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Archive for the ‘Philippine Human Rights’ Category

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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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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The ongoing testimony of “hostile witness” Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales is a damning one. She pointed that the report of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) on Chief Justice Renato Corona’s foreign currency bank accounts exposed 82 accounts in 5 banks with 705 transactions, worth nothing less than US$10 million. The amount is separate from US$12 million in “fresh” new deposits.

This is the smoking gun evidence prosecutors have been waiting for. The Corona Supreme Court had issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the impeachment court on precisely these accounts. However, the Ombudsman investigation circumvented the TRO by citing its constitutional power to investigate even impeachable officials and to ask  other government agencies–in this case the AMLC–in the investigation.

The Senate Impeachment Court allowed the AMLC report to be submitted as evidence and unanimously voted for it to be presented publicly in an easier manner through a Powerpoint presentation. The AMLC report (and the Ombudsman-COA analysis) simply portrays an individual who is using the foreign currency facility to transact big-money activities, obviously benefiting from the facility’s legally-guaranteed security and secrecy features.

This does not bode well for the Chief Justice and it will be very, very difficult to explain how such a huge amount of nearly half-billion pesos came into his possession during his stay at the Supreme Court from 2003 to the present. It is important to note that the Constitution prohibits senior government officials from getting a second job, a private practice, or second source of regular income while in office.

To all intents and purposes, the prosecution case is made, and, unless the defense can come up with a quick, impressively persuasive testimony to dispel or refute the Ombudsman testimony, the impeachment verdict may already be decided by individual senator-judges. Certainly, there is no doubt of the public opinion on this.

Ombudsman Carpio-Morales has given CJ Corona his crown of thorns. There is even doubt if his personal testimony will suffice to undo the damaging testimony. However, he has no more option left: Either he resigns or he testifies to make his explanations.

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The Supreme Court–in an 8-6 decision–decided to have the Cojuangcos paid only PhP 196.6 million as compensation for the distribution of a major portion of Hacienda Luisita. The minority opted for referring the matter to a special agrarian court. Those who voted for the majority postion are Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Jr., Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama, Jr., Jose Perez, and Jose Mendoza. Those who voted for the minority position are Associate Justices Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano Del Castillo, and Pres. Aquino’s 3 appointees: Maria Lourdes Sereno, Bienvenido Reyes, and Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

On its face, the farmers won this round. They will get the land and will pay a smaller amount to the government for it. However, there still several hurdles they need to overcome:

One, the probable motion for reconsideration by the Cojuangcos;

Two, the inevitable problem of developing the land; and

Three, the wherewithals to pay the government.

The situation is complicated because of the highly-charged politics around the issue. One thing that should be done is for the Aquino government to firmly exercise political will to execute the SC decision and help the farmers face the problems.

How it will handle this case will impact on its whole agrarian reform policy and program even as it will be a prism for judgment on Aquino’s promise to ensure that, under his term, the people will enjoy the full benefits of democracy.

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The impeachment defense team of Chief Justice Corona may not be that aware but it already faces a disaster in a hitherto-peripheral issue that may well constitute an entirely new impeachment article in itself. This has to do with the Basa-Guidote case and comes in a neat, old but perfectly credible nun called Sister Flory.

Sister Flory Basa, 90 years old, is the last surviving sibling and one of the last surviving original stockholders of Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc. (BGEI), the family corporation where Cristina Roco-Corona, CJ Corona’s wife served as administrator. She basically refuted all assertions so far by CJ Corona on the alleged BGEI funds deposited in his accounts, the authority of his wife to dispose of BGEI assets, and the state of affairs in BGEI and the Basa-Guidote clan itself.

In doing so, she brought to the fore the key relevant question: Did lawyer-husband and chief justice Rene Corona rendered justice in the BGEI case and did he demonstrated probity, integrity, and honesty in handling himself in relation to the Basa-Guidote clan and the case itself?

