Corona’s contemptible performance


Like millions of others, I was glued to the television the other day watching Chief Justice Renato Corona testify in his own impeachment trial.

Everything about last Tuesday was dramatic. First, there was his refusal to take the stand. He then relented and agreed to testify after the Ombudsman had detailed Anti-Money Laundering Council documents indicating that the chief justice had at least $12 million in various accounts. Prior to last Tuesday, his counsels and talking heads assured the public that Corona would “tell all” and would expose the malice of the individuals who falsely testified against him.

On the day itself, there was a meticulous script acted out by “B” actors, who now deserve acting awards. There was the traditional mass officiated by religious leaders closely identified with former President Gloria Arroyo, the usual illegal mass action by court officials and employees, and even a hero’s send-off for the embattled Corona.

At the Senate itself, the script was literally visible: a couple of pages of a monologue read out by Corona himself, a major deviation from ordinary court proceedings where witnesses are never allowed to deliver opening statements. This was a very carefully written script. Its writers knew that the opus would be allowed by a court that has repeatedly declared that it would respect the magistrate if and when he takes the stand. More importantly, its writers knew that the people would be watching.

And boy, what a show it turned out to be!

The scripted monologue itself was pathetic. Not only was it very poorly written, it was also bereft of the truth that Corona promised the nation. Half of it was mud thrown at the President, Ronald Llamas, and even Franklin Drilon. The other half was about the dirty laundry of the Basas.  Was Corona unmindful that his own children and wife were members of the same clan? The Senate President repeatedly asked him if he was finished, but he went on with his litany on matters, which were irrelevant and immaterial. And when he finally addressed the issue leveled against him by the Ombudsman, he resorted to a negative pregnant: the Ombudsman was lying but he admits having dollar deposits which according to him, are absolutely confidential and need not be declared in his SALN.

Prior to his appearance, a little known employee of the BIR, of all agencies, which the chief justice himself quoted in his monologue, opined that dollar deposits do not have to be disclosed in the SALN.

After which, he resorted to a conditional waiver of the secrecy of his dollar and pesos deposits, which takes effect only if and when the 188 congressmen who voted to impeach him and Franklin Drilon sign similar waivers. Talk of a cheap trick!

And after an excruciating two hours of vilification and self-pontification, he states that he is the chief justice of the Republic and leaves the stand.

I still can’t decide which was more offensive: his litany of mud or his walkout. I ask this because he is not just a very high official sought to be removed from his office. He is the chief justice if the land and as such, should personify the prestige and dignity of the legal profession. By resorting to mudslinging at the stand, Corona broke all rules of evidence that were developed over time to ascertain precisely the truth of controverted matters. And by walking out, he has shown contempt not only for the Senate sitting as an impeachment court, but to the rule of law itself, which as chief justice, he should be the first to uphold. If his departure were really for medical reasons, why did he not ask for leave of court? That would have been easy and would certainly have been granted on humanitarian grounds. It does not help that he was captured on camera clearly intent on leaving the Senate on cue. Clearly, what he and his advisers did not anticipate was that the Senate President would order the lock-out of the Senate to prevent him from leaving.

As I write this, it has become apparent that the chief justice will not return to the Senate as he is reportedly in the intensive care unit. I do not question his state of health as that is now between him and his creator. What I condemn is his performance that degraded the legal profession and eroded the people’s trust in the rule of law.

At the very least, Corona has proven to all that he does not deserve to remain as chief justice!

The $10 million question


At long last, the die is cast. After repeatedly saying that Chief Justice Renato Corona need not take the witness stand in the impeachment trial against him, his counsel, out of the blue, assured the Senate that the CJ will take the witness stand.

The promise though appeared to have a condition: that is, that the Complainants against the CJ in a pending complaint in the Ombudsman, to wit, former Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Rep. Walden Bello, together with Harvey Keh, and no less than Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales; should be subpoenaed by the Senate to appear purportedly as hostile witnesses in the impeachment trial. After which, the CJ’s counsel promised that his client will take the stand to rebut what these witnesses may say. This is interesting. While the nation has been left wondering about an alleged 700,0000 dollar account with PS Bank allegedly belonging to the CJ and yet undeclared in his SALN,  the nation gasped with horror at the possibility that the CJ may have a lot more in his  dollar accounts. In fact, the amount is mind-boggling: 10 Million or at least 420 Million pesos at today’s exchange rate.

There’s an obvious difference between the circumstances behind the 700,000-dollar placement and this later 10 Million deposit. In the case of the smaller amount, it was the Prosecution that asked the Court to subpoena PS bank to bring and present to the Court the documentary evidence for such an account. When asked by the Court where the Prosecution obtained its information about the account, the Prosecution panel claimed that a “small lady” in the gallery of the Senate gave it to Rep. Reynaldo Umali. It would later turn out that Rep. Jorge Banal of Quezon City had previously gone to the Katipunan branch of PS Bank to inquire about this 700,000-dollar account. Rep. Banal in turn, claimed that an unknown person left the documents at his residence.

