Belmonte: Do we want 6 more years of CJ Corona?

by Ira Pedrasa,

Posted at May 28 2012 05:59 PM | Updated as of May 29 2012 02:51 AM

'Shouldn't the chief justice set the good example?'

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) - House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. gave the finishing touches to the prosecution's case to have Chief Justice Renato Corona found guilty by asking the senator-judges whether they want to see 6 more years of his leadership of the judiciary.

“Your Honors, I ask that you see through the character of Renato Corona, and reflect whether this is the man that we want as our Chief Justice, the head of the entire judicial system, for the next six years,” he said.

Belmonte urged the Senate today to go beyond Corona's legal arguments and reflect on the character of Corona, whose integrity has been badly tarnished by the evidence presented before the impeachment court.

He cited Corona’s partiality when he “engineered a [SC] ruling adverse to the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines,” as well as the SC's temporary restraining order (TRO) which Corona supposedly engineered so that his patron, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, could leave the country.

The executive branch defied the TRO, which allowed the Aquino administration to file criminal complaints against the now-Pampanga representative.

The House Speaker later digressed and focused on the battle cry of the prosecution--Corona's non-disclosure of certain assets in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN).

“Your Honors, he wants this Court and the court of public opinion to ignore his millions of dollars and pesos undeclared in his SALN. He cites a law on foreign deposits and the incredible commingling of funds as his excuses for hiding such huge amounts from the public eye. Why? Is he prohibited from disclosing them in his SALN? Shouldn’t he be the one to set a good example?”

He said it was “disturbing” that the the country’s highest judicial officer has become “the very culprit who is bending justice and misusing the laws to hide his crime.”

“We are one people, with one rule of law, and one standard for public conduct. Mr. Corona has spoken about a 'chilling effect' on the judiciary. And in a sense, the framers of our Constitution did want impeachment to have a chilling effect--on those who would wish to betray the public trust, and those who would abuse the powers of their office for personal gain,” he said.

Belmonte then asked the Senate to vote according to conscience and evidence.

“Will we look forward to a Chief Justice who can be an independent person, a person with nothing to hide, and a person whose loyalty ultimately rests on the people? Or will a man who has clearly betrayed the public trust be allowed to remain in office?” he said.

(Click here for House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte's closing arguments.)

'Judged by highest standards'

Reading a prepared speech, lead prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr. said the chief magistrate should be “judged by the highest standards,” but that the evidence presented against him in the trial shows he has failed miserably to live up to those standards.

“His violation is culpable because it’s willful and intentional due to habituality of omissions in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN),” Tupas said.

He said Corona is not morally fit to remain as chief justice. “The damning revelations go to the very core of the man’s character,” he added.

Tupas said Corona’s rationale that the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA) provides absolute confidentiality of dollar deposits is “disturbing,” and goes against the principle of “public accountability.”

(Click here for House prosecutor Niel Tupas' closing arguments.)

Not impeachable

Defense lawyer Eduardo delos Angeles, meantime, argued that the non-disclosure of certain assets in the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) is not impeachable.

“They say that the CJ is wrong to adopt the view favoring absolute confidentiality of foreign deposits and that therefore, he must be convicted. While there may exist a danger that corrupt officials may escape discovery, let us not mistake the CJ's use of this interpretation," he said.

He said the non-inclusion was not tainted with malice or fault. “What we have here is a situation where the CJ, consistent with his practice for the last 2 decades, assumed that his reliance on the letter of the law could not be wrong.”

Delos Angeles said this act does not fall within the purview of impeachable offenses under the Constitution, which specifies treason, bribery, and graft and corruption.

He said: “There is no liability for an erroneous interpretation of the law when made in good faith. the CJ has acted consistently, unwavering in his conviction and belief that the FCDA [Foreign Currency Deposit Act] affords him full and absolute confidentiality.”

The non-disclosure does not mean culpable violation of the Constitution and a betrayal of public trust, he said.

Non-disclosure of SALN, if done willingly, Delos Angeles said, is penalized with a fine of P5,000 or less and imprisonment not exceeding five years.

He said this penalty is not comparable to the penalties warranted for treason, bribery, graft and corruption or any other impeachable offense.

He also insisted on Corona’s credibility “in giving justice, proving himself forthright,” as shown by the waiver authorizing the opening of his bank accounts, which he signed last Friday.

(Click here for Defense counsel Celso delos Angeles' closing arguments.)

Corona's ‘palusot’

Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, speaking in Filipino, said Corona has been using a lot of “palusot” or excuses.

He cited, for example, the use of the Hacienda Luisita case as Corona’s crying mantra against Aquino.

He drew laughs from the room when he said Corona would want the public to believe that his dollar trading started way back when he was in grade school. When he testified last Friday, Corona said he bought dollars when the peso was valued still at P2 to the dollar. He said this was the foreign exchange rate back in the 1940s, when Corona was probably still in grade school.

Fariñas, in a more serious tone,  raised legal answers to the arguments of Corona’s lawyers. He cited Corona's use of the FCDA to defend his failure to dislose his dollar deposits, noting that the FCDA is 15 years older than the 1987 Constitution, which fully requires all government officials to declare all their assets.

He said Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct for Public Officials further cemented the Constitutional requriement on disclosure of assets. “Ito ang batas na nagpapatupad sa Konstitusyon,” he said.

He asked the Senate impeachment court not to be swayed by Corona’s dramas and alibis. He said that Corona only disclosed 1.97% of his cash and investments amounting to around P100 million ($2.4 million plus P80 million).

He also questioned Corona’s excuse that he did not fully declare his peso accounts since these were funds commingled with deposits of his late mother, his children as well as money of the disputed Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc.. “Kung totoo ito, bakit sa kanya lang nakapangalan?”

He said there were a lot of contradictions in Corona’s testimony last week, a sign that he was lying. “We tend to contradict ourselves when we don’t tell the truth.”

(Click here for House prosecutor Rodolfo Fariñas' closing arguments.)

Why not cross-examine?

Defense lawyer Dennis Manalo later took the stand and asked the prosecution why it did not cross-examine Corona if they wanted to support their accusations.

“[You asked] why did CJ say P2 is to a dollar, why were properties under his name? But why not? Why did they not choose to cross-examine CJ himself,” he noted.

Manalo said that when cross-examination is waived, the testimony of Corona becomes unimpeached or stays on record. The defense, he said, does not have the responsibility to come up with evidence for the prosecution.

He said there is always a presumption of innocence, and the burden of proving Corona guilty lies with the prosecution.

He also noted that the Anti-Money Laundering Council document purporting Corona's dollar transactions was presented, but no one from the prosecution bothered to call an AMLC official to attest to its truthfulness.

Manalo posed a possible reason: “The AMLC refused to testify because there was no court order allowing the inspection of the bank accounts.”

He said that even when Corona decided to sign a waiver authorizing banks to disclose his bank deposits, the prosecution still refused to use it. He said the waiver was meant to show that Corona believes that dollar deposits should not be disclosed.

“Sabi nyo kaduda-duda ang galaw ng pera? Bakit hindi niyo pinatunayan?” Manalo said.

(Click here forDefense counsel Dennis Manalo's closing arguments.)