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Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

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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As expected, Chief Justice Renato Corona addressed the key issues against him in relation to his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN). In so doing, he confirmed some key facts thus far unearthed by the prosecutors.

He also tried to obfuscate the issue against him by enlarging the context, squarely placing the impeachment within the context of his larger counter-charges against President Aquino. First, he accused the latter of persecution and vengeance because of the SC decision on the Hacienda Luisita case. Second, he accused the Left, particularly the Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Secretary Ronald Llamas, of virtually taking over the administration. Third, he accused the administration, through the prosecution, the other members of the Basa-Guidote clan, surveys, and some media people, of undertaking a campaign of lies and deception against him.

Among the key facts he confirmed are: 1) his ownership of several properties and presence of peso and dollar bank accounts (including the AMLC report); and 2) that he did not enter these into his SALN. However, he based his own defense on two points: 1) that the assets mentioned are small compared to the accusations; and 2) that there are valid reasons why he did not put them in his SALN, specifically because some of these are not his but that of others in his family, including the BGEI company. He also cited the absolute nature of dollar accounts that includes no obligation to put these in his SALN. In brief, he says he is innocent of all charges. He also asserted his fitness for the office and that this is not a basis for impeachment.

As a dramatic gesture, he signed a waiver for the opening of his bank accounts and other records of his assets. He thus threw the gauntlet to his detractors.

We now have his can of worms. Is this a fearless last stand or is there a political scenario building behind our backs?

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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 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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Chief Justice Renato Corona, interviewed just recently, revealed that he is prepared to account–to the “last centavo”– for his accounts, properties, and other assets that the impeachment prosecution unearthed. He further said, he will disclose his dollar accounts in due time and the time is when the defense has its turn. Lastly, he affirmed that he is willing to testify personally before the impeachment court.

On its face, his pronouncements exude the image of a confident defendant, with nothing to hide, and prepared to dispute every charge alleged against him. Unfortunately, a careful assessment of the same interview presents a different view of the Chief Justice. It only portrayed, in advance, the plausible defense strategy. On the other hand, it may well be a trial balloon, even a red herring.

First, he avoided the main issue in Article 2 of the impeachment complaint, that is, 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.” He also failed to offer his explanation or defense for Articles 3 and 7. In relation to Article 2, his explanations, possibly foreshadowing a defense strategy (or analysis of the most damaging accusation), dealt at length on the legitimacy of acquiring his wealth. Ironically, this is relevant insofar as Section 2.4 of Article 2 is concerned–the charge of ill-gotten wealth. This was already set aside by the impeachment court.

Second, he responded to news reports of his alleged misdeeds in relation to the affairs of the Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc., the family corporation of his wife’s family. It is one of the most problematic part of his defense, insofar as he claims that the major part of his bank account come from the BGEI funds and not from his own funds. A trace of nervousness seems to hang in the air here.

Third, the interview itself can be interpreted within the context of influencing public opinion and not strictly as preparations for the defense. Despite arduous efforts by the Arroyo camp to portray a big shift in public opinion in Corona’s favor, it is evident that the situation here has not budged much and he faces a tough battle to change the prevailing negative public opinion.

In a sense, his interview is a desperate attempt to prevent a possible guilty verdict, especially after the unanimous vote (20 for, none against, 3 absent) of the impeachment court to accept the evidence of the bank accounts. In a political impeachment process, his is an uphill battle.

Next week, we will see how the defense actually tries to wriggle out of  trap that the bank accounts laid for CJ Corona. We will also see how the senator-judges have already made their own appreciation of the facts laid out before them.

The bank accounts can very well end the impeachment, for better or for worse.

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Chief prosecutor Congressman Niel Tupas, Jr. formally announced that the prosecution will not anymore pursue Articles 1, 4, 5, 6, and 8 and it will rest its case based only on Articles 2, 3, and 7. A phase has therefore ended and the next phase of the defense presentation will also be a short one. The senator-judges, I think, have already their individual decisions.

The situation is dicey, whatever the court decision will turn out to be. There are three possibilities: one, the vote is two-thirds or more for impeachment; two, the vote is less than two-thirds but still a majority for impeachment; and, three, the majority vote is against impeachment.

The first possibility will mean an outright victory for the Aquino administration and for the majority public opinion. It will start off a reform trend in the judiciary and strengthen the institution. However, it will also sharpen the infighting within the ruling coalition as all parties tries to maneuver and influence the president’s choice for the post of the Chief Justice and the direction of further changes in the Supreme Court.

The second possibility will lead to a nebulous ending that will only ignite a sharp political struggle involving the presidency, congress and the judiciary. In a sense this will be worse for it can led to a debilitating political combat that may well weaken all three branches of government and will put the 2013 elections in the context of the political combat. It may also precipitate a corresponding mobilization of the people on various sides of the conflict.

The third possibility will mean a defeat of the administration in the Senate. It will invite various opposition groups to renew their political offensives against the Aquino administration. It will also signal an end to the ruling coalition this early. The combat will be especially bitter and, inevitably, people will be drawn into it. It may be a full-blown political crisis.

The key group to watch, of course, are the senator-judges. They missed the boat once–particularly in interpreting the public mood. Many among them are keen to make sure they do not miss it again but there are others who want to fish in troubled waters.

The water is not clear in this regard. They nevertheless brought us to a political precipice.

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