The impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona is about to resume after a six-week break. Thanks to a few objective Senator Judges of the impeachment court who admonished the prosecution team for giving information that had not yet been introduced in court to the media, the prosecutors have been compelled to stay relatively quiet the entire break. They probably didn’t want to receive another tongue lashing from the Senators and end up looking like amateurs again.
The prosecution may have foregone the trial by media for now but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not mounting some kind of covert operation to undermine Corona’s credibility outside the courtroom; it doesn’t mean that the mastermind behind the ill-thought-out impeachment case is not plotting his next move through his minions. There is enough evidence to suggest that they are working stealthily to damage Corona’s credibility even further. A week before the trial resumes, a news report came out saying that:
Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, acting on several complaints filed with her office, asked Corona to explain in writing within 72 hours how he acquired several peso and dollar accounts, allegedly “grossly disproportionate” to his salary, in different banks.
As usual, the timing of the request is quite suspect. I wouldn’t even consider it a request but more of a demand. It came just a few days after the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court ordering the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to the farmers was released. Several questions come to mind. Why would the office of the ombudsman demand an immediate explanation from CJ Corona of his accounts when his impeachment trial hasn’t been concluded? The ombudsman should know that this could compromise the trial. Can’t they wait until the defense team has finished their presentation? How did the complainants know how much is in Corona’s alleged dollar account?
As far as I know the Foreign Currency Deposit Republic Act 6426 or the Dollar Secrecy Law hasn’t been repealed. So first, how did they know Corona has a dollar account in the first place and second, how did they know how much funds are kept in it? Could this be another fishing expedition? Well it also looks like they just want to bring the bear out of its cave. They want the information coming from the horse’s mouth. They are hoping that Corona will incriminate himself if he accidentally puts his foot in his mouth.
Whatever or whoever it is that prompted the ombudsman to demand Corona’s explanation involving his dollar accounts; this development has emboldened the prosecutors and presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda to break their silence about the trial which is set to resume next week. With prosecution spokesman Edgardo Angara, Jr saying that “this could be the tipping point” that will assure Corona is convicted and Lacierda adding that the Office of the ombudsman “can recommend a case of impeachment against an impeachable official”, it is becoming apparent that they are working on various plans of action for whatever outcome they get at the end of the trial. It seems an acquittal will not be the end of Corona’s legal woes after all.
The actions of the ombudsman could have something to do with the not-so-compelling evidence presented by the prosecution. It may not even be admitted because the prosecution may have violated the law in the manner they obtained a copy of the alleged bank records which were used as the basis for issuing the subpoena. Worse, members of the prosecution team issued conflicting stories about where they got those “spurious” documents. First it was Representative Reynaldo Umali who claimed that he was the one who got the papers from a “small lady.” Then after PSBank manager Annabelle Tiongson’s revelation that Rep. Jorge “Bolet” Banal went to their bank on the 31st of January to ask for her “help”, Banal then went on to give a very long explanation saying someone left for him an envelope under the gate of his home in Quezon City the night before he went to the PSBank branch in Katiputan.
The defense team’s decision on Day One not to call CJ Corona to testify turned out to be a wise move. As mentioned before, if the treatment of other witnesses by the members of the prosecution team and some of the Senator judges are any indication, Corona would have been bullied and mistreated too. We all know how these so-called “statesmen” conduct themselves during congressional and senatorial hearings. Some of them seem to take the opportunity to act like rabid mad dogs aggressively intimidating persons of interest as if they are superior beings, forgetting that they are supposed to be working for the people. Their kind of behaviour is usually evident in people who lack substance and harbour delusions of grandeur. They try to hide their incompetence by acting boorish or rude just to distract people from their own shortcomings.
It was obvious to a lot of people that the “political in nature” process was initiated merely to humiliate CJ Corona into resigning. It probably didn’t occur to the perpetuators that they would have to present the so-called compelling evidence they spoke of with the media in court. They learned the hard way that due process involves dealing with facts and not fiction.
Here are some other highlights the prosecution wishes that the public would forget:
1. The prosecution team headed by Congressman Neil Tupas Jr came across as a bunch of spoiled brats and crybabies compared with their counterparts in the defense camp. They struggled with their presentation the whole time because they did not have a solid case to begin with. They kept asking for more “flexibility” or a more “liberal” approach to the proceedings despite already having received a lot of help from some of the Senator Judges and even the leader of the defense team, Serafin Cuevas. Since Day One they have shown that they were ill-prepared to present what was supposed to be their much-anticipated “explosive” evidence. They did not possess the same confidence they projected in front of the media when they were in the courtroom.
2. The allegations that CJ Corona hadn’t been filing his SALN since the start of his membership in the Supreme Court had been proven false. A 1989 en banc resolution requires that the SALN’s of all the members of the Supreme Court be submitted to the Clerk of Court for safekeeping. The en banc resolution is meant to protect the independence of the judiciary because information in the wrong hands tends to “endanger, diminish or destroy their [the judiciary’s] independence…and expose them to revenge for adverse decisions, kidnapping, extortion, blackmail.”
