THE IMPEACHMENT TRIALS – DAY 43, May 28, 2012
THE JUDGMENT COMES TODAY
By Wilfred Avila
Exactly forty-three three trials ago, it all began. Prior to that, there were those who wished that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court would resign to spare everyone the tedious and long process of the Impreachment Trial. There were those, too, who protested that he should stand up and fight against the tyranny and power of those who would, they say, trample and destroy the Supreme Court and the Rule of Law.
Forces against forces, people against people, groups against groups, everyone became a legal expert. Each had an opinion and/or a guess as to what truth meant. It became their Bible according to themselves. In view of these individual opinions, friends were gained and other friends lost. The battle became personal and very real.
Against this backdrop of opposing views, lines were drawn and the battle was called. So many people would be drawn into this bitter fight. That it would be historical, escaped everyone at that time. Now, everyone realized that they were playing in the most historical judidicial moment in Philippine history.
The study of Law became the in-thing. The interest grew as the trial progressed from day-to-day. The interpretation of the law depended on who was mouthing it. The opinions varied according to whose side people were on.
Today, the end is in the forseeable future. Still the guesses went on unabated. Who would vote for what and why was the prevailing question. Some predicted the outcome of the trial for acquittal and others for conviction. Others prayed. Others hoped and still others wished. That anyone remained unperturbed and unaffected by the past 43 trial days is very true.
Amidst all of this, one man’s honor, integrity, position and power laid in the balance ….. the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines, Renato Corona! Everyone who had nothig to say, said a great deal!
For the past 43 days of the hearing, the center of everyone’s lives became the Senate Hall. After everyone spoke, today there would be a marked difference. Only four people were going to speak (aside from the Sergeant-at Arms and Clerk of Court), the Presiding-Judge, the Majority Floor Leader, The Defense and the Prosecution.
This was to be the day where both sides were to convince the Senator-Judges and the people at large that the Chief Justice merited an acquittal or a conviction. All of the past days led to this singular moment, the final oral summation of arguments by both sides.
All 23 Senator-Judges were present in today’s session. However, the most opinionated and talkative people in the hall kept totally silent. The Presiding-Judge could not be kept silent. He immediately challenged the Chief Legal Counsel, former Justice Serafin Cuevas on his interview over DZBB where he stated that this case may be elevated to the Supreme Court.
Enrile stated that, We’d (the Senate would) just like to remind you… the Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all impeachment cases.
Cuevas admitted that he was interviewed and that he replied of the possibility of this action in the future.
Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor-Satiago stood up to ask how sthe penalty be determined? She posed the question to the Presiding Judge and her co-Judges. The Senate can censure and/or reprimand Corona. In case of conviction, she wondered how the penalty should be determined?
The Presiding Judge brushed this aside and said they can clarify this in a caucus. Isn’t that the place where most things are swept under the rug?
Majority Floor Leader, Senator-Judge Vicente Sotto III opened the floor to the oral arguments but before anyone could do anything Senator-Judge Santiago asks court if they could ask questions after the closing arguments. Enrile said that they could but only after each speaker for the Defense and the Prosecution were finished with their presentation.
Lead Prosecutor, Representative Niel Tupas, Jr. said that the order for the final arguments would be the prosecution, defense, prosecution, defense, prosecution and that this was confimed with the Defense earlier.
“Day of reckoning is here,” Tupas began. We meant not to destroy a man but to destroy the evils that plague our system. “This trial is about our people’s desire to regain greatness. Corona must answer to the people for his wrongs. Sa three articles, kumbinsido kami di dapat manatili sa pwesto si CJ Corona. Corona LIED in SALN to conceal enormous wealth, peddled position in exchange for material gain, loyalty not with Filipinos. He (CJ) peddled his position of power in exchange for material gain. It has led us to the truth that his loyalty does not lie with the Filipino people.”
“SALN requirement must be required with truthfully, completely, accurately, in good faith. Best evidence is SALNs of the Chief Justice,” Tupas continued. “He did not declare the acquisition cost, just the fair market value. It has nothing to do with computation of net worth. Corona’s treasure trove of cash deposits can put a king’s fortune to shame,” he added.
