Buencamino is a fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was first published in Interaksyon.com on February 9, 2012.
Corona cannot accept discounted penthouses, discounted diplomas and free legal services. They are prohibited under Rule 504. – Rene Saguisag
Last December, impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona said he would answer the charges against him point by point. Bring it on, right? But so far, instead of answering the charges, his lawyers have objected to practically every land title and mis-declared SALN (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth) the prosecution has tried to present.
The defense strategy has been to prevent battled-tested private prosecutors from arguing points of law and limiting them to direct examination of witnesses; convincing senator-judges that the headings of the articles of impeachment are the substance of the charge; and that the bar of impeachment should be raised above and beyond anyone’s reach.
Free legal services are gifts prohibited under Rule 504 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Republic Act No. 6713, and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and so the man’s pro bono lawyers are crystal clear proof that he lacks the quality to sit even as a judge at the lowest levels of the judiciary.
Of course, pro bono lawyers are not included in the articles of impeachment. How could they be? The articles were written before Corona accepted free services from high-priced lawyers who, if they do not have any cases pending before his court now, will surely have one or more in the foreseeable future.
However, I hope the senator-judges take note of the pro bono lawyers because the real issue in this entire messy affair is the integrity of the Court and whether keeping Corona helps the institution and the country as well.
Corona can be convicted on the basis of his mis-declared SALNs but pro bono defense counsel Cuevas argues, “if there may have been discrepancies, inaccuracies, incompleteness…(in his SALNs) these can be remedied after a review of the SALN is made. If it’s not intentional your honor, no criminal liability nor administrative liability is incurred by the filing official. The law of the matter is very clear.”
Year after year after year? Any remedy after all those years of discrepancies, inaccuracies, incompleteness already qualifies as “doctoring” one’s SALN and as everybody knows correcting and doctoring do not mean the same thing. One is perfectly legal while the latter is reason enough to remove a justice from the Court.
Maybe that’s why stealth defense counsel Joker Arroyo wanted to know if mis-declared SALNs rise to the level of an impeachable complaint. However, I think the more honest question would be, is it okay for a Chief Justice to continue to hold office despite the fact that he lied about his assets and liabilities?
Once upon a time I thought rather naively that “Kung bad ka lagot ka (If you’re bad, you’re finished)” was Joker’s slogan. Now I know it is “Kung bad ka, sagot kita (If you’re bad, I’ve got you covered).”
Why are Corona’s pro bono lawyers opposing the subpoena for his bank accounts? Corona did say he can explain everything, didn’t he? There is no need to play hide and seek. Volunteer to open all bank accounts for examination.
And what’s this bugaboo about bank runs if the absolute secrecy of foreign currency deposits is breached? That spin is a confession that the Philippines has adopted a policy of selling the country as a haven for dirty money.
Then there is the supposed problem about the separation of powers if justices and other court employees are asked to testify on Corona’s role in certain decisions. How will the Senate judge the allegations about Corona’s partiality if Corona will prevent testimony and documentary evidence? There is no dangerous precedent being set with a subpoena other than that testimony in an impeachment trial should be permitted if such testimony is necessary for the truth to come out. Is that such a bad precedent? Since when did the search for truth undermine democracy?
There is one other defense line that I do not understand. Corona keeps citing the collegial nature of Supreme Court decisions. If that is the case then why did he boast about his role in the Hacienda Luisita decision? “Malaki akong hadlang sa mga nagnanais na hindi maipamahagi ang lupain sa Hacienda Luisita (I am a big obstacle to those who desire to prevent the distribution of Hacienda Luisita).” How can one lonely inconsequential vote become a big obstacle? That boast about Hacienda Luisita contradicts the collegiality defense.
Corona’s entire defense, including the pro bono lawyers and saying one thing before the trial and doing the opposite at the trial, are proof enough that he is not fit to sit in the Supreme Court, more so as Chief Justice. What more does the Senate need to remove him?