3. Noli Hernandez, Megaworld Corporation’s senior vice president for marketing and sales confirmed that the P10-million “discount” from the sale of the Megaworld property of the Coronas, the value of which was brought down from P24 million to P19.6 million, was made even before Corona came into the picture. The property developer’s claim that the property was sold at a discount due to a slump in the property market in 2009 was even confirmed by Senator Manny Villar, also a property developer, who said that the discount was available to everyone and not just the Coronas. Even Senator Juan Ponce Enrile reiterated it:
“No, this is not a discount,” the 87-year-old senator told Perez, triggering a reaction from the gallery.
“Counsel, you are twisting the answer. I’m sorry to tell you that. The reduction done voluntarily by the selling company could not be considered the discount. They lowered the price themselves. That is not a discount to anybody. Discount means you’re giving a privilege or a favor to somebody. The discount started at the reduced price of P19.6 million,” Enrile added.
The prosecution thought they could actually trick a property developer into admitting that they use bribery on a regular basis.
4. Prosecutor Congressman Rodolfo Fariñas admitted at the impeachment trial that the 188 Congressmen who signed the impeachment complaint may not have read and understood the articles of impeachment properly. According to him, he did not sign the impeachment complaint because he was a slow reader compared to the rest and that the articles of impeachment were badly written:
“Mabagal kasi akong bumasa eh, kaya nung prinisenta sa’min ‘yan … nung nakapirma na ‘yung panghuli — maraming speed reader kasi diyan eh — dahil sobra-sobra ang pumirma na, 188, ‘di na kailangan ang pirma ko at masama pagkagawa ng complaint (I read slowly and when the complaint was presented to us … when the last one had signed — there are many speed readers there — because so many had already signed, 188, my signature was no longer needed and the complaint was badly done),” Fariñas said.
5. In Secretary De Lima’s efforts to prove that Chief Justice Corona granted favors to GMA, she inadvertently proved her own partiality towards the incumbent President, Noynoy Aquino (PNoy). The dutiful staff that she is, De Lima had to do everything to please PNoy even to the point of defying the Supreme Court (SC) by ignoring the SC temporary restraining order (TRO). In her testimony she also insinuated that the Chief Justice was the only person behind the issuance of a TRO against a watch list order on former President Gloria M Arroyo (GMA). She stopped short of saying that the Chief Justice is in control the entire Supreme Court.
Secretary De Lima’s testimony was very questionable. It had more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. Her statements were mostly based on hearsays and her personal opinions. She relied heavily on the dissenting opinion of associate judge Maria Lourdes Sereno — meaning, she naturally gravitated to the opinion of someone who pretty much agreed with her views. And because she was not involved in the voting process, she could only speculate on why the majority voted to grant the TRO to its petitioners.
6. The eight articles of impeachment complaints against CJ Corona were reduced to three when the prosecution was forced to drop articles 1, 4, 5, 6, and 8 for lack of evidence and witnesses. This move prompted Senator Miriam Santiago to label the prosecution “an INSULT to the intelligence of educated Filipinos.”
7. A witness for the defense team, Congressman Tobias Tiangco confirmed President Noynoy Aquino’s role in the railroading of the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona. He also explained the culture of bullying, intimidation, and bribery in Congress that compelled some of the 188 signatories of the impeachment complaint to sign without reading or understanding what they were signing. The bullying it seems even comes from the House Majority Leader Neptali “Boyet” Gonzales II himself.
Tiangco testified under oath on the allegations that the impeachment of Corona was backed by the president’s orders and that the Congressmen were not even allowed to ask questions during the Power Point presentation outlining the hastily and badly-written articles of impeachment.
8. Prosecution misled the public when they alleged CJ Corona had 45 properties instead of five. Defense counsel Noel Lazaro made the prosecution panel admit item-by-item that at least 17 of the 45 properties brandished by the prosecution were cancelled titles with some of them not under Corona’s name. Defense witness, LRA Administrator Eulalio Diaz III, who gave the list of the properties to the prosecutors, was heavily admonished by a few Senators who were shocked to find out that he (1) acted on an informal request done over the phone by Congressman and lead prosecutor Niel Tupas, Jr; (2) released a list of properties supposedly under Corona’s name without checking if the list was accurate; (3) inadvertently divulged private information concerning other individuals who are not even involved in the trial; and (4) adopted a “cavalier” attitude towards his own gaffe.
There you go. These are some of the most important highlights during the impeachment trial prior to the Easter break. Since people’s memories can get a bit hazy especially since the prosecution would rather that the public not remember the parts where they got it all wrong, it is in everyone’s interest that the Filipino people familiarize themselves again with the details of the impeachment case lest any of the members of the court decide to conduct another trial by media.