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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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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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