Corona: Impeachment single most destructive legislative act

by Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 27 2011 01:24 PM | Updated as of Jan 13 2012 12:43 AM

"The sin of Pontius Pilate is not that he exercised his powers, but that he abandoned his judgment, washed his hands and let the angry mob have its way."

So starts the formal Answer of Chief Justice Renato Corona to the House of Representatives' Articles of Impeachment against him.

Corona submitted his Answer to the Senate, which will try him as an Impeachment Court, Monday afternoon -- a 79-page document signed by his battery of lawyers: retired Supreme Court Associate Justice and law professor for 4 decades Serafin Cuevas; constitutionalist Atty. Jacinto Jimenez of the Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc and De los Angeles Law Firm; Attys. German Lichauco II and Dennis Manalo of the Siguion Reyna Montecillo and Ongsiako Law Firm; former Law dean and former president of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila(PLM) Atty. Jose Roy III; and public interest lawyer Ernesto Francisco, Jr.

In his opening discussion, Corona stated how his impeachment by the lower House by allies of the Aquino administration "came like a thief in the night," punctuated by "undue haste," and in "blitzkrieg fashion," passed by 188 lawmakers.

Because of this, the chief magistrate called the exercise "the single most destructive legislative act" in Philippine history.

'Handiwork of Pres. Aquino's Liberal Party'

Corona did not mince words in declaring that moves to oust him from office are being pedaled by no less than President Benigno Aquino III's Liberal Party, in which the chief executive sits as Party Chairman.

Events and circumstances dating back to Aquino's election support the conclusion that "it was he(Aquino) who desired to appoint the Chief Justice and who instigated and ordered the filing of impeachment charges," Corona claimed.

"A fair assessment of the prevailing political climate will support the contention that the filing of the Articles of Impeachment was the handiwork of the Liberal Party alone. Surely, one cannot ignore the inexplicable readiness of the Members of the House to instantly agree to sign the Articles of Impeachment. Without much effort, one reaches the inevitable conclusion that President Benigno C. Aquino III as, the head of the Liberal Party, must have been 'in' on the plan from inception," Corona said.

To begin with, Corona stated that Mr. Aquino questioned his appointment as Chief Magistrate; took his oath before former Supreme Court Associate Justice and now Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and snubbed Corona during the ceremony; and repeatedly lambasted Corona in several public speeches.

Corona claimed the administration wants no one to stand on its way and intends to do as it pleases, especially in running after officials of the Arroyo administration.

"The past events depict and Executive Branch that is unwilling to brook any opposition to its power, particularly in prosecuting high officials of the former administration," Corona said.

"This intemperate demonstration of political might is a fatal assault on the independent exercise of judicial power. Falsely branded as an attempt at checks and balances -- and even accountability -- we are witnessing a callous corruption of our democracy in this staged impeachment.

"Never in the history of this nation has the Republican system of Government under the Constitution been threatened in such cavalier fashion," he added.

Complaint 'insufficient in form and substance,' 'constitutionally infirm'

The Chief Justice asked the Senate to junk the lower House's impeachment complaint, claiming it did not meet the requirement on verification.

Verification of an impeachment complaint, Corona stressed, means each signatory has read its contents. Based on the short amount of time it took the 188 lawmakers to sign the complaint, and admissions from some of the signatories that they have not read it, the complaint should be outrightly dismissed by the Senate, Corona argued.

The requirement of verification, Corona insisted, is not a mere procedural rule "but a constitutional requirement."

"The Impeachment Court may not proceed to trial on the basis of this Complaint because it is constitutionally infirm and defective, for failure to comply with the requirement of verification... It stands to reason that the House of Representatives had no authority under the Constitution to transmit the Articles of Impeachment for trial before the Senate," he said.

"[F]ailure to meet the requirement renders the impeachment of CJ Corona unconstitutional," he added.

Article I denied

Article I accuses the Chief Magistrate of being partial to the Arroyo administration through various decisions rendered by the high tribunal.

