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Posts Tagged ‘impeachment’

Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir is an autobiography of one of the most controversial figures in our contemporary political history, the defense minister and implementor of the Marcos dictatorship, a failed coup d’etat plotter against both the Marcos and Aquino governments, a political lord of the far-north province of Cagayan, a habitue of Congress, both as a congressman and as a senator, and the presiding officer of the impeachment court that convicted and removed from office Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Now almost 89 years old, he can claim a certain place in our nation’s history, having served in high places throughout his political career–on both sides of the political fence. He is a political survivor, missing only the post of presidency in the 1998 elections.

The interesting thing about Juan Ponce Enrile is how he can glibly change his story to fit the political necessity of the moment. Two of the most memorable stories came from him during the 1986 failed coup against Marcos. Holding a hasty press conference in beleaguered Camp Aguinaldo–and desperately calling for help–he admitted to his participation in the conduct of electoral fraud in the 1986 snap elections and in the staging of a fake ambush on his own convoy in Wack Wack Golf and Country Club on September 22, 1972, the night before martial law was publicly proclaimed the next day.

In the book, he made nary a mention of the 1986 snap election fraud and completely changed his story about the fake ambush, asserting the opposite that it was really a genuine ambush by unidentified persons. And to think that this was the last act in the series of staged terror attacks in the three months preceding the declaration of martial law and cited as basis for Proclamation 1081!

My own recollection of the period is that the fake Enrile ambush and its citing as the signal for martial law declaration already circulated among some newsmen at least a month before the event. This is the reason why many student leaders and activists of the period were able to elude the massive dragnet by the military and police forces under Enrile’s administration and supervision in the first hours and days of martial rule.

Of course, it is Enrile’s decision on what to write and say on the history of his times. However, it is also our decision to believe him or not. In many accounts in the book, he provided new glimpses, maybe even truths, on the historical events he participated in. However, in the most important of them, he ended up rewriting and reinforcing old Marcos myths.

The question, therefore, hangs. What for? The nuanced presentation seemingly points to pandering for a Marcos revival while maintaining enough traction as a people power hero. Another myth, but its another story…

Shakespeare here is maybe relevant when he said in The Tempest: “What’s past is prologue.”

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The Social Weather Stations (SWS), on its August 24-27, 2012 survey, disclosed a major surge in President Aquino’s net satisfaction rating. From +49% in March 2012 and +42% in May 2012, it now reached +67% in August 2012. 77% or nearly four out of five Filipinos are satisfied with him while only 10% or one out of 10 Filipinos are dissatisfied. This is the highest he got during his entire term up to the present. The survey results cut across geographical areas and across ABCDE class boundaries.

This is very good news to the Aquino administration and bad news to his critics and opposition, especially at this time when the 2013 elections near and immediate decisions need to be made on the alignments and strategies of various candidates. The filing of candidacies on October 1-5, 2012 puts an additional pressure on these decisions.

To be sure, the sudden death of DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo last August 18, 2012 contributed a lot to the rise of presidential ratings, in terms of the tremendous sympathies it generated. However, it is not all a matter of bereavement and sympathy; it is also a matter of public realization that President Aquino’s reform agenda stands not only as a matter of rhetorics of “matuwid na daan” but is backed up by appointments to his Cabinet and administration of solid reformists such as Sec. Robredo.

The series of bold anti-corruption measures such as the filing of cases and arrest of the big fishes of the former Arroyo administration, the impeachment of former Chief Justice Corona, and the transparency and accountability policies in the bureaucracy has led to the people keeping faith with President Aquino through all the open and veiled attacks against him and his administration in the media and elsewhere.

In this light, the midterm 2013 elections promises to become an Aquino elections. That is, his political endorsement will stand out as a major, if not the decisive factor, in the victory of many candidates. Conversely, his critique of many candidates may well be the death knell of their own candidacies.

The SWS survey reaffirmed the people’s mandate for Noynoy Aquino’s presidency. However, it also reaffirmed the basis for the mandate–his continued trek on the road to reform both the traditional political and economic terms of reference of Philippine society towards democracy.

He has just been reelected.

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[This opinion-article was published in the GMA News Online on June 3, 2012]

The Senate, acting as an impeachment tribunal, voted 20-3 in favor of the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. It was a comfortable margin over the super-majority vote of 16 required for conviction. Politically, the outcome solidified the standing of President Aquino and his administration, both among the political elite and among the people themselves.

