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Opinions

On The Impeachment Trial of CJ Renato Corona

Cover of Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 30, 2012

“GUILTY!” screams across Philippine Daily inquirer’s May 30 front page

The chorus of Metallica’s King Nothing goes:

Then it all crashes down
And you break your crown
And you point your finger
But there’s no one around

Just want one thing
Just to play the king
But the castle’s crumbling
And you’re left with just a name

Where’s your crown now, former Chief Justice Renato Corona?

—–

On May 29, 2012, the verdict was handed down: Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona is convicted in an impeachment trial held at the Senate, with Senator-judges voting 20-3 for Article II of the complaint against him. (A conviction in one of the three articles is enough to convict the defendant.) As a result, the highest magistrate of the country was ousted from office.

A friend and fellow blogger Paul de Vera got the back story of this fiasco covered in the first of his three-part “comeback” posts. I agree on him in saying that Corona could have spared himself (and the nation be spared, too) from all the trouble the last five months have brought had he not accepted former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s offer to immediately replace retiring then-CJ Reynato Puno.

But this does not mean I’m OK with what Corona was exposed to have done, and with him avoiding scrutiny by the public had he not accepted the CJ post. What he did, inaccurately filing out his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), was wrong. Even if he was not the Chief Justice, I believe his wrongdoings would be exposed no matter what. Time will tell.

—–

After Corona’s ouster, the Supreme Court was allowed to appoint an acting Chief Justice to fill the vacancy. The retirement of then CJ Puno on May 17, 2010, seven days after the election, was highly untimely but mandatory. The Constitution explicitly prohibits then-President Arroyo from appointing any official 60 days before a presidential election (Article VII, Section 15; it even speaks of allowing only a temporary appointment). If an acting CJ can be an option, why was Pres. Arroyo in a hurry to appoint Corona as permanent Chief Justice?

Mrs. Arroyo should have preferred not to appoint a Chief Justice, allowed the SC to name an acting Chief Justice (or appoint an acting CJ herself), and left the task of appointing a new CJ to the next President.

She should have remembered the case of her father, former Pres. Diosdado Macapagal, where he made “midnight appointments” near the end of his term in 1965. These appointments were deemed illegal by the Supreme Court. History repeated itself. And like father, like daughter, it seems.

—–

All throughout the trial, I might have sounded like I’m favoring the Defense, and therefore CJ Corona. I even predicted a 12-10-1 vote by the Senator-judges, meaning that the 16 guilty votes needed to convict CJ Corona will not be reached. I attributed this to the Senate being deeply divided on the issue.

Some people, however, chose to see the case outside its parameters. They see a Corona conviction as a vehicle for “total control” by the Aquino administration on all three branches of government, and quite possibly the reversal of SC’s Hacienda Luisita decision. People on the other side of the fence see a Corona acquittal resulting to vengeance and defiance by the Corona camp towards the government, and more “cover-up” to favor the Arroyos and her allies.

Being a “fan” of court cases and being nicknamed “Attorney” by friends, I chose to focus on the court proceedings itself. And, boy, what a performance by the Defense team!

We should take note that members of both the Prosecution and Defense panels were paid to serve and satisfy their clients. And by “paid”, I mean given legal and attorney’s fees. They studied law to know which ones would convict or acquit the defendant. That is why I believe the Prosecution should have been aggressive and careful enough during the proceedings. On the other hand, the Defense sure knows how to “save” their client, but ultimately they have failed to do so.

Had the Senate been strictly a judicial court and the impeachment not a political process, CJ Corona might have “survived” with the panel of lawyers that he had. I agree with Sen. Santiago when she said that the burden of proving the accused guilty is in the Prosecution. The Prosecution should have pull out all the stops to ensure a guilty verdict. That’s why the Defense is called as such: they should defend themselves from the Prosecution’s punches.

Too bad, their punches weren’t as hard-hitting as Manny Pacquiao’s. Yes, the pull-out-all-the-stops part was accomplished, but they apparently got carried away. Evidences came from anonymous sources, and reports were not completely and clearly authenticated before presented to the court. Heck, evidences were presented to the media first before the court! It’s a blatant request for sympathy from Filipinos, conditioning them to judge Corona “guilty” without even hearing his side first. Promoting this brand of “justice” on national TV just confirms the same situation “innocent criminals” have experienced.

