediately adjourned the 42nd day of hearings!

After the trial

But in this never-ending story, those who thought the drama had ended when Enrile discharged from the stand a “very, very tired” chief justice, had another think coming. The police suddenly announced they were investigating a complaint that the license plate on the service vehicle Corona was using, and parked at Medical City’s basement, was stolen. Defense lawyers were as quick to say that Corona had merely rented the vehicle, and the one who should be explaining the origin of the license plate is the car rental company.

Authorities are verifying a complaint that the plate number of the Chevy Suburban service car of Chief Justice Renato Corona was stolen from another vehicle. Philippine National Police Highway Patrol Group (HPG) Director Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said a certain Bonifacio Gomez Jr., President and Chief Operating Officer of Nutrifarm, lodged a complaint in their office last May 23 that the plate used in Corona’s service car – ZEE-868 – was similar to the plate of his L-300 van.

“While he was watching the Corona trial on television, he was surprised to see that the vehicle used by the Chief Justice had the same license plate as his van,” Espina said in a phone interview on Fiday. The two shared one license plate and a verification from the Land Transportation Office showed that the registered owner of the license plate was Nutrifarm.

The police will now investigate and check the papers of the Suburban car. Earlier, Supt. Edwin Butacan, HPG spokesman, said the vehicle could be impounded. Corona’s Defense Lawyer Tranquil Salvador III said the car being used was by the chief justice was not his own but was just rented. Espina stressed that this was not an attack on the Chief Justice, who is being tried before the Senate impeachment court. “We have to act on the complaint and check.” I guess they will never stop.

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice arrived back at the Medical City to finally rest. The nation, meanwhile, differed in their views and reading of the just concluded hearings. The Prosecution were raving that they had been provided its biggest gain against the chief justice, with his own admission that in all, he had $2.4 million in foreign currency deposits and P80 million in peso accounts—amounts substantially larger than those he declared in his Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net Worth.

Others, on the other hand felt that this was Corona’s greatest moment. He faced them all and certainly did it his way! Along the way, he dared one and all to do what thedemanded he do, open all their bank accounts. To date only three Congressmen have done so. Some have proclaimed that they were not the subject of the hearing and so had no reason to do that. Such a mockery. uch double-faced standards I have yet to see.

In the meantime, the closing arguments of one hour each for prosecution and defense will be heard on Monday. This brings to mind a specific point, is this trial basede on the rule of law or just plain politics? If it based on the rule of law and the evidences presented to the Court in the course of the hearings, I will boldly say that the Chief Justice will be acquitted. If it is based on politics and power, the Chief Justice will be convicted.

We dare not even think of the fairness and probity of the Senator-Judges any longer. That has long been gone from day one for some. That there will be some honorable and fair men among the Senators, we can only pray. Tuesday is the day we will see who has been paid or not.

Today’s hearing was filled with high and low moments to glorious and happy ones. That would, of course, depend on which side of the Senate Hall you are in. The daily vigil will soon be over. Will that spell the end? I strongly doubt it. The repurcussion will be loud and strong. The nation is not blind though Lady Justice is! The people will be the final arbiter of truth and fair play and not 23 men and women who feel that they were elected to judge only the way they want to and not the way it should be.

In the almost six months that judicial independence and the rule of law have been stripped, mocked and crucified at the altar of those who seek more and more power, we have been a witness to how one man’s reputation can be destroyed, an individual’s rights trampled, and an institution’s integrity challenged.

It was a picture painted with so much pain and blood and it was the Filipino people who slowly died in the process. It was excruciatingly painful and slow a death for some. For others still, instantaneous. They never knew what hit them. Lifestyles were completely turned around. Some went in hiding. Some bared their hearts out in public. One thing was shared by all; life in the country and, specially in the Judiciary, will never be the same again!