There was the view at the start and the middle of the impeachment process that the voting would be a close race, or even a bit in favor of CJ Corona. This was glaringly evident in the important 13-10 vote in favor of recognizing and following the Supreme Court’s Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the opening of CJ Corona’s dollar accounts.

The main political reasons given then were 1) the relative independence of the Senate vis-à-vis the President; 2) the presidential contest of 2016 will divide the ruling coalition this early and affect the impeachment vote; and 3) the efforts of the camp of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to influence the impeachment vote.

The latter was most effective in playing up the possible scenario of the ouster of CJ Corona leading to the favorable ruling for Mar Roxas in his protest against Vice-President Jojo Binay.

Insofar as these factors are operative throughout the proceedings, they constituted a continuing pressure for acquittal. However, there were countervailing factors which—in the end—proved stronger and more compelling towards a verdict of conviction.

First, there is the factor of evidence. The evidence for Article 2 showed that CJ Corona admitted owning properties, bank accounts and other assets amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos, and that he admitted he wilfully did not enter these in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

The prosecutor made the case that there is a substantive betrayal of public trust sufficient to remove him as a Chief Justice and justice of the Supreme Court. In addition, it stressed that CJ Corona lied and acted well below the standards set for members of the judiciary, much more as justice and chief justice of the Supreme Court. The body of evidence made it easier for the senator-judges to support a judgment of conviction and made it harder for those who want to vote for acquittal.

It is also contributory that CJ Corona himself admitted both the facts of his huge dollar and peso deposits and that he reportedly insisted on getting Ombudsman and former associate justice Conchita Carpio-Morales as a “hostile” witness. Without the benefit of advice from his legal team,he also reportedly wrote and delivered his disastrous opening statement, and reportedly staged his own surprise walkout.

He thus dug his own impeachment grave. Even the last-minute concession of an unconditional waiver for a look into his bank accounts and the seeming reconciliation of his wife’s family and clan were not enough to turn the tide.

Second, the strong public opinion against CJ Corona—as manifested in the March SWS survey of 73% who judged him guilty—provided an incentive to senators who have a political stake in the 2013 elections to vote against him.

Third, the impeachment was initiated and publicly supported by a very popular president Aquino and the ruling Liberal Party, with the acquiescence from most of the ruling coalition in the House of Representatives. This provided the necessary political and logistical framework to the impeachment campaign.

At the end, only three senator-judges (Senator Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Senator Joker Arroyo, and Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago) voted for acquittal. They all based themselves on the legal interpretation of the Constitution and pertinent laws provided by the defense and on their own opinion that the quantum of evidence did not support the verdict of impeachment. They would even accept the defense accusation of a persecution of CJ Corona by the Aquino administration.

As such, their position basically is a political position. While Senators Arroyo and Defensor-Santiago are at the end of their respective political careers, Senator Marcos runs the risk of a backlash in his own young political career.

The vote for impeachment, though a touch-and-go affair for a major part of the process, rapidly solidified into a decisive one after the CJ Corona walkout. He never recovered after.

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The Senate of the Philippines, acting as an impeachment tribunal, found Chief Justice Renato Corona guilty, by a vote of 20-3, of committing “culpable violations of the Constitution and/or betrayed the public trust when he failed to disclose to the public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth as required under Section 17, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution.” It therefore accepted Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment as valid.

We thus ended a historic full impeachment process and an impeachable official of the Republic was removed from his post. Only the official ceremonies remain.

The Corona impeachment is a big boost to the Aquino administration’s campaign against grand corruption and for transparency and accountability in government.

First, all of us, including particularly the government officials, realized the power of the SALN–they cannot anymore hide their wealth from the people. It also brightens the prospect of passing the Freedom of Information bill.

Second, the prospect is clear for cleaning up the judiciary of decades-old problems of corruption, influence-peddling, and syndicated justice . This, in itself, will be a lasting achievement of the Aquino administration.

Third, the road is now more open to pursuance of the cases against the key officials and cronies of the previous Macapagal-Arroyo administration. The impeachment will have a chilling effect on those who are guilty of various crimes in the past administration.

Fourth, the voters are now given a clear criteria of “truthful declaration of SALN” for voting into office people of integrity and an effective instrument for accountability of all public officials.

The total effect of the Corona impeachment is a solid vote of the people and their representatives for democratic good governance. The wheels for a stronger Philippine democracy is now turning more rapidly.

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The closing arguments of both the prosecution and the defense in the case of People of the Philippines vs. Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona shows the diverging strategies both pursued. As expected, scant attention was spent on Articles 3 and 7 and the arguments revolved around Article 2. Which of these strategies will the senator-judges base their votes?