I myself do not want to be accused of something I am not guilty of, so I do not judge other people until I have made sure he/she is guilty of the accusation. I want my side to be heard when I’m accused of something, so I would like defendants to be heard when they’re in the hot seat. In short, the Golden Rule.

There’s a reason why Lady Justice is blindfolded while holding the Scales.

—–

We all became “one-trimester students of BS Law” by intently tuning in to the five-month-long impeachment trial. We are fortunate to have a Senate that, to the best of its abilities, was impartial and independent. It proved itself (or Presiding Officer and Senate Pres. Juan Ponce Enrile, at least) to not favor any side for the duration of the trial. Commendable were the Senator-judges who shied away from media attention, temporarily dismissed any political connection, and focused on the merits of the case. They were the ones whom my friend and I deemed “hindi nagpapabasa [ng boto/desisyon]“.

I, for one, support people who uphold the law, iterate the intention of the law prior to its enactment, clear out prejudice and bias, and judge people based on evidence.

—–

With all that behind us, now that Corona can be called the former Chief Justice, what happens next?

First off, we choose what we can get from the proceedings, what changes in laws and government processes should we implement. The impeachment should be the basis of all legislation and amendments stemming from the issues raised in the three articles of impeachment against Corona.

The proper and accurate filing of SALNs by all government officials and employees was the main topic of the trial. CJ Corona, as proven in court, got away with having peso and dollar bank accounts and not stating those in his SALNs. Also exhibited in court was the Ombudsman’s power to examine SALNs, and up to what extent the Ombudsman can perform his/her duties.

I agree with a suggestion by political analyst Prof. Clarita Carlos in an episode of Umagang Kay Ganda, that there should be “before and after” SALNs: that each government personnel should file a SALN before officially taking his post, then he/she would file a SALN a year thereafter as usual. This ensures transparency, comparison, and tracking.

Current government officials, in my view, should now be held accountable by allowing their SALNs to be scrutinized without resistance from them. Recent events now promote transparency in government, and Corona’s conviction means that starting now, nobody can get away with amassing funds and lavish properties using public funds and ill-gotten money. The public is now empowered to check whether the trust they have bestowed upon their representatives in government is still intact and unblemished.

It’s already a given that the Ombudsman has the power of peeking into these SALNs, but only when a case is filed before her office. If this “investigative power” includes tracking cash flows in the bank accounts (that is, how much money was deposited, withdrawn and/or transferred to another account at a certain period of time), all the better.

—–

Articles 3 and 7 of the impeachment focused on Corona’s “profound subservience” to the Arroyos and her allies. To whom Corona will be indebted to but the Arroyos, says the argument supporting the Corona-Arroyo connection.

So, how will the nation make sure that the Chief Justice is and remains independent? My suggestion is relieving the President of the task of appointing Supreme Court justices (to remove the “subservience” factor altogether), and passing that task to the Judicial and Bar Council. The JBC, now the sole appointing body, should be composed of an equal number of members from the majority (administration) and minority (opposition) blocs of both houses of Congress. The number of members from Congress should also equal the number of members from the legal sector, presumably from IBP.

To explain further, for example, there would be two Congressmen each from the majority and minority bloc, and two Senators each from the majority and minority blocs. There would be eight Congress representatives all in all; therefore, there would also be eight lawyers from the legal/public sector. A judge can be named Associate Justice of the Supreme Court after two-thirds or three-fourths of the members JBC elects him/her to the post.

It should be noted that the JBC could only fill Associate Justice vacancies. A void in the Chief Justice post should be filled by any of the Associate Justices by means of election among themselves. (This further promotes the inpendendence of the highest court of the land.) Afterwards, there would be two vacancies filled by the JBC: that which was vacated by the Assoc. Justice elected as the new Chief Justice, and that which will complete the 15-member collegiate body.

—–

In closing, I would like to paste here a status of mine hours after the impeachment court convicted Chief Justice Renato Corona:

The Senate has decided. Nothing left to do but move on and move forward, learn from the lessons of the proceedings, and be more vigilant and participative in the nation’s affairs.

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