Corona, however, stressed that "[c]omplainants demonstrate their lack of understanding of the concept of a collegial body like the Supreme Court, where each member has a single vote."

The Supreme Court is unlike the President of the Philippines who has full control of the executive branch and who may modify, reverse, or nullify an action of a subordinate or an agency under him, Corona said.

"It must be emphasized that CJ Corona cannot be held accountable for the outcome of cases before the Supreme Court which acts as a collegial tribunal. This is the essence of the system of justice before the Supreme Court, as mandated by the Constitution," he said.

"Whether he be the Chief Justice or the most junior associate, his vote is of equal weight with that of the others," he stressed.

Corona further asserted that he did not pen any of the high court's decisions questioned by the administration but merely concurred or dissented in them.

Constitution does not allow Congress nor the president to 'review' decisions of the Supreme Court

What the president's allies want in questioning decisions rendered by the Supreme Court, according to the Chief Justice, is for Congress to review these decisions. This is not allowed by the Constitution, he stressed.

"This cannot be done; it is beyond any reasonable debate. It is an essential feature of the checks and balances in a republican form of government that no other department may pass upon judgments of the Supreme Court. This is the principle of separation of powers," Corona said.

Corona cited the high court's ruling in Maglasang vs. People, that states: "the Supreme Court is supreme -- the third great department of government entrusted exclusively with the judicial power to adjudicate with finality all justiciable disputes, public and private. No other department or agency may pass upon its judgments or declare them 'unjust.' Consequently, and owing to the foregoing, not even the President of the Philippines as Chief Executive may pass judgment on any of the Court's acts."

'Corona not a midnight appointee'

Once again, Corona bore the burden of explaining his appointment as Chief Justice and head of the Judiciary.

An issue, he has repeatedly insisted, was long settled by the Supreme Court.

Citing the high court's ruling in De Castro vs. Judicial and Bar Council and Aytona vs. Castillo, Corona stated that his was not a midnight appointment.

The former states: "[T]he prohibition against the President or Acting President making appointments within two months before the next presidential elections and up to the end of the President's or Acting President's term does not refer to Members of the Supreme Court."

While the latter maintains that "there may well be appointments to important positions which have yet to be made even after the proclamation of the new President."

The most important jurisprudence applicable to the issue on his appointment dates back as early as 1998, according to Corona -- the high tribunal's ruling in In re: Valenzuela: "To be sure, instances may be conceived
of the imperative need for an appointment, during the period of the ban, not only in the executive but also in the Supreme Court. This may be the case should the membership of the Court be so reduced that it will have no quorum or should the voting on a particular important questions requiring expeditious resolution be evenly divided. "

The Chief Magistrate also pointed out that having served in the cabinet of the appointing authority who placed him at the helm of the Judiciary is no peculiar instance as 11 past magistrates of the Supreme Court also served in the cabinet prior to their appointment.

Article II denied

Article II of the complaint alleges that Corona failed to disclose his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth(SALN).

Corona, however, insisted that this cannot be a ground for the impeachable offense of "culpable violation of the Constitution" and "betrayal of public trust" since what the Constitution provides is the submission of a public officer's SALN, not its publication or disclosure.

Nevertheless, Corona said he annually declares his SALN without fail.

"Clearly, what the Constitution and the law require is the accomplishment and submission of their SALNs. CJ Corona has faithfully complied with this requirement every year. From that point, it is the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court who has custody over his declaration of assets, liabilities, and net worth," he said.

However, due to a Supreme Court resolution in May 1989, and consistent with a provision in Republic Act(RA) No. 6713(Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees), the high court, he pointed out, only releases the SALNs of the Chief Justice and Justices "provided there is a legitimate reason for the request" since this may "endanger, diminish, or destroy their independence and objectivity or expose them to revenge, kidnapping, extortion, blackmail, or other dire fates."

Corona also denied the allegation he has accumulated ill-gotten wealth not declared in his SALN.

