Last Monday, Fr. Joaquin Bernas posited questions for the Senate to answer in connection with the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona. Reading his questions closely, I realized that what he raised were, in reality, grounds why he believes the Senate should dismiss the Articles of Impeachment. It becomes imperative thus, for believers in the rule of law, to address each of the questions raised by the Jesuit.
Article 1 (on partiality and subservience to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo)
a. May the Senate review the Court’s decision (in De Castro v JBC)?
Answer: Yes, insofar as it may impact on the resolution of the chief justice’s fitness to remain in office for accepting an appointment which is contrary to the language and intent of the constitution and hence, immoral and unjust. This much Bernas has previously written: “Any person who accepted the post of Chief Justice from Mrs. Arroyo would open himself or herself to impeachment by the next Congress.”
b. Is it illegitimate to assume that the votes of Corona represented independent judgment?
Answer: Yes. Given his voting record in favor of Arroyo and his very close personal and professional relationship with her, it is indeed illegitimate to assume that his decisions represented independent judgment.
Article 2 (on the non-disclosure of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth):
a. The command on making assets and liabilities public is qualified by the clause “in the manner provided by law.” Is there a law providing the manner and did Corona violate it?
Answer: Yes, the manner is provided in Republic Act 6713. The law provides: that it shall be “made available for inspection at reasonable hours” and “shall be made available for copying or reproduction after ten (10) working days from the time they are filed as required by law”. Corona, furthermore, had the duty as Chief Justice, to establish compliance procedures for the SALN requirement.
c. What evidence will be presented on the alleged illegally acquired property?
Answer: A picture of one such property was published in the newspapers.
Article 3 (on lack of competence, probity and integrity)
a. Is the flip-flopping of the Court in collegial decisions attributable to Corona alone or to a body struggling to arrive at justice? Did Corona himself flip-flop?
b. Is the Court prohibited from modifying prior decisions or doctrines?
Answer: The real question as stated in the House Reply is this: Did he do anything, as the constitutional and moral leader of the Supreme Court, to prevent or even discourage the never-ending change in the purportedly final decisions of the Supreme Court? No, the Court can change its prior decisions. But this requires changed circumstances -which were lacking in the cases of flip-flopping identified in the impeachment complaint.
c. When and by whom was Mrs. Corona appointed to John Hay Management Corporation? Is a husband obliged to compel his wife to turn down an appointment? Or did he try to dissuade her at all? Or was he overruled by the wife?
d. Can a husband be made answerable for acts of the wife?
Answer: Under the circumstances mentioned in the Complaint, the appointment of Mrs. Corona was inappropriate. Best proof of this was when she herself resigned after Corona became Chief Justice. Why should an appointment be appropriate when the spouse was an Associate Justice and why should it become inappropriate after he has become CJ? Truth is, it was inappropriate full stop. It was inappropriate because the appointment of a spouse of a Justice to a government-owned and -controlled corporation as a form of a political dole is wrong .
e. Will Justice Carpio be asked to testify about the alleged lobbying about pending cases?
Answer: I would hope to. Truth will set the nation free
Article 4 ( on the disregard for separation of powers in the Gutierrez case)
What can be made of the fact that the status quo ante order was a resolution of eight justices? How did Corona vote on the later reversal of the status quo ante order?
Article 5 (on wanton arbitrariness and disregard of the principle of res judicata)
a. Were not the League of Cities case and the Dinagat case collegial decisions upholding acts of Congress? Were the laws involved statutory responses of Congress to the people as “master” as against the greed of the League of Cities?
b. Was not the Fasap (Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines) decision also collegial?
Common Answer: Again, what is being impugned as betrayal of public trust are the individual actions of the Chief Justice in these cases. As emphasized in the Reply, it is, however, without prejudice to impeaching the other justices who disregarded the principle of res judicata.
c. Is the Supreme Court powerless to look into the activities of its members (e.g., plagiarism) especially if it involves things that might affect the reputation of the Court?
Answer: No, when the matter falls within the original jurisdiction of the Court such as bar and other administrative matters. It has, however, no jurisdiction to deal with impeachable offenses, such as plagiarism, and certainly not in a manner that would preclude Congress from exercising its powers to initiate and decide on impeachment cases.
d. Was not the creation of new districts in Camarines Sur done by Congress, the representative of the people?
Answer: Yes, but what is being questioned is the individual vote of the Chief Justice in the case which impugned precisely the constitutionality and legality of the law creating a new district to favor a presidential son.
e. Who decides the application of the principle of proportionality (or “one man, one vote”) in the size of districts?
Answer: It is law that defines proportionality. Aquino in his case argued that the legal requirements were not met.
Article 7 (on the temporary restraining order allowing Mrs. Arroyo and her husband Mike to escape prosecution)
a. The constitutionality of the restriction on the right to travel through a Department of Justice circular on hold-departure orders is pending before the Court, with the decision expected after New Year. Should the Senate preempt the Supreme Court decision?
Answer: The questioned TRO almost made the issue moot. It was hence the Arroyo Court itself that preempted its own decision on the merits when it issued the restraining order.
b. What is the import, if any, of the existence of a House bill and a Senate bill disempowering the DOJ?
Answer: None whatsoever. They are mere pending bills and have not become law
c. The continuing effectivity of the TRO has been affirmed by the Supreme Court. What power does the Senate have over it?
Answer: It is relevant on the issue of partiality of the Chief Justice in favor of Mrs. Arroyo. Certainly, the dissenting opinions of Justices Lourdes Sereno and Antonio Carpio prove anomalies and irregularities in the promulgation of the questioned restraining order.
Article 8 (on the refusal to account for the Judicial Development Fund).
a. Involved in this is the interpretation of the extent of fiscal autonomy of the Court. What is the jurisprudence on this? Will the Senate apply or depart from existing jurisprudence on the subject?
Answer: No branch or agency of government is immune from fiscal accountability. Fiscal accountability is not synonymous with impunity for malversation of public funds.