The Corona impeachment trial

 

Introduction.  Politicians do not tire of telling us that an impeachment trial is a political process, where proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (the highest standard of proof that must be met in a criminal case, placed normally on the prosecution) is not required to convict a respondent (the accused).

Lawyers are quick to point out however that a preponderance of evidence (superiority in weight of an evidence — even if minimally — than the evidence presented by the other party) must be present before the guilt (or innocence) of a respondent in an impeachment trial can be established.

Although an impeachment trial is at its core political in nature, the trial nonetheless goes through a quasi-judicial process (with rules and practice similar to those used in a regular trial court) at the Senate.

Whichever standard of proof is applied by the Senate in the Corona impeachment trial, the proceedings and final outcome of the trial must clearly distinguish between an impeachment court and a mere kangaroo court. 

There are Eight (8) articles of impeachment filed before the Senate by 188 members of the House of Representatives against Chief Justice Renato Corona of the Supreme Court (SC).  Without going into the details of the alleged offenses committed by CJ Corona, the eight charges against him can be summarized into the following impeachable offenses: culpable violation of the constitution, betrayal of public trust, and graft and corruption

A conviction by the Senate in any one of the eight charges against him is enough to impeach (and oust) CJ Corona.

To convict CJ Corona, a vote of Sixteen (16) Senator-Judges (representing two-thirds of the total number of 23 senators acting as impeachment judges) is required.  Inversely, CJ Corona only needs Eight (8) votes to avoid impeachment.

 

View of the trial.  It is likely that the outcome of the trial will be decided along party lines (meaning that the partymates and political allies of Pres. Aquino in the Senate will vote as one), and the verdict strongly influenced by prevailing public sentiments.

The impeachment of CJ Corona enjoys popular public support (as shown by a number of independent surveys on the subject) and most of the Senator-Judges may want to be put on record and remembered to be “on the side of the people.”  This is particularly true for ten of the eleven senators elected in 2007 who are likely to run for re-election (or other elected positions) in the not-too-distant May 2013 mid-term elections.  A few of them might even be eyeing positions in the cabinet of Pres. Aquino and a guilty verdict could only advance their ambition.

The Filipino public, in general, is not interested in court procedures and proceedings, only in seeing the head of a “big fish” roll, and hoping that the impeachment of CJ Corona will provide a significant traction to Pres. Aquino’s reform program of fighting corruption in government.  Naturally, most of the Senator-Judges, politicians first and foremost as they are, may want to be viewed by the electorate as “sympathetic” to public sentiments.

In which case, CJ Corona’s fate has been sealed since before the trial started.

But that is not to say that the Senator-Judges are neither fair nor independent-minded. 

It’s just in the nature of an impeachment trial that, at the end of the day, political considerations (and expediency?) will outweigh all legal questions and issues pertaining to the case.  That is why an impeachment trial is often described as a political process.

 

Projected verdict.  Early indications are that CJ Corona will get convicted in at least one of the eight impeachment raps against him, most likely in the second article of impeachment, i.e. “… culpable violation of the constitution and/or betrayal of public trust when he failed to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth as required under Section 17, Article XI of the 1987 constitution.”

Although ill-gotten wealth is not included in the charge sheet against him, CJ Corona’s failure to reflect his foreign currency bank accounts and other assets in his mandatory and sworn satement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) or disclose the same to the public might do him in.

Notwithstanding the recent temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the SC that prohibits the opening of CJ Corona’s foreign currency accounts with Philippine Savings Bank, the details of such bank accounts should be volunteered by CJ Corona (and the amounts recorded thereof proven as having been legally earned or acquired by him) comes the turn of his Defense Panel to present their oral urguments and evidences.

Otherwise, seeking refuge in the SC TRO (while his legal right provided for by R.A. 6426 — the Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines) will only illicit the public perception that, indeed, he is hiding a multimillion secret bank accounts and “doctoring” his yearly SALNs. 

In the Philippines, all politics is a “game of public perception.” 

There were past cases of non-prominent public officers and employees who have received lesser sanctions for their failure to reflect their true assets in their sworn SALNs.  But there was also the case of one Delsa Flores, a former court interpreter from Davao, who was dismissed from government service for failure to declare a market stall in her SALN.  Surely, following the principle of equal application of the law, her case should also apply to the Chief Magistrate of the highest court in the land whose proven integrity and probity, after all,  is required by no less than the highest law of the land (Art. VIII, Sec. 7 (3) of the 1987 Constitution).

A verdict of conviction for CJ Corona in any or all of the eight articles of impeachment will not disgrace the Defense Panel.  Headed by Chief Counsel Serafin Cuevas (former SC Justice and Justice Secretary), the Defense Panel more than ably defend and protect the constitutional and legal rights of CJ Corona, making the Prosecution Panel “look like” a bunch of neophyte and fumbling trial lawyers in the process.

______________________________________________________________

Notes:

1)  The decision of the Senate impeachment court to honor the SC TRO that prohibits the opening of CJ Corona’s foreign currency bank accounts is a remarkable act of statesmanship and show of respect for a co-equal branch of government.  But the same act may have also set a legal precedent that the secrecy of foreign currency bank accounts is absolute and beyond scrutiny unless expressly allowed by the depositor.  Thus, grafters may escape prosecution and conviction by simply hiding their loot in foreign currency bank accounts. 

2)  It is the misfortune of CJ Corona to be the first on the “chopping block”.  We now ask ourselves, how many more high-ranking public officials have foreign currency bank accounts or for that matter properties and assets  that are not reflected in their sworn SALNs? 

 
Published 18 February 2012
Pasig City, PHILIPPINES

  

The Presiding Judge

 

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile  

 

The Senator-Judges

 

 

Alan Peter Cayetano

 

 

 

 

 Antonio Trillanes IV

 

 

 

 

Aquilino Pimentel III

 

 

 

Edgardo Angara

 

 

 

Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.

 

 

 

Francis Escudero

 

 

 

Franklin Drilon

 

 

 

 Gregorio Honasan

 

 

 

 

Jinggoy Estrada

 

 

 

 

Joker Arroyo

 

 

 

Kiko Pangilinan

 

 

 

Loren Legarda

 

 

 

  

Manny Villar

 

 

 

 

Manuel Lapid

 

 

 

Miriam Defensor-Santiago

 

 

 

Panfilo Lacson

 

 

 

Pia Cayetano

 

 

 

Ralph Recto

 

 

 

Ramon Revilla, Jr.

 

 

 

Sergio Osmeña III

 

 

 

Teofisto Guingona III

 

 

 

 

 

Vicente Sotto III

 

The Respondent

 

Chief Justice Renato Corona of the Supreme Court

 

The Prosecution Panel

 

Members of the Prosecution Panel and House of Representatives showing the articles of impeachment against Chief Justice Renato Corona.

 

The Defense Panel

 

 

 

 Members of the Defense Panel headed by Chief Counsel Serafin Cuevas.

 

 

 

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