The Chief Justice showed nothing to prove that he got his money from savings. Hindi na halaga ang pinag-uusapan. Ang tanong: nasa SALN ba ang mga ito? He DID NOT declare all cash assets in SALN. Corona’s intepretation of Foreign Currency Act is very disturbing. No conflict between SALN and the law on secrecy, he screeched. SALN law is for public officials. There is no distinction between peso and foreign accounts. Law on secrecy is for banks.
To adopt the Chief Justice’s interpretation leads to dishonesty in goverment and hidden wealth in government. The Chief Justice is expected to have superior legal wisdom. SALN requirement must be complied with truthfully, completely, accurately, in good faith. Best evidence is SALNs of the Chief Justice. YES, both betrayal of public trust and violation of the Constitution. It’s deception of the highest order, Tupas stressed. The Chief Justice’s violation is intentional, judging by magnitude of inaccuracies, omissions in SALN, hundreds of millions. Honest public servant will have no difficulty in presenting evidence to prove credibility. Dishonest only makes excuses.
Is the Chief Justice morally fit to remain Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? This goes into the core of a man’s character. Pagkatao po ang pinag-uusapan dito. We have done our part as prosecutors, as keepers of the people’s trust. No matter what outcome, we contributed to the nation. Impeachment is about setting right what is wrong. It’s up to the Senator-Judges to restore greatness. Decide in favor of truth. Let us be done with Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Just a question her. Has Tupas gone through his puberty already? His voice changes at every turn and there’s an annoying high pitch to it. Was he the best speaker for the opening salvo of the Prosecution? Sorry, he was never a good speaker, to begin with!
It was now the turn of Defense Lawyer Eduardo delos Angeles to deliver the Defense’s opening in the closing arguments for the Defense Panel.
Our constitution provides under the bill of rights, the right to privacy and right to information. RA 6426 provides that all foreign deposits are ABSOLUTELY CONFIDENTIAL except upon written waiver of depositor. Unless bank secrecy act is amended or repealed, confidentiality must be observed”, Delos Angeles began. “Exception must be LEGISLATED. In case of doubt, confidentiality of bank accounts should be favored,” he continued and began to cite jurisprudence.
“We cannot hold the Chief Justice liable because he believes, in all GOOD FAITH, in the absolute confidentiality of foreign deposits,” he stressed.
On the earlier argument of Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon, Delos Angeles said that “Let’s not mistake the Chief Justice’s interpretation for the possibility of abuse. No showing that non-declaration of dollar accounts is tainted with malice. The Chief Justice assumed reliance on law is not wrong,” he argued. There is a gap in law; confidentiality of dollar deposits vis-a-vis disclosing assets. It is not the practice to disclose dollar accounts.” He further notes that BIR Director Martinez’s statement that gov’t officials don’t declare their dollar deposits.
“There is no Supreme Court ruling that squarely applies to confidentiality under RA 6426 with respect to SALN. Repeal or amend law, don’t hold Chief Justice answerable for his interpretation prior to a Supreme Court ruling. There is no liability. Just because he is CJ doesn’t imply he gets less in law than anybody else. Non-disclosure in SALN will NOT AMOUNT TO IMPEACHABLE OFFENSE,” he underlined.
“Impeachment of high government officials should be based on nothing less than HIGH CRIMES like treason. Betrayal of public trust must be based on serious crime with high penalty, not MINOR breach of law. The Chief Justice is not even accused of ill-gotten wealth. Chief Justice is bound by the Supreme Court resolution barring disclosure of SALN. Peso holdings of the Chief Justice were disclosed. Other peso accounts don’t belong to him but to his children and in trust for BGEI.”
“The Chief justice relies on principle that what he does not own, he does not declare. He can’t be held liable. He can’t be held liable for violating constitution, betrayal of public trust. It requires deliberate intent. Not every violation of public trust is impeachable. His failure to declare dollars is not an impeachable breach of trust. The only fine for the Chief justice is fine not exceeding P5,000 and imprisonment not exceeding 5 years. Far from treason.”
“All the Chief Justice can do is to correct his SALN, not to punish him, much less remove him from office. We’ve witnessed unusual rubberstamping of House and lawmakers who did not even read the complaint. There is clear intent to control the judiciary. Do away with checks and balance. Cadence of actions implies conductor,” he added.