The prosecution evidently went for the jugular. Saying that the evidence for Article 2 showed that CJ Corona admitted owning properties, bank accounts and other assets amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos, and that he also admitted that he willfully did not enter these in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). Therefore, there is a substantive betrayal of public trust sufficient to remove him as a Chief Justice and justice of the Supreme Court.

In addition, it stressed CJ Corona lied and acted well below the standards set for members of the judiciary, much more as justice and chief justice of the Supreme Court.

The defense, in turn, did not dispute the facts but provided legal and presumably “good faith” reasons for CJ Corona to have such huge assets and to fail to include these in his SALN. They invoke their own (and CJ Corona’s) interpretation of the law. First, CJ Corona did not enter his money in dollar accounts in his SALN because the Foreign Currency Deposit Law has an “absolute” ban on disclosure of dollar accounts and that his PhP80 million in peso accounts are “commingled” or mixed with money from his relatives. All these, the defense and CJ Corona say, were decided by the latter “in good faith” as he understands the law (in case of dollar accounts) or did not understand the accounting rules (in case of peso accounts).

The main problem of the defense is the incredibility of the given reasons–they only appeared as excuses, or as Cong. Fariñas pointed out, only “palusot”. The FCDU law only prohibits the banks and third parties, not the depositor himself, from disclosing the content of the dollar account. The commingling of funds is normally reported in any financial statement–as statement of assets and liabilities–and CJ Corona cannot be excused because he once was reportedly the head of the legal team of Sycip, Gorres and Velayo, the number one accounting firm in the country.

At the conclusion of the session, Senate President Enrile intriguingly posited a question on the meaning of “culpa” as in the phrase “culpable violation of the Constitution.” Here, he insinuates that there may exist a basis not only for the charge of betrayal of public trust but also for culpable violation of the Constitution.

CJ Corona, I think, failed to convince the Senate Impeachment Court and the public. Tomorrow’s vote is certainly interesting.

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In today’s resumption of the testimony of Chief Justice Renato Corona before the Impeachment Court, he made a complete turnaround. From a stance of combative defiance, seeming arrogance, and glib disregard of facts and court procedures, he portrayed contriteness, reconciliation, and  openness.

He and his wife had a very public reconciliation with the children and kin of Jose Basa, whom he called “a spoiled brat” in his opening statement. Then he announced his waiver on the permission to open his dollar account, this time without any condition. Then, he reiterated his reason of “good faith” in not including US$2.4 million in these dollar accounts because of the belief that the FCDU law prevents him from doing so.

He thus tried very hard to erase whatever negative impression and actual substantive evidence against him in the matter of Article 2 of the Article of Impeachment. Will he succeed?

It will largely depend on his ability to convince both the senator-judges (at least 8 of them) and the majority of the public on his character, innocence, and fitness for the post of the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

It is still a very uphill battle for him and he may already be struggling against final conclusions by the senators (or at least a majority of them) and by the large majority of the public. His last-minute humility can only be construed as a product of desperation, within the context of the horrendous negativity brought by his walkout last Tuesday.

Humility, then, can be seen as false (from a skeptical point of view) or sincere (from a resigned-to-his-fate point of view). The problem of CJ Corona is that it came too late.

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The walkout by Chief Justice Renato Corona, the alleged hypoglycemia ailment, and eventually the ICU observation in Medical City led, at the least, to his non-appearance in the following sessions of the impeachment court. He thus avoided examination of his marathon opening  statement.

At the moment, his lead defense lawyer, former justice Serafin Cuevas, has assured the impeachment court that his client will attend tomorrow’s session–CJ Corona’s last chance to undergo questioning on his testimony. The court will vote either this Monday or Tuesday.

Essentially, his rambling, emotional and bitter statements points to a realization that he may not get the necessary votes for his acquittal. However, it also points to the possibility that he is laying the ground for claiming that his constitutional rights have not been observed and that the Senate, acting as an impeachment court, has gone beyond or is in excess of its jurisdiction. Thus, he can go to the Supreme Court to try to get a Temporary Restraining Order (if there is as yet no vote) or to appeal (if the vote goes against him).

CJ Corona, in these instances, will be courting a constitutional crisis if the Supreme Court acted favorably for him. I doubt if the Senate will indulge the latter this time.

So the bet now: Will the “Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines” appear or not  in tomorrow’s session of the Senate Impeachment Court? Your guess is as good as Cuevas’ own.

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