Posts Tagged ‘GMA’

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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Senate President Enrile, as presiding  judge of the impeachment court, made a ruling–within the context of Article 3 of the Complaint for Impeachment–to the effect that the court will not entertain the testimony of a key witness, PAL Vice-President for Sales Enrique Javier. the ground  he cited was that the testimony is beyond the subject matter of the said article in its allegation of “bribery” which is a separate item in the constitutional bases for impeachment. Article 3 alleges only the charge of “culpable violations of the constitution” and betrayal of public trust.

This basically slams the door in the face of further presentation by the prosecution of their evidence–at least on Article 3. This is so since the core argument is the presentation of specific incidents where Chief Justice Corona “failed to meet and observe the stringent standards under Art. VIII, Section 7 (3) of the Constitution that provides that ‘[A] member of the judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.'” This led to the cutting short of the trial on Article 3, and the prosecution manifested their decision to rest their case in regard to this article, based only on the testimony of one witness and corresponding documents.

This decision by the Senate President has pushed the situation dangerously close to the crisis situation of the “second envelope” in the impeachment case of former president Erap Estrada. Together with the 13-10 decision of the impeachment court honoring the Supreme Court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) on the opening of CJ Corona’s dollar account, this decision–apparently supported by the majority of the senator-judges–may easily be seen by the public as the hiding of important and relevant information.

My own opinion on why there is not much reaction yet from the public is that there is an apparent conclusion being drawn already by many, if not the majority, that the information thus far shown in court, specifically his SALN, the peso bank deposits and the owned properties is already enough to convict CJ Corona of the charge under Article 2. The situation has already shifted from one of gathering the critical mass of evidence to one of making a conclusion (or voting) on the basis of the currently-available evidence.

This situation puts the Senate sitting as an impeachment court in a quandary. On one hand, if it cannot end immediately the proceedings and put the matter to a vote, the public impatience may build up and overwhelm the proceedings, possibly inviting the undermining of its own credibility and standing. On the other hand, if it ends the process now, it runs the risk of being depicted as unfair or partial in any decision it may vote for.

A number of senator-judges, maybe a majority already, recognized this. Within the context of the upcoming elections and the political nature of the impeachment process, there appears no viable reason to go through all the articles and eventually vote. The point here is: Vote now and vote later, there appears to be little difference in the outcome if there is already a conclusion drawn by a critical number of senator-judges.

It is an interesting situation that needs a political solution.

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It was a card too tempting not to play. The GMA camp behind Chief Justice Corona played it starting last Sunday with the defense press conference on alleged Malacañang 100-million peso bribery of individual senator-judges of the impeachment court. Then, a widely-publicized possible motion for inhibition of Senators Drilon, Pangilinan, and Guingona–a motion which had a thinly-veiled accusation of bias by LP senators. Then, CJ Corona himself came out with a supplement to his SC petition naming LP senators as biased against him. Now, the GMA media machinery churned out the real agenda–it accused the LP of the whole impeachment plot.

Not the President, mind you, despite the almost-universal opinion on the matter. The Liberal Party, it is, according to spinmasters of the former president. The motive? To replace CJ Corona with Justice Antonio Carpio, who, it is claimed, favors erstwhile vice-presidential candidate Mar Roxas in his protest against Vice-President Jejomar Binay before the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

Incredulous as it may seem to an ordinary political observer, it is a viable card to play because of the sensitivity of the parties involved in the electoral dispute. In fact, it is only the President that can bring the two camps together. As the 2013 national and local elections nears and the 2016 presidential election increasingly becomes the overarching factor in every political calculation, the Binay-Roxas rivalry is coming to the fore.

The GMA camp wants to fish in troubled water. The Corona impeachment, without doubt a presidential  initiative within the broader anti-corruption pledge he made, is seen by them as a golden opportunity to do so. There is a definite drive by them to prolong, extend or delay the impeachment proceedings.

It seems that the Binay camp is taking the bait. The 13-10 senate vote on the opening of the Corona dollar account puts Binay-aligned senators on the opposite side of the LP-aligned senators. If the president cannot make his agenda paramount among his allies, then the possibility of a Corona acquittal looms large.

The GMA ploy will fail, not so much because there is no fertile ground for this type of an intrigue but because the people will reject it. The Binay card is a fruit of discord. Alongside the legal ploy to transfer impeachment jurisdiction to the GMA-controlled Supreme Court, it is the political ploy calculated to seize the political initiative.

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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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So, we arrived at last at the Show, er, the Philippine Senate convened as an impeachment court. Along the way, lost opportunities, false pretenses, showbiz posturings littered the way. A sideshow–even if it has the dynamics of its own–to the main political battle between the Aquino administration and the former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Even as the impeachment has legal rules and is mandated by the Constitution, yet it cannot be denied that it is essentially a political process. This is starkly underlined in the impeachment trial of SC Chief Justice Renato Corona. 23 senators, of whom only nine are lawyers, will decide whether he is still fit to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court.

All the 23 senators will decide on the basis of their individual appreciation of the evidence, sense of justice, and requirements of the position. Without admitting, all of them will have one eye on the public pulse–their national constituency–and on the political will of the Chief Executive. Of course, also without admitting it, they know they themselves and the Senate as an institution are also in trial.

Inevitably, the need to restore (or affirm, if the Corona camp is to be believed) the faith and trust in the impartiality, dignity and honor of the Supreme Court will become paramount. This suggests–even demands–that the decision will be political.

Again, this is not in the sense of partisan political alignments–though this will have its own influence. It is political because it addresses not the legal bases and ramifications of the process but the institutional and policy imperatives of democratic governance.

I think, at the end of the day, the senator-judges will realize that they have very few options–and all of these are political. Meanwhile, the Show will go on…

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Wherever we are in the political spectrum, it cannot be denied that 2011 was a year defined politically by President Benigno Aquino III. It was the year which started with some nervousness from the people themselves who elected him to power. The question, of course, was his competence for presidency.

The first six months of his term  was a so-so period when the newness to the post showed itself in various ways: his anti-poverty policies were at one time termed simplistic, his handling of the Luneta incident termed amateurish, and his various Executive Orders termed legally weak. However, it was a genuine learning curve that the people accepted.

Going into 2011, the nervousness was beginning to show–with the surveys showing a downward spiral. Though still high, it would seem to reach a critical level by end-2011. Opposition and critics had a field day feasting on an “amateur president” presiding over a “student council” of a cabinet. There were attempts to stir up trouble in the military and the hack media made a killing from the funders of destabilization.

All for naught. At the end of 2011, the surveys showed the President regaining the high level of popular support that won him the landslide in 2010. Now, his programs are holding their ground, particularly the pledge to combat corruption and prosecute the “big fishes” of the Arroyo administration who figured in major cases in the past decade. GMA and Abalos are in jail, Palparan is on the run, Gutierrez is out of the Ombudsman office, and SC Chief Justice Corona has been impeached.

It is not a coincidence that people have high hopes for the new year, a high 95% according to SWS survey. It is the expectation for better governance and a better life in the coming year under the Aquino government.

2011 was the year Aquino proved his political will, backed up by a huge popular support from the sovereign people. The entire spectrum of political forces in the country has taken note of it and are acting accordingly. 2012 will prove whether he knows how to wield the awesome power of his political position in the greater interests of the whole nation and people.

2012 will be an interesting political year.

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