“Let not the Senate allow the guillotine to fall on the judiciary. We saw lack of damning evidence vs the Chief Justice. He has legal basis. The Chief Justice raised the bar for all public officials. He waived confidentiality of bank accounts, set transparency standards. He has always spoken with voice of reason, voice of the law, voice of truth. The innocence of the Chief Justice arises from his conduct. Wholly consistent with a clear conscience. Corona has proven why he is the Chief Justice,” he concluded.
I do have a problem with Attorney Delos Angeles. He is too stentorian and laid-back in his approach to be a trial lawyer. He almost led me to take my afternoon nap. That he is a learned man is undeniable but he could use a little more flair, I think. Atty Delos Angeles is the former President of the Philippine Stock Exchange and former Dean of the Ateneo Law School.
The Prosecution took its turn at the podium again, this time with the very colorful Prosecutor-Representative Rodolfo Fariñas. His colorful hair equally signaled his impending colorful appearance for the Prosecution.
As if to prove my point, Farinas started with the word, “Palusot! Ito lang ang tanging paraan para mabawi ng taumbayan ang opisina na ipinagkaloob sa kanya. Chief Justice Corona graduated from Ateneo in 1970 and law school in 1974. He graduated HS in 1966. The dollar exchange of 2×1 could only be in 1948-1959. He wants us to believe he was such a visionary he started buying dollars that early. Maliwanag na palusot at pagsisinungaling sa Senado.
Sa 1987 Constitution, dapat ilahat all assets such as investments, cash in hand, in banks, stocks, bonds. Very clear po. Pwede mo naman i-convert ang dollar sa peso. You don’t have to say it’s in dollars. Kaya lang si Chief Justice ay nagpapalusot sa RA 6426. Napakasamang interpretasyon nito. Lahat pwede na lang bumili ng dollar para di ideclare. Ang mga sinasabi ni CJ about 6426 ay palusot. Hindsight lang po yan kasi nahuli, nahuli po.”
At this time, Farinas started to trendt in both Twitter and Facebook. No arguing the fact that he is a colorful character and may have been the best speaker for the Prosecution, bar none!
“Pang-apat na palusot ni Chief Justice ay ang P80M dahil commingled o halo-halong pondo. Bakit sa kanya lang nakapangalan? Ang anak niyang nasa US, bakit sa peso nag-iipon? Hindi ho, nahuli lang iyon ang hawak niya. Mga palusot di nagtugma. We tend to contradict ourselves if we don’t tell the truth,” Farinas continued. “Sana nagpakita ng passbook na, ‘Grade 6 pa ho ako nag-iipon na ho ako.’
Sabi ni Chief Justice na ayaw niya ng property investment pero binebenta niya ang property sa mga anak niya. Palusot na lang niya,” he stressed. As if tyo ask himself, Farnas asked, “Why did the Chief Justice declare his properties in his 2010 SALN? Kasi po nagbago ang presidente eh. Kung ganun kadami ang pera ni Chief Justice, bakit umutang pa sa BGEI? Bakit ka pa magbabayad kung sa iyo rin ang pera? Kalokohan yun,” he added with a smirk.
Fariñas then cited his professor at one time at the Ateneo Law School, Dean delos Angeles. He cited Corona’s opinion on impeachment. ‘Impeachment is neither civil nor criminal.’ Wag niyo pong palusutin si Chief Justice Corona. Ginintuang pagkakataon ito. Dapat 2-step: House, Senate.” Ang presumption po kung sobra ang pera sa iyo, iyan ay galing sa di maganda na paraan. Wag tayong magpadala sa palusot!”
Corona should not just be given his wish to be excused. He should be REMOVED as Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines,” Farinas conculded. That Farinas was truly effective cannot be denied. He has consistently presented his position with flair and an impish smile that truly makes him truly worthy of his being a bar-topnotcher.
He even ended his appearance with an Ilocano statement thanking the Senate President and the Senator-Judges. The Presiding-Judge replied, answering him in Ilocano too, “Thank you for your kind words. You are truly good.” Oh well.
