GUILTY: When the defense acted as prosecutors


The rule is that the prosecution must prove the strength of its case. It cannot rely on the weakness of the defense. But in the historic conviction of Renato C. Corona, it was strangely the defense that ensured that   Corona would be the first officer in Philippines history to be removed from office through impeachment.

The prosecution rested its case solely on Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment, to wit: that he failed to disclose to the public his statement of Statement of Assets, Liability and Net Worth as required under the Constitution. This could have meant either of two things: one, he did not disclose his SALN as required by law; or two, he was not truthful in his declarations thereat.

At the onset of the trial, the prosecution immediately subpoenaed the former CJ’s SALN that it had alleged, and rightfully at that, should have been made public. This means that the prosecution could not have meant to prove that his declarations in the SALN were untruthful precisely because they had not seen them. This was why they wanted Marites Vitug and Harvey Keh to take the witness stand:  to state that they were denied access to these SALNs.

I reckoned that the Congressmen must have thought that the former CJ would go the way of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierres. That is, that he would resign as soon as the articles are filed. But the former CJ did not resign. Confident, perhaps, that the prosecution did not have the goods on him, he opted to wage battle with the prosecutors and Malacañang.

The CJ was right. The prosecution did not have the goods on him. It appears that the prosecution only commenced with its case build-up after the transmittal of the impeachment articles to the Senate.  In fact, they were so excited when the Land Registration Authority provided them with a computer printout of 45 properties allegedly belonging to the former CJ that they run to town with it even before they had the chance to verify the veracity and accuracy of the list.

And for it, they got tremendous flack. While they managed to prove the existence of 11 properties, the damaged has been done. Senators would take turns lambasting them for vilifying the name of the former CJ by revealing raw information to the public rather than to the impeachment court.

After which the prosecution had very little. There was BIR Commissioner Kim Henares who testified that the ex-CJ could not have lawfully acquired his declared property with his declared lawful income alone. But this was declared immaterial because the articles of impeachment did not allege that the ex- CJ amassed ill-gotten wealth.

Then there was the flip-flop in the PAL attendant’s case under Article three. But even if the flip-flop did happen, the Senate was not impressed since this could not be attributable to the CJ alone, the SC being a collegial body. The prosecution then sought to prove that Corona received lots of free trips from PAL through the so-called platinum card. But this too was not allowed. Finally, the prosecution presented Justice Secretary Leila De Lima who unfortunately, did not have personal knowledge on how the former CJ allegedly altered records of court proceedings to make it appear that the majority of the court had already enjoined her from preventing former President GMA from leaving the country. Justice Serreno, in her dissent, claims that this was subject to certain conditions- which had not yet been complied with.

By the time the prosecution had rested, the betting was that the former CJ would be acquitted. But the strangest thing happened: the defense actually picked up the cudgels for the prosecution. First, they summoned Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and enabled her to present to the impeachment court the AMLAC report detailing that the ex-CJ had US$10-12million in bank deposits. Then the defense flip-flopped and contrary to its initial refusal, allowed the CJ to take the stand. In his opus, the ex-CJ proved what the prosecution could not: that he had US$2.4 Million and about 80 Million pesos in deposits, sums which he did not declare in his SALN. The climax was when the former CJ walked-out of the proceedings after his 3 hour monologue. That was the turning point. Even those who were unsure of the CJ’s guilt could not absolve him lest they themselves earn the public ire.

The rest is history. On the basis of both the testimony of the Ombudsman and the former CJ, and courtesy of the latter’s walkout, the  Senate found Corona guilty. Thank goodness for the defense. It did a splendid job for the prosecution!