Sunday, February 12, 2012

Battleground for Justice and Truth

Obtaining justice by seeking the truth.  Such is the objective of both the Prosecution and the Defense in the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona.

Reading the complaint and the answer, I thought that the issues having been joined, the battle lines drawn, and the Senate having acquired jurisdiction, the process of seeking the truth would proceed in the interest of the sovereign people.  The best offense is Truth as charged and the best defense is Truth as claimed.

The Prosecution started with the charge of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust. To support the charge, the Prosecution claims that CJ Corona failed to fully disclose his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) as mandated by the Constitution and statute. There was a special mention of several properties evidenced by Deeds of Sale and Certificates of Title that CJ Corona failed to declare. The media reported initially that there were 45 properties owned by CJ Corona. It turned out that the Prosecution could only show 24.

Despite the objection of the Defense, the impeachment court decided to allow the disclosure of CJ Corona’s SALN in the interest of truth and hopefully, justice.

Based on his SALN, CJ Corona declared a total of 8 properties, thus failing to declare 16 properties, which the Prosecution asserts they could show with documentary and testimonial evidences.

The Prosecution also questioned the declaration of Cash on Hand and in the Bank. So, the prosecutors asked to subpoena the Philippine peso and dollar bank accounts of CJ Corona to prove that the latter failed to disclose the true amounts.

The best way to belie an alleged truth as claimed by the Prosecution would have been to show the real truth by showing that CJ Corona’s declared Cash on Hand and/or in Bank are the same as those in his bank accounts.

Alleged truth vs. real truth would have simply resolved the matter. The Defense instead vehemently objected to the showing of CJ Corona’s peso and dollar bank accounts, thus seeking to hide the truth and waiving its best defense.

The impeachment court wisely allowed the showing of CJ Corona’s peso bank accounts but delayed compelling the disclosure of the dollar account pending the petition of the bank for a TRO (temporary restraining order).

The disclosure of the peso bank accounts were actually more than enough to show that CJ Corona misdeclared his Cash on Hand and/or in Bank in his SALN. Further disclosure would show that the truth as alleged by the Prosecution would prove to be the right and real one. To avoid further damage, he and his lawyers must act.

As my father used to say, “choose your battles – the ones you can win”.

Chief Justice Renato Corona, acting through his defense lawyers, decided to change course and the battleground.  They would go to where they could have the home court advantage and where they would be allowed, ironically, to hide the truth. That is, the Supreme Court, CJ Corona’s Court.

First, was to stop the disclosure of the dollar bank accounts; and second, was to stop the impeachment trial itself.

The Supreme Court in an 8-5 vote issued a TRO (temporary restraining order) to stop the opening of CJ Corona’s dollar bank account.

We still do not know how the Senate or impeachment court would react to the TRO. The body “will take it up in due time.”

The Supreme Court has not acted on the petition to stop the impeachment trial. But earlier, Senate President Enrile said, “Nobody except the military could stop us from conducting the impeachment trial.”

The Philippines has a democratic and a republican government. Democratic because “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” Republican because it is representative and that the people’s will is acted upon directly, through their elected representatives locally and nationally; and indirectly, through appointive officials. Such will is expressed in the form of the fundamental law - the Constitution, laws, implementing rules, Executive orders, Presidential orders, Department orders, provincial board resolutions, municipal ordinances, court decisions and the like.

In disciplining high government officials such as those enumerated in the Constitution as impeachable, the people designated the House of Representatives by a vote of at least 1/3 to have the power to impeach and the Senate to hear and decide the impeachment case. Such powers are exclusive. The Senators and Congressmen are answerable only to the people that they represent. That is why issues relating to such powers would be political questions that the other branches of government, Executive or the Supreme Court are advised not to touch.

Should the Supreme Court interfere in the impeachment proceedings especially if it involves one of their associates, or worse, their Chief?

The ready answer and my take is, NO. The power to hear and decide impeachment cases is one solely and exclusively vested upon the Senate free from interference from any other branch of government. Any action or petition before any other court would be a political question. The actions of the Senate are considered dictates of the sovereign people that they represent. On political questions, the Justices who are appointive officials have no such mandates.

Some legal experts, however, opine that the Supreme Court may interfere in cases where the Senate is found to have committed grave abuse of discretion.

Did the Senate/impeachment court commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing a subpoena for the peso and dollar accounts of CJ Corona? Is forcing a bank official to violate the law on the secrecy of foreign currency deposits considered grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Senate?

What happens if the Senate refuses to comply with the TRO and insists on compelling the bank to open the accounts? How will the Supreme Court enforce its ruling?

The Senate as an impeachment court has the discretion or power to compel anybody to produce any evidence to aid its quasi-judicial and quasi-political function especially in seeking the truth.

Knowing the contents of CJ Corona’s dollar bank accounts would help in determining whether or not he truthfully and accurately declared SALNs as contemplated under the law.

The Senate therefore, did not gravely abuse its discretion. On the contrary, it is being true to its mandate. About 75% (188/250) of the sovereign people are represented in wanting to impeach the Chief Justice and had formally asked the Senate who were all elected nationally to hear and decide the impeachment case. Any action to seek the truth by the Senate as an impeachment court is beyond review.

Its decision might seemingly contradict the secrecy of foreign currency deposits law because the latter provided only one exception. That is, the written permission of the depositor to open.  But it could also be interpreted as an added exception or a virtual amendment by judicial legislation on the part of the impeachment court or virtual legislation having obtained the nod of the majority of both the House and the Senate and without Presidential objection.

There is a reason and wisdom for vesting the impeachment powers solely and exclusively to the House and the Senate.  Supreme Court Justices and other impeachable high public officials enumerated in the Constitution should respect it and should in no way influence or interfere in the exercise of such powers or in the fulfillment of its sovereign obligation.

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