"The allegations are conjectural and speculative. They do not amount to a concrete statement of fact that might require a denial. Accusations in general terms such as these have no place in pleadings, as they bring only hearsay and rumor into the body of evidence involved," he maintained.

Article III denied

Article III accuses Corona of allowing the Supreme Court to act on mere letters from a counsel in the landmark labor case of the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines(FASAP) vs. Philippine Airlines(PAL), resulting in "flip-flopping" decisions.

Corona, however, pointed out that he inhibited from the FASAP case as early as 2008 and thereafter no longer participated in the deliberations and the voting.

He also clarified that the assailed recall of the FASAP case's decision was a legitimate action of the court en banc, not by one person.

Article II also questioned the high court's so-called flip-flopping in the case of League of Cities vs. COMELEC(Commission on Elections). Again, Corona stressed that the decision on the case was an action of the Supreme Court as a collegial body on motions for reconsideration filed by both sides.

Mrs. Corona appointed to JHMC before Corona became SC Justice

Mrs. Cristina Roco Corona, wife of the Chief Justice, was not spared from the complaint as lawmakers hit her appointment by Mrs. Arroyo as head of the John Hay Management Corporation(JHMC).

Corona stressed that Mrs. Corona's appointment came ahead of his appointment to the high tribunal and may not be used against him.

"The truth of the matter is that Mrs. Corona was named to the JHMC on 19 April 2001, even before CJ Corona joined the Supreme Court. Her appointment did not in any way influence the voting of CJ Corona when he eventually joined the Court," he said.

"No law prohibits the wife of a Chief Justice from pursuing her own career in the government," he further asserted.

Moreover, Corona stressed that no less than the Constitution provides that "the State recognizes the role of women in nation-building, and shall ensure the fundamental equality before the law of women and men" and the State should provide women with "opportunities that will enhance their welfare and enable them to realize their full potential in the service of the nation."

Allegations of graft and corruption 'unspecified, untrue, unfounded'

Corona was alleged of using court funds for personal purposes, an allegation he flatly denied.

"They are untrue and unfounded. Complainants are desperate to demonstrate some reason to believe that CJ Corona has committed acts constituting culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, or graft and corruption," he said.

Article IV denied

As for the allegation that he was responsible for the high tribunal's issuance of a status quo ante order(SQAO) in favor of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who, like him, faced impeachment proceedings at the lower House, Corona said the issuance of the temporary relief was above board and a product of thorough debates.

"The Justices deliberated the case at length. Only after every one who wanted to speak had done so did the Justices agree to take a vote. It was at this point that the Supreme Court issued the SQAO," Corona said.

Corona further pointed out that the Constitution grants the Supreme Court the power to determine whether there was grave abuse of discretion on the part of the House of Representatives on the Gutierrez impeachment case as provided in Sec 1 Article VIII: "The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law. Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government."

Article V denied

The administration's allies alleged that Corona failed to maintain the principle of immutability of final judgments in the FASAP, League of Cities, and Navarro vs. Ermita cases.

On the League of Cities issue, Corona replied: "The League of Cities Case has been decided by the Supreme Court with finality. For this reason, Complainants cannot have this Impeachment Court review the correctness of this decision without encroaching on the judicial power of the Supreme Court."

As for the 2 other cases, he stressed that these have not yet been decided with finality by the Supreme Court which would render any discussion on their merits "inappropriate and unethical."

Article VI denied

Article VI questions the investigation conducted by the high court on the plagiarism complaint vs. Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo, who, incidentally, also faces impeachment proceedings before the House of Representatives.

The complaint alleged that Corona created the Ethics Committee to exonerate Del Castillo.

Corona maintained that the Supreme Court en banc, not him, created the committee during the time of Chief Justice Reynato Puno, long before Del Castillo was charged with plagiarism.

The Ethics Committee, according to the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court, "shall have the task of preliminarily investigating all complaints involving graft and corruption and violation of ethical standards, including anonymous complaints, filed against Members(Justices) of the Supreme Court, and of submitting findings and recommendations to the Supreme Court en banc," he pointed out.

