Article 2 may decide Corona's fate

by Jojo Malig,

Posted at Feb 28 2012 10:37 PM | Updated as of Mar 01 2012 06:56 AM

MANILA, Philippines – It's Article 2 or bust.

Chief Justice Renato Corona's future in the Supreme Court could be decided by impeachment complaint's Article 2, law experts said on Tuesday.

Atty. Raul Pangalangan, former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law, told ANC that the article, which pertains to Corona's alleged failure to disclose to the public all of his assets, liabilities and net worth, as required by the Constitution, is the make-or-break issue in the impeachment complaint.

"Prosecution strongest in Article 2, weaker on Articles 3 and 7 both on factual and legal (angles)," he said.

House prosecutors have managed to bring under public eye the alleged undeclared properties of Corona, as well as contents of his bank accounts that were allegedly not disclosed in the Chief Justice's statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) that he is required to file every year.

Prosecutors have yet to get their hands on Corona's alleged dollar accounts in Philippine Savings Bank, which has secured a temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Supreme Court.

Pangalangan, however, clarified that the information regarding Corona's alleged properties and bank accounts have yet to be formally accepted as evidence by the Senate impeachment court.

The defense wants the information thrown out because it was allegedly disclosed illegally.

"Difficult scenario for the prosecution. There is a pending motion by the defense to strike out ill-gotten evidence. Most of what they alleged is article 2. If the prosecution is putting most of its eggs in article 2, then we have perfect nightmare for the prosecution," Pangalangan said.

'Fruit of poisonous tree'

Senator-judge Francis Escudero, however, said in an earlier interview with dzMM that the defense can't use the "fruit of the poisonous tree" legal doctrine in the Corona case.

Prosecutors have also cited a 2006 Supreme Court ruling on a case filed by former President Joseph Estrada against the Sandiganbayan, which said that the "fruit of poisonous tree" principle does not apply to the Bank Secrecy Law that covers peso accounts.

Atty. Tony La Viña of the Ateneo School of Government echoed Pangalangan's analysis of the Corona case.

"Article 3, there's nothing there. Article 2, there have been [bank] accounts not disclosed [and] I will be open to what the defense will show by way of explanation. Article 7, there is something to be rebutted," he said.

Article 3 accuses Corona of violating the Constitution and betraying the public trust in allowing the Supreme Court to act on mere letters filed by a lawyer that caused the high court to "flip-flop" on decisions.

It also alleges that Corona had "excessive entanglement" with Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo because the former President appointed Corona's wife to office.

Article 3 also claimed that the Chief Justice talked to litigants on cases pending before the Supreme Court.

Article 7 of the impeachment complaint, on the other hand, accuses Corona of betraying public trust by allegedly working behind the scenes for the Supreme Court to grant a temporary restraining order on the government's travel ban against Arroyo and her husband.

Prosecution rests case

Prosecutors rested their case on Tuesday and formally dropped the 5 other articles in the impeachment complaint.

It will next be the defense's turn to show evidence and present witnesses to counter the prosecution's allegations in the 3 remaining articles of impeachment.

La Viña said he was surprised with the prosecution's decision to rest its case early. "I was surprised. The prosecution raised a lot of expectation weeks ago."

"I've always thought much of impeachment is about policy," he said.

He added that the prosecution did not really need to present more witnesses and in the end, it was about argument -- which he believes the prosecution fell short.

Senate avoided clash with Supreme Court

La Viña said the Senate made the right decision on refusing to issue a subpoena to Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno to testify for the prosecution regarding what went behind the scenes in the Supreme Court's issuance of a TRO on the Arroyo travel ban.

He said a possible SC-Senate showdown over the summonses for Sereno and SC employees is "too much a price to pay."

"I have to be with the Senate on this one. It's too dangerous [to] issue a subpoena," he said. "I trust Justice Sereno will make the right decision, but is it necessary to present her, given her account was very clear? No need for us to have a constitutional crisis over an unnecessary testimony."

Pangalangan said the Senate has always been deferential to the Supreme Court, while the latter is bold to assert itself.

"When the Senate voted to respect the TRO on dollar bank accounts, the SC issued another resolution barring the access to justices. Thus far, the Senate has behaved itself," he said.

"One effect though, if the Senate bent over backwards, one effect is that they have greater liberty to rule against Justice Corona," he added.

Odds against conviction?

La Viña, meanwhile, said it remains an uphill climb for the prosecutors even if only a guilty ruling in one article is needed to remove Corona from office.

"The Senate has behaved in mysterious ways. It's hard to predict," he said.

"The odds are against conviction simply because of the numbers required [to convict]," he added. Sixteen votes are needed to unseat Corona from the Supreme Court.

"It's two-thirds and when you start with 13 [senator-judges] that voted for respecting the [dollar accounts TRO], I could glimpse at least a solid 8 to 10 [senator-judges], is a due process crowd. Very strict standard of proof that will require full conviction. Technical rules must be followed even if they believe otherwise," La Viña said.

"As I said, the senators have been quite fair. Even Enrile, I cannot predict how he will vote on this," he said.