Defense Counsel, Attorney Dennis Manalo too his turn at the podium to reply to Farinas. “The question is not WHY but WHY NOT? Why did they not choose to cross-examine Chief Jucstice and pose these questions to him?,” he opened. “The stated real properties was not really 45. It’s only 5 and all were reported. Are we going into timing when the Chief should have reported this? Witnesses say CJ had issues with the unit. This was GOOD FAITH,” he added recalling the evidence that have been presented so far.
‘The testimony of the Ombudsman is hearsay. AMLC officer who prepared that was never presented in court. AMLC refused to testify because there is NO COURT ORDER allowing that inspection. That’s very clear in law. Unlawful activities is needed for AMLC to inspect bank records,” he challenged.
“Did anybody take up the challenge of the Chief Justice? Nobody because the Chief Justice was able to show his interpretation followed by public officials. We are all surmising, kaduda-duda ang movement ng pera. Bakit hindi pinatunayan. We never decide cases based on doubts,” Manalo continued. “Can Senate declare Foreign Currency Law unconstitutional? Cases involving constitutionality of law shall be heard solely by the Supreme Court,” Manalo continued.
“Isn’t that greatest contradiction for the Senate to declare that its own law unconstitutional? Galing po sa inyo ang batas,” Manalo stressed. “If the FCDA is unconstitutional, you can’t apply it RETROACTIVELY, he stressed.
Manalo now trained his guns on Tupas’ claim that Chief Justice peddled his position for material gain, “That is a lie. The Supreme Court is a collegial body. Do not blame the Chief Jusice, Congressman Tupas. Dissenting opinion of Justice Sereno can’t be sustained, not binding!” On this note Manalo concluded his statement.
By far to me, Attorney Dennis Manalo was the best representative for the Defense Panel. He was certainly the best to answer Farinas. Both are colorful. Both presented their arguments with flair. Manalo strongly argued his case and stressed the points for the Chief Justice effectively. He also began to trend in Twitter and Facebook. A classic quid-pro-quo.
With the remaining minutes for the Defense Panel, Lead Counsel Serafin Cuevas took the podium and stated that there was no question on the existence of FCDA. Question is the allegation that this law is in violation of the Constitution. “I don’t know of any case in the Supreme Court saying that FCDA is unconstitutional. Law remains valid unless there is a pronouncement by the Supreme Court, he opened.
“Entire annals of political constitutional jurisprudence will not yield answer to effect FCDA’s being declared unconstitutional,” he stressed.
No court order or criminal activity warranted the AMLC to probe Corona’s bank records, Cuevas said. He then reiterated De los Angeles’s statement that the remedy is to amend the law and not to remove the Chief Justice.
Speaking on Fariñas’ speech, Cuevas said that the Chief Justice was at the Senate. He was available for cross. If he doubted credibility, they should have asked him, he stressed. There was no statement on record by the Chief that he started buying (dollars) when he was still an undergraduate. Not malicious and certainly not subject to impeachment proceedings, Cuevas said.
Cuevas clarified that the case of judicial official who did not declare market stall not comparable to the Chief Justice’s case. That’s not an impeachment case. If not an impeachable offense, then why are we building up matters after matters to the prejudice of the Chief Justice and his family?
On the $10M, Cuevas stated, that none of the complainants mentioned that. Papers from AMLC have no proper attestation, only initial. That being the case, it is non-admissible. On the Ombudsman’s papers, he asked that if not admissible as evidence, what probative value does it have? It’s totally useless and irrelevant. It’s not job of defense to have Ombudsman papers authenticated.
Cuevas then repeated the challenge on the validity of the impeachment complaint and said that it was never verified. He stressed that it doesn’t say that the 188 read it. “We are in total conformity with Chief Justice Panganiban on the issuance of observance of due process during initiation of impeachment! To us, we noticed the blitzkrieg maneuver that accompanied filing of information.” He stressed that the Chief Justice was denied due process. “We pray na sa aming pagdulog sa hukumang ito, dumulog sa Maykapal, kung maari tanglawan niyo pag-iisip ng mga senador, he said.”
Concluding, Cuevas invokes God and the Filipino people to look at the truth and nothing but the truth! It is at this point that we must say that Cuevas did a yeoman’s job of steering the defense of Chief Justice through its ups and downs. That he is respected by the entire panel added to the lustre of everyone’s performance in the Defense. That he is also respected by the Senator-Judges is an added plus.