MANILA, Philippines - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile delivered the last vote for the conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona, saying he was unmindful of the "political repercussions" of the historic verdict.
At around 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, the presiding judge banged his gavel and announced the impeachment court's ruling: 20 votes for Corona's conviction, and 3 votes for the chief magistrate’s acquittal.
“The Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, having tried Renato Corona, chief justice of the Supreme Court, in three articles of impeachment charged against him by the House of Representatives…by a guilty vote of 20, which represents two-thirds of the Senate, finds him guilty on Article 2,” he said.
Article 2 accuses Corona of failure to disclose his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth as required by the Constitution.
Enrile said, “I am not oblivious to the possible political repercussions of the final verdict we are called upon to render today.”
He also said he was deeply concerned that people will easily ignore the lessons learned from the trial, and fail to mature as citizens of the country.
“Those whose intentions and motivations may be farthest from the lofty ideals of truth and justice are one to feast upon this man’s downfall, should this court render a guilty verdict, as I think it would,” he said.
He said that those who face the judgment of “imperfect and infallible mortals” can only have a recourse now before the judgment of history “and ultimately of God.”
Throughout his speech, Enrile cited the many failures and mistakes of House prosecutors in impeaching and prosecuting Corona.
“As a lawyer, I must confess that I was personally frustrated, really frustrated, by the loose and hasty crafting and preparation that characterized the presentation of the charges contained in the articles of impeachment. It seems that the case was being built up only after the charges were actually filed,” he said.
He also lambasted the “illegal” machinations of those “who have been less than forthright with this court and its members in presenting dubiously procured and misleading documents who first spread to the media obviously to influence this court’s and the public’s opinion.”
He cited, for example, the Land Registry Authority (LRA) list alleging 45 properties in the name of Corona, and the unverified document that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio- Morales presented on Corona's alleged 82 dollar accounts. He said these documents were reported by the media even before the Senate got hold of the supposed evidence.
He also noted the abrupt resting of the case by the prosecution, after dropping 5 of the 8 articles of impeachment against Corona, eventually focusing on Article 2.
“I’ve always believed that of these 3 [remaning articles of impeachment], the case for the prosecution and the defense will rise or fall on article 2 which is now the subject of our vote.”
He said the defense successfully presented evidence refuting the allegation of non-disclosure of real properties in Corona’s SALNs.
“The LRA claims that the chief justice owned and failed to fully disclose in his SALN 45 real estate properties. Based on the evidence, I’m convinced that the defense presented credible evidence to refute this charge and to explain the exclusion in CJ’s SALNs of certain properties, which have either been sold or legally transferred, properties which are actually owned by his children or 3rd parties and properties which were never owned by CJ in the first place,” he said.
The defense’s fall
But the folly of the defense was the undeclared cash assets of Corona, he said.
He said it was Corona himself who “unhappily somehow revived this issue of the nature of his assets by introducing evidence to prove that his income and assets were legitimate and by testimony, to show how he and his wife had saved and invested these savings in foreign currency over so many decades.”
He said it was the Senate itself which scrapped a portion of article 2 of the impeachment complaint, which alleges Corona's “ill-gotten wealth."
In the end, Enrile said he could not subscribe to the rationale of Corona on his non-declaration of his dollar assets and most of his peso deposits.
He said Corona was still duty-bound to declare his peso assets even if these were commingled, “they being admittedly under his name by his own very declaration.”
He said that if these indeed belonged to third parties, the assets should be declared as “liabilities.”
This way, the real net worth of the government official would be disclosed in his or her SALN, he said.
On the dollar assets, Enrile said: “With all due respect, I believe that the CJ’s reliance on the absolutely confidentiality in the [Foreign Currency Deposit Act] is misplaced.”
He said the Constitution provides for a full disclosure of assets. “Are we now to say that this constitutional command is limited to public officials, assets or deposits in local currency?”
He said the law that Corona is holding on to does not prohibit a depositor from making the declaration on his own.
“They say that hardly anyone declares his true net worth anyway, here lies what many posited as a moral dilemma. I believe it is our duty to resolve this dilemma in favor of upholding the law and sound public policy in this country,” Enrile said.
“If we were to agree with CJ that he was correct in not disclosing the value of his foreign currency deposits because there are absolutely confidential, can we ever expect any SALN to be filed by any public officials no matter how high or no matter how low from hereon to be more accurate and true than they are today? I don’t think so,” he said.
Many analysts believed the Enrile bloc, which includes Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, Senate Pro-tempore Jinggoy Estrada, and Senator Gringo Honasan, was the crucial bloc in the Senate verdict.