The Supreme Court then came to the rescue of the embattled CJ when in a petition filed by PS Bank, the Court issued an indefinite temporary restraining order which effectively stopped the impeachment court from compelling the bank to produce all relevant documents relative to the $700,000 account. This time, the $10 Million dollar deposit was not even by reason of any document, even information, provided by the Prosecutors. Instead, what is  clear on the basis of newspaper reports are: One, as alleged by veteran Journalist Ellen Tordesillas in a story published by Vera files, the Ombudsman allegedly had asked the Anti-Money Laundering Council to provide her with a copy of the documents establishing that the CJ has an undisclosed amount in  dollar deposits in  undisclosed banks. This, according to Tordesillas, the Ombudsman did in response to the complaint filed by Hontiveros et al.

Two, in a story carried exclusively by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the CJ was allegedly asked by the Ombudsman to explain in writing within 72 hours how he acquired several peso and dollar accounts, described as  “grossly disproportionate” to his salary. Quoting from Carpio’s order, the PDI reported that the CJ was allegedly asked to explain, among others, how he acquired dollar deposits with an “aggregate amount of at least US$10,000,000”.

It was because of this second story that Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago opined that the Ombudsman could conduct a parallel investigation with the impeachment court on the CJ’s concealed dollar deposits. Senator  Edgardo Angara , for his part, said that the impeachment court could accept evidence emanating from the Ombudsman in this regard. The legal basis for both Senators’ opinions is found in the Ombudsman law, which provides that the said office may investigate even impeachable officers for the purpose of recommending to Congress the initiation of impeachment against them.

Apparently, this was the game changer. While the CJ, through his lawyers, lawyers ignored the show cause letter of the Ombudsman arguing that the said office has no jurisdiction over an impeachable officer such as the Chief Justice, the results of such an investigation was nonetheless, the reason why the CJ will now take the stand. According to his counsel last Tuesday evening, this was to “rebut the testimonies” of Hontiveros and the Ombudsman et al, which presumably, will be adverse to the CJ. Obviously the nation will be glued to the proceedings specially when the Ombudsman takes the stand, which she has said she will. And the obvious question will no longer be whether such a huge deposit exists, which for all intents and purposes, appear to be admitted. The issue now is why he did not declare such an amount and how he acquired this huge sum.

The plot thickens. It’s definitely more fun in the Philippines!

A MOOT WITH REAL VICTIMS


A MOOT WITH REAL VICTIMS

It was a case of make believe mimicking reality. From February 27 to 28, students from five law schools competed in the Philippine rounds of the most prestigious moot competition in the world, the Philip Jessup moot court competition. Simulating oral arguments before the International Court of Justice, students argued both sides of a problem involving the most contentious issues facing international law today.

For instance, given the general prohibition on the use of force which recognizes only two exceptions, those of self- defense and when authorized by the United Nations security Council; should a third exception, based on contemporary state practice, that of intervention on humanitarian grounds- now be recognized? There too was the issue of which government should be recognized by the United Nations and its organs: the regime that exercises effective control overt the territory and the inhabitants of a state, or the government that was democratically elected albeit deposed through a coup de etat but continues to be recognized as being legitimate by an overwhelming number of states. This was the dilemma faced by the international community in dealing with rebel forces in Libya.

But perhaps, what was most relevant to the Philippines was the third issue. Under the problem, several civilians were forcibly made to work in munitions factory during an armed conflict. Long after the war, these individuals attempted to seek reparations from the state that subjected them to forced labor. They initially filed suit against the state in the latter’s court but the same was dismissed on the basis of prescription. They then filed suit in the court of their own states, but their claims too were dismissed on the basis of sovereign immunity from suits. Intervening meanwhile was a decision of a regional human rights court that declared that the state of nationality of the victims must give them recourse under their domestic law and in their domestic courts. This prompted the domestic court of claimant’s nationality to exercise jurisdiction leading to a money judgement against the other state that resorted to forced labor and levying on execution on assets that were non-diplomatic in character.

I was most impressed by the law schools from the provinces that joined the moot court competition for the first time, to wit: Silliman and the University of the Cordillera. These two law schools proved once and for all that international law is no longer the monopoly of Manila law schools. Their students proved to be even more articulate than those coming from the capital. With a little more experience in mooting, I am sure that they will soon represent the country in the world competition held annually in Washington, DC, USA.

Congratulations to my students from UP who were adjudged the winner in the competition. Ironically, the UP team argued the side that maintained that victims of war crimes could no longer recover reparations when their home states had signed a peace treaty that renounced any and all further claims for reparations. This is the position of our government in the real case of Vinuya, the comfort women’s case. Even more ironical is the fact that the Ateneo team, whose alumni include  both the Chief Justice and Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo , argued the side in favor of the comfort women: that the peace pact could not prevail as against the jus cogens norms that forced labor is a war crime and that the state responsible for it should pay reparations. One of the Ateneo coaches told me that the plight of the comfort women, and the fact that the government should espouse their claims was the subject of his thesis. At the back of my mind, I was hoping he  will say this to Justice del Castillo or his researcher responsible for the court decision in Vinuya.

I also commend the Philippine Association of Law Schools Deans under the able leadership of its  President,  Dean,Amado Valdez and its Chairman, Dean Perry Pe,  for the impressive manner by which they conducted the national rounds. Special credit should go to Dean Sol Mawis of the Lyceum University Law School who acted as this year’s administrator for the competition. This year’s national rounds was clearly one of the  best in the history of Jessup in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, the real life victims of war crimes -deprived of a legal remedy, continue to pray and hope for justice. They have said that the impeachment of Justice del Castillo would be a step towards the right direction

Quick answers to Father Bernas


The Bernas Connection with GMA: Niece-in-law Luli

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.