If the version of events and analysis of Sister Flory and Ana Basa (her niece) in relation to CJ Corona’s behavior in relation to BGEI, to the alleged BGEI funds in his accounts, and to the rest of the Basa-Guidote clan cannot be effectively refuted by the defense, then the ironical situation will emerge–that of the public opinion hardening for the impeachment of CJ Corona and the senator-judges possibly voting for it. It is the height of irony that–though the vote will be on the three extant articles of impeachment–at the back of the mind of all the voting senator-judges will be a “fourth article” of the Basa-Guidote case.

To be sure, what has been damaged here–possibly beyond repair–was CJ Corona’s campaign from day one to portray himself as the underdog under attack from a powerful and vengeful president Aquino. The Basa-Guidote case portrayed a reversal of role–that of a powerful and greedy Malacañang official, and later the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, oppressing and bullying a hapless family out of their wealth and inheritance.

I don’t know who will vote for him. Certainly, it will be a risky political proposition.

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In the midst of the testimony of Philippine Savings Bank president Pascual Garcia III, the Supreme Court granted his bank’s petition for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the disclosure of SC Chief Justice Renato Corona’s dollar accounts. In an 8-5 decision with 2 abstentions, the SC invoked RA 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposit Act of 1974 (as amended by PD 1035 and PD 1246), a Marcos-era law absolutely prohibiting the disclosure of FCDU accounts without the consent of the depositor.

Thus, two schools of thoughts or doctrines will be tested in the coming week. One, is the constitutionally mandated Senate impeachment court with “sole power” to try impeachment cases subject to the jurisdiction of or is it superior to the Supreme Court in its own jurisdiction? Two, does a law–decreed by dictator Marcos no less–have an absolute application and not subject anymore to any interpretation or exception, particularly by a constitutionally-mandated sui generis impeachment court.

In the first case, any weakness by the impeachment court by accepting, to any degree, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court can fatally undermine its own jurisdiction and will open the door to more SC intervention. This includes the possibility of the SC stopping the impeachment trial altogether as what is prayed for by a separate petition for certiorari and TRO filed by no less than CJ Corona in his own court.

In the second case, acceptance of the absoluteness of any law, in this case the FCDU act, will also undermine the jurisdiction and even the capability of the impeachment court to fulfill its mandate  of determining whether or not an impeachable public official is still fit to hold office. An impeachment process implies the fullest use of state power to get at the truth precisely because the impeachable official is in a position to use the power of his office to derail the search for truth. What this implies, in turn, is that the impeachment court–when it is convened–has only itself to turn to for interpreting its mandate.

In a situation of a divided Supreme Court, with Supreme Court majority decisions being questioned in the impeachment articles, it is dangerous for the impeachment court to allow any interference from this body in its proceedings. In its turn, the Supreme Court TRO exposes the eight justices who signed the order to contempt by the impeachment court at the least. It may, as a possibility, lead to their own impeachment.

It is–as yet–not a constitutional crisis precisely because both sides are still adhering to constitutional processes, albeit with differing interpretations of their respective role and mandate in relation to impeachment. The crisis will arrive when–as a consequence of each one’s decisions–the other side does not recognize the decisions and consequently defy them.

In this situation, the Executive will play the crucial role of choosing whom to recognize and therefore implement the orders, particularly in relation to contempt citations and orders for arrest. Unfortunately, for the Supreme Court majority, they will lose in this battle–it is an open secret that the opposing protagonist in the impeachment trial–despite not directly participating in it–is no less than the President of the Republic.

Will this weaken the Supreme Court as an independent institution? I don’t think so. For what weakened already the credibility of the institution is CJ Corona himself and the majority SC justices appointed by former president Arroyo, whose collective antics have lost the trust of the vast majority of our people in the impartiality, independence, and soundness of the present occupants of the institution.

The charge of the king’s knights only confirmed this. Alas, it is the charge of a light brigade.

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