Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Cleansing the CORONAry Path to Justice

My barber asked me, “What is your take on the impeachment trial of Philippine Chief Justice Renato Corona?”

I told him that I should really withhold judgment until both sides are presented and heard. However, there are certain issues that I could deal with without appearing to be biased. Besides, now that I am a credentialed member of the Press, there are responsibilities that I have to meet in the dissemination of information relating to the trial.


In a representative (republican), democratic (sovereignty resides in the people) and constitutional government, impeachment is both a quasi-political and a quasi-judicial process.

The House of Representatives is empowered by the Constitution to impeach by a vote or by signatures of 1/3 of its members. Upon transmittal of the Articles of Impeachment as endorsed by the required numbers to the Senate, the latter shall conduct the trial as provided by the Constitution.

The assumption is that it is the will of the people that the signatories in the House represent and that of the Senate who will hear and judge.

Under this process, the House is like the Fiscal or Prosecutor while the Senate is like a Judge and Jury. Their corresponding powers are exclusive and could only be overruled by the people who gave them such authority.

As argued by some, theoretically, if the Senate abuses its power or authority, its actions are appealable to the Supreme Court.  Who determines what is abusive or not? Each Senator is a Judge and Juror.  One has to prove each and collectively such abuse which is next to impossible to do. My take is that only the sovereign people could determine whether their representatives in the Senate abused the powers vested upon them.


Another issue is the burden of proof. There is no specific provision defining the required evidence in an impeachment proceeding.  If perceived as a criminal case, then, “proof beyond reasonable doubt” is required.  This means “that degree of proof produced in an unprejudiced mind” which arises from moral certainty that the person to be convicted is guilty of the crime.

It could also be looked at as an ordinary administrative proceeding; administrative proceedings in quasi-judicial bodies; or as a case that is between civil and criminal. The evidence required is: Substantial evidence; Preponderance of evidence; and Clear and convincing proof or overwhelming preponderance, respevtively.

Substantial evidence refers to “such amount of relevant evidence which a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to justify a conclusion.” As expected, the prosecution asserts that the required burden on their part is this one.

Section 1 of Rule 133 of the Rules of Court shows how to determine preponderance of evidence: “the court may consider all the facts and circumstances of the case, the witnesses’ manner of testifying, their intelligence, their means and opportunity of knowing the facts to which they are testifying, the nature of the facts to which they testify, the probability or improbability of their testimony, their interest or want of interest, and also their personal credibility so far as the same may legitimately appear upon trial.”

Clear and convincing proof is a more stringent standard than preponderance of evidence but less than proof beyond reasonable doubt. A couple of Senators who are lawyers are inclined to use this standard but call it the same way as Yale Professor Charles Black, Jr. as “overwhelming preponderance of evidence.”

My barber interrupted: “The maximum penalty for impeachment is removal from office. It could even be less, such as reprimand. This is like an ordinary worker or employee getting fired for cause where it only requires substantial evidence. Why should the required evidence to sanction an errant Chief Justice be any different?”

He has a point but this has to be relayed to each of the Senators. I proceeded.

Prior to judgment, the Judge gives instructions to each member of the Jury regarding the standard of proof and other matters. Since each Senator is a Judge and Juror, he actually instructs himself. In short, he could follow any standard and judge for himself either objectively or subjectively. The law gives him that much leeway as a chosen Judge/Juror/Representative of the sovereign people.


The Constitution enumerates the following offenses as impeachable: culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.

Let me touch briefly on only two offenses, as we still have to hear the rest of evidence to be presented. One is culpable violation of the Constitution and the other, betrayal of public trust.

The prosecution charges CJ Corona with “culpable violation of the Constitution for non-disclosure of the statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).”

CJ Corona actually filed his SALN. It was eventually disclosed at the Senate for all the Senators and the public to see. Does this constitute compliance regardless of the accuracy or falsity of the contents?

The law requires full disclosure of facts.  In fact, to do otherwise would be considered “Making untruthful statements in a narration of facts” under Article 171-Falsification by public officer, employee, etc. It is a Crime Against Public Interest.

As stated in the law, “by legal obligation is meant that the law requires a full disclosure of facts such as in a public official’s STATEMENT OF ASSETS and LIABILITIES…”

This could also be interpreted as betrayal of public trust on the part of Chief Justice Corona if his SALN as submitted proved to be false. Waiting for the defense.

My favorite top-notch investigative reporter Raissa Robles in a brilliant research, reporting and analysis had this to say about the relevance of SALN in CJ Corona’s case:

To the prosecutors: “they have a document they can refer to when they present Income Tax Returns (ITRs) and Statements of Assets Liabilities and Net worth (SALNs) as evidence. It’s a document written by someone who happens to be named Renato C. Corona.

In that document, CJ Corona made some interesting points:
■He said the burden of proof lies with the person being accused of having amassed such wealth. ■He also said the court should disregard technicalities thrown by the defendant’s side. ■And he said it was enough to compare a respondent’s SALNs (Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth) and ITRs (Income Tax Return) with the wealth in question to determine the latter’s illegal origin. If disclosed income and assets were far less than the questioned wealth, then the latter is ill-gotten. CJ Corona showed how to connect the dots using the SALN and the ITR in his ruling entitled Republic of the Philippines vs. the Sandiganbayan and Ferdinand Marcos, as represented by his heirs: his wife Imelda and their children Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., Governor Imee Marcos, and Irene Marcos-Araneta.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona wrote how to compute for corruption in his landmark decision on the Marcoses' ill gotten wealth case. In this 2011 photo, CJ Corona sits beside Senator Bongbong Marcos In his very exhaustive ruling on this civil forfeiture case, CJ Corona concretely showed: 
■How to use SALNs and ITRs to compute for the total assets of the respondent ■Then how to determine the amount of alleged ill-gotten wealth in comparison to the defendant’s total assets.”

By definition, ill-gotten wealth is graft and corruption, which is also a ground for impeachment. 

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