Thursday, May 31, 2012

CJ Corona as Interpreter of Law

The Philippines has a presidential republican system of government. It has three arms or branches namely: the Legislative, which makes the laws; the Executive, which executes or implements them; and the Judiciary, which interprets them.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court as the head of the Judiciary is therefore the chief interpreter of all laws. He also has supervisory powers over all lower court judges and justices of appellate courts who are also called upon to interpret the laws of the land.

Common to the Supreme Court Justices and their subordinates is their oath and affirmation “to uphold and defend the Constitution and to obey the laws, legal orders and decrees…”, among others.

He reached his current position as a credentialed public official,
But his appointment as Chief Justice was and still is considered by many as “midnight” and therefore irregular.

Among others, he has been accused and actually impeached by the House of Representatives, of Culpable Violation of the Constitution and of Betrayal of Public Trust.

The Senate, which has the sole and exclusive power to try and decide impeachment cases, has been patiently hearing for 42 days both Prosecution and Defense lawyers as they presented their sides.

My view is that the Prosecution succeeded in proving a Prima Facie Case at least on Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment, which is Culpable Violation of the Constitution and Betrayal of Public Trust. Former Chief Justice Art Panganiban and many others are of the same opinion.

The Defense in calling Ombudsman Carpio Morales as its witness, made a colossal mistake because contrary to their lawyers’ expectations, she testified on the Anti-Money Laundering Council Report indicating that CJ Corona has $12-M in his dollar accounts and P282-M in his peso account. She further testified on the 82 “covered” (P500,000 or more) and “suspicious” (less than P500,000 but suspicious) transactions.

Calling on CJ Corona as a witness for his own defense was not helpful either. In fact, he made it worse. Not only did he fail to disprove the existence of $12-M deposits by presenting bank documents, he actually admitted the following:

  1. That he has at least $2.4-M in his bank accounts;
  2. That he has about P80-M in his bank accounts;
  3. That he did not declare them in his SALNs; and
  4. That there are inaccuracies and discrepancies in his SALNs.

His reason for not declaring his $2.4-M dollar deposits is that according to R.A. 6426 (Foreign Currency Deposit Secrecy Act), they are “absolutely confidential” and must not therefore be declared. He further claims that there seems to be a conflict between the SALN law and the FCDS law.

His reason for not declaring his P80-M deposits is that they were not his because they were supposedly commingled with funds owned by others.

He also says that the inaccuracies and discrepancies in his SALNs were mistakes committed in good faith by virtue of his not being an accountant and could only be considered “perjury”, which is not an impeachable offense.

It is my opinion that the interpretation of CJ Corona is faulty on several counts:
1.    The law is clear and unequivocal.  He, as a public impeachable official, must “submit under oath an accurate declaration of his assets, liabilities, and networth.” There is no other alternative but to apply the law.
 2. When the law speaks in clear and categorical language there is no occasion for interpretation.
3.    Where a requirement is made in explicit and unambiguous terms, no discretion is left to the judiciary. It must see to it that the mandate is obeyed. There is nothing ambiguous about “assets”.  Section 8 of R.A. 6713 enumerates them and it specifically includes “investments, cash on hand or in banks, stocks, bonds and the like.” CJ Corona’s dollar deposits should have been declared.
 4. When the law does not distinguish, courts should not distinguish. CJ Corona should not distinguish either. When the law says declare all ASSETS, it includes all bank deposits. It does not distinguish between peso and foreign currency deposits.
5.    When the law does not make exceptions, CJ Corona should not make exceptions. If the framers of the Constitution, which was adopted in 1987 wanted foreign currency deposits to be excluded in the declaration, they would have specifically stated it.
6. It is time-honored that the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land. It is the law of all laws. If there is a conflict between a statute and the Constitution, the statute shall yield to the Constitution.
7.    The SALN mandate is in the Constitution to promote transparency and accountability. It is there in order to minimize, if not totally eradicate, graft and corruption. Declaration under oath means openness, no concealment, NO SECRETS. In construing this provision in the Constitution, we should bear in mind the object (transparency) sought to be accomplished by its adoption, and the evils (graft & corruption) sought to be prevented or remedied.
8. Cj Corona should have known that the fundamental principle of constitutional construction is to give effect to the intent of the framers of the organic law and of the people adopting it. SECRECY is the opposite of TRANSPARENCY. Providing an escape route for public officials to hide ill-gotten wealth such as what CJ Corona did is diametrically opposed to the intent and spirit of the SALN law.

CJ Corona argues that he did not declare his dollar deposits because they were “absolutely confidential” as provided for under Republic Act 6426. 

Not really. First, the banks are mandated to reveal “covered” (P500K +) and “suspicious” (less than P500K) transactions under the Anti-Money Laundering Law. Second, the depositor can waive the confidentiality, it being his right. Third, he can declare his deposits, it being his duty such as including them as income in his tax returns as the case may be. Fourth, it can be garnished to satisfy the depositor’s judgment obligations to prevent injustice and for equitable grounds as decided in (Salvacion vs. Central Bank of the Philippines, G.R. 94723, August 21, 1997) by the Supreme Court led by Justices who eventually became Chief Justices namely Narvasa, Davide, Puno and Panganiban. Last and most importantly, he must have declared them in his SALN.

Cj Corona also says that the P80-M deposits under his name were not declared because the funds are commingled with other funds owned by others. Under bank rules, there is a presumption that the deposit account is owned by the person named in the account who correspondingly exercises ownership rights such as withdrawals, transfers, closure, signatory, etc.

CJ Corona should have declared these commingled peso deposits in his assets as cash in bank and declared as liabilities the funds belonging to others. Even banks declare in their financial statements their customers’ bank balances as liabilities.

We must remember though. Ombudsman claimed in her testimony that based on the AMLC report, CJ Corona has P282-M.

CJ Corona admits to having inaccuracies and discrepancies in his SALNs. For these, he said he could only be charged for committing perjury, which is not a high crime, hence- not impeachable. He also attributes his mistakes to not being an accountant.

Based on the evidence presented and my own analysis, CJ Corona willfully made false statements under oath in his SALNs 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010. He also claims to have earned substantial amounts of money since 1969. The problem is, he did not declare them as his assets in 2002 when he first joined the Supreme Court.

Winston Churchill, using more diplomatic language would say, “CJ Corona is guilty of a deliberate attempt to commit a terminological inexactitude.”

In a blunt and undiplomatic term, Ombudsman Carpio Morales said what Churchill really meant, “CJ Corona is a certified LIAR!”

The inaccuracies and discrepancies were not mere mistakes made by a non-accountant lawyer. They were committed expecting not to be discovered by virtue of the cover provided by the Supreme Court and the Foreign Currency Deposit Secrecy law.

CJ Corona knew what he was doing.  He took up Legal Accounting in Law school. He took up Management Accounting in his MBA. He learned reading and analyzing Financial Statements in his LL.M, in Development Bank of the Philippines and in SGV, worldwide known Auditing and Management Consulting firm.

Feigning good faith mistake is no defense. Besides R.A. 6713 is a special law where offenses under are considered Mala-Prohibita. This means, CJ should declare under oath ALL his ASSETS, LIABILITIES, and NET WORTH accurately. If he did not do so, he is GUILTY. Intent, good faith, malice are irrelevant.

CJ Corona violated his oath of office. He committed offenses against public interest by making false statements in a narration of facts such as the SALN. He failed to uphold and defend the Constitution. He is guilty of Betrayal of Public Trust.

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