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.