Posts Tagged ‘Philippine Human Rights’

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 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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Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona filed a petition for certiorari and for a temporary restraining order (TRO) before his own court against the impeachment court that currently tries him. With this, he exposed a desperation unprecedented in shamelessness. It also puts into stark relief the whole issue against him: Is he still fit to be a justice of the Supreme Court? The only logical answer that the Senate impeachment court can give is NO.

So far, despite his experienced defense lawyers, it has come out that he lied in his constitutionally-required Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN), accumulated properties and bank deposits worth tens of millions of pesos during his term as associate justice, and is in no position to account for this wealth based on his and his wife’s income. In itself, this may be seen already in the eyes of ordinary people as a betrayal of public trust.

The ploy to transfer the arena from the Senate to the Supreme Court is in itself self-serving. It defies the very constitutional logic of the impeachment process and gives Corona, who had not taken a leave of absence from his position of Chief Justice, a leverage to twist the process and result of the impeachment trial to his own advantage.

There is no other recourse for the Senate but to conclude as soon as possible the impeachment court, ignore the Supreme Court decisions, if any, that attempts to stop or otherwise meddle in its processes, and render swift and fair judgment on Corona’s fitness for office.

Corona is provoking a constitutional crisis. The Senate impeachment court should not let him do it. Otherwise, the people may do it instead. Then, there may be a political crisis.

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The Corona impeachment trial is entering its third week. In that time, both the prosecution and the defense have shown their mettle. To be fair to the prosecution, they were dogged in their determination to maintain a steady pace of uncovering and presenting their evidence and witnesses. To be sure, they got whipped in the trial procedures and legal points.

The defense capitalized on this. At every turn, particularly through former Justice Serafin Cuevas, it never failed to do a lecture on proper court procedures, rules of court, and rules of evidence. The prosecution generally fail to see through the trap, arguing futilely for “liberal” interpretation of these rules and procedures. The Senate, on its part, has vacillated between allowing the testimonies and accepting the evidences and a strict application of these rules, according to the defense.

The dilemma of both the prosecution and the senator-judges is this: Where to you draw the line between judicial framework and the impeachment framework, particularly when the latter is a sui generis case (a case in its own category)?

The defense is sure of its strategy, and that is, to use every rule in the judicial book in order to prevent the acceptance of testimonies and evidences. To do so, it continually invokes the rules, criteria, and standards of a criminal case, which requires proof beyond reasonable doubt.

The prosecution, on the other hand, seems to rely on making sure that its facts are aired in public and in open court and not necessarily to be accepted by the court. This is, of course, in consonance with the basic assertion that an impeachment court is only for the determination of the fitness of the accused for the public office which he or she occupies.

In this case, Chief Justice Renato Corona has a triple handicap.

First, the impeachment process by reason of its being a sui generis type, may not necessarily use the judicial rules, including the rules of evidence and even jurisprudence on this matter. The tendency, in fact, is to relax the rules in order to get at the facts of the case.

Second, the sensitive nature of the position held by the Chief Justice (and other SC justices)–akin to a referee in a sports game–requires much higher standards than the other impeachable officials. Here, the oft-said standards is of “Caesar’s wife”–meaning, cannot even be suspected of indiscreet behavior, hint of partiality, or loss of integrity.

Third, CJ Corona is deeply unpopular with the public, with survey ratings showing him consistently in the negative since his very controversial appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In fact, he is the only one among the chief justices who has this rating since the survey on this matter started. In this regard, the IBP board and court employee support do not count as much.

In a political setting of a Senate trial by senator-judges–many of whom are non-lawyers–the defense faces an uphill battle. Getting at the facts would necessarily trump court brilliance.

The one thing that can trump the facts is the political vote by a critical number of senator judges. Political vote in this case refer to various political scenarios dependent on the larger political considerations such as the 2013 and 2016 elections, popularity of President Aquino, economic crisis, and governance problems.

For the defense and CJ Corona, obviously delaying the proceedings open the possibility of this political vote–in their favor. Otherwise, when the time comes, the facts will become decisive in the Senate vote–possibly with a favorable political climate in favor of the vote.

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