Article VII denied

Article VII alleges that the Supreme Court's issuance of a temporary restraining order(TRO) on the Department of Justice's(DOJ) travel ban on former President Arroyo and her husband, Jose Miguel, was "hasty" and "improper."

Corona said the issue was carefully deliberated and subsequently voted upon by the magistrates, independent of the plans and intentions of the Arroyo camp.

He also stressed the government, through the Office of the Solicitor General(OSG) was able to file manifestations and motions on the Arroyo petitions, and was thus, given the opportunity to be heard.

Corona declined to further discuss details of the case since it remains pending before the Supreme Court even as he asserted that he cannot be faulted for a collegial action of the entire high tribunal.

"CJ Corona is constrained to repeat that he cannot be held liable for the acts of the Supreme Court. If any, this Impeachment Court must confine its inquiry into whether the questioned actions were reached in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution," he said.

Article VIII denied

Corona denied the allegation in the last Article that he "failed and refused" to report on the status of the Judiciary Development Fund(JDF) and the Special Allowance for the Judiciary(SAJ) and failed to remit to the Bureau of Treasury(BT) the SAJ collections.

In his Answer, he pointed out that the JDF and SAJ are covered by fiscal autonomy enjoyed by the Judiciary as enshrined in the Constitution.

Nevertheless, Corona bared "all disbursement vouchers for the funds of the JDF and SAJ are submitted to the resident COA(Commission on Audit) auditor, who passes upon them in post-audit."

He also countered the allegation that he did not or refused to report the status of the funds, stating that no less than the Executive Department, through the Department of Budget and Management(DBM), was furnished:

on 12 December 2011 with:
-the Supreme Court's latest JDF Quarterly Report of Deposits and Disbursements (as of 30 September 2011);
-the JDF Monthly Report of Deposits and Disbursements(July-30 September 2011);
- SAJ Quarterly Report of Deposits and Disbursements (as of 30 September 2011); and
-SAJ Monthly Report of Deposits and Disbursements (for the periods of July to 30 September 2011).

On September 9, 2011 with:
-the Supreme Court's JDF Schedule of Collections and Disbursements from 1 January 2010 to 31 December 2010 and 1 January 2011 to 30 June 2011.

On 8 September 2011 with:
- pertinent documents on the SAJ fund, particularly the list of actual number of filled positions and their corresponding basic monthly salaries, including salary increases and the monthly SAJ of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Tax Appeals and the Lower Court, and the financial reports on the SAJ Schedule of Collections and Disbursements from 1 January 2010 to December 2010 and 1 January 2011 to 30 June 2011.

"In fine, there has been no failure or refusal whatever to report the status of these funds... Various reports on the collections and disbursements on the JDF and the SAJ Fund were likewise submitted to the COA, the Senate, and the House of Representatives... bank reconciliation statements, trial balances, and other financial reports on the JDF and the SAJ Fund were submitted to the COA," Corona said.

As for the allegation of failure to account for funds for unfilled positions in the Judiciary, Corona said: "[T]he Supreme Court, through its Fiscal Management and Budget Office(FMBO), submitted to the Department of Budget and Management the Statement of Allotment, Obligation and Balances(SAOB) for 2010, reflecting the realignment of savings from regular appropriations of the Supreme Court."

He further said the utilization of savings for fiscal years 2008 and 2009 were already submitted to the Senate for the 2011 budget hearings.

'Unveiled threat on other Justices'

Based on the totality of events surrounding his impeachment, the Chief Justice warned that the baseless, arbitrary impeachment complaint against him taints the entire exercise and casts an "unveiled threat" on the other Justices of the high tribunal.

He claimed his impeachment is "a bold, albeit ill-advised attempt by the Executive Branch(with the help of allies in the House of Representatives) to mold an obedient Supreme Court."

"The fundamental issue before this hallowed body transcends the person of the Chief Justice," he stressed, adding,"What is at stake then is the independence of the Supreme Court and the Judiciary as a whole."