GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/19 Feb) — While Chief Justice Renato C. Corona has been doing his personal and legal best to hide his millions in pesos and dollars by declaring only a small portion in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and by locking up in a safe in the Supreme Court his SALNs, President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III is not hiding his feelings and thoughts about Corona’s unfitness to continue – hence, his removal by impeachment — as chief justice.
He made his position unmistakably clear in his speech last Thursday, February 16, during the Pulong Bayan ng Pangulo to commemorate the People’s Victory Rally at the Quirino Grandstand in Manila on February 16, 1986 – the people’s proclamation of Corazon C. Aquino, the President’s mother, as the winner in the snap presidential election against the dictator President Ferdinand E. Marcos which the Batasang Pambansa had denied. This s was among the immediate causes of the EDSA People’s Revolt a week after.
In his speech, he asked: “Dapat pa ba tayong magtiwala kay Ginoong Corona?” [In his English version: “Can we still trust Mr. Corona?” The Philippine Star (philstar.com, February 16, 2012) summarized in its headline the President’s position: “Should the public trust Corona?”]
In choosing to focus on the Corona issue in his speech during the 26th anniversary of the People’s Victory Rally, the President is confronting all — the Senate as the impeachment court, the prosecution and the defense, and the people — with the national importance and urgency of the Corona impeachment. In particular, he directly questions Corona about his fitness as chief justice in the light of his SALNs and bank deposits.
Whims of Destiny
Of the commemoration, he says that in “looking back on the events of the past” we are “facing the challenges of the present” and we are “called upon to fight for our future”. By this, he states a paradox: the challenges of that event 26 years ago have remained a challenge until today; and, an irony: the leaders tasked with meeting the challenges 26 years ago are the core — the embodiment — of the challenges we are facing today.
Fighting “for our future” is our challenge today. His challenging question: “Huhubugin ba natin and kinabukasang ito, o magpapakaladkad na lang tayo sa tadhana?” [In his English version: “Are we ready to shape this future, or are we content to leave ourselves to the whims of destiny?”]
e HHThe President is rallying the nation against present Filipino leaders who have failed to meet the challenges through the 26 years to shape a better future for the Philippines but instead have built their own power and fortune at the expense of the people as the present shows. This is how significant the Corona impeachment is.
The President, in his speech, is actually sounding the alarm on the progress and direction of the Corona impeachment. He says that as he observed in silence the first 16 days of the impeachment trial he saw how “the true issues” have been “muddled” by “speculation and commentary” seemingly appearing that “we are purposely being confused and misled so our interest in the proceedings would fade”.
He asks: “Magpapa-etsa-puwera na lang ba si Juan at Juana dela Cruz sa prosesong ito? Hahayaan na lang po ba natin na iilan ang magdesisyon para sa atin pong lahat? [In his English version: “Will Juan and Juana de la Cruz allow themselves to be shut out of this process? Will we allow a select few to decide the fate of all?”]
The President is encouraging the people, especially the common Filipino, to take part in the discussion of the Corona impeachment trial. That calls for their enlightening.
He says forthright: “Iyan naman po and sadya ko sa araw na ito: Liwanagin and dapat liwanagin, at ituwid ang isyung pilit dinidiskaril ng ilan.” [In his English version: “That is why I am here today: to shed light on matters that have intentionally been obscured, and to set straight the issues that have been distorted by a few.”
Obviously, he wants the common Filipinos to see Corona’s guilt. What will the common people do if Corona is acquitted contrary to their conviction that he is guilty? That is the enigma.
Of the main impeachment question, he says: “simple lang naman po ang tanong na nais sagutin ng paglilitis na ito: Dapat pa ba tayong magtiwala kay Ginoong Corona?” [In his English version: “After all, the question that this trial seeks to answer is simple: Can we still trust Mr. Corona?”]
The answer! “Masasagot po natin iyan kung titingnan ang mga katotohanang lumalabas na sa paglilitis.” [In his English version: “We can answer this question by looking at the truths that have so far been revealed in the trial.”] The President is referring to the facts about Corona’s SALNs and from statements of Corona himself and his defense counsel – evidence of his betrayal of public trust.
The President makes clear his premise: The SALN “is not a mere scratch paper: every public official swears an oath and stakes his honor on this document.” He quotes the two-sentence Section 17 of Article XI of the Constitution mandating this.
The first sentence is the command: “A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities and net worth.” [Section 8 of RA 6713 provides the details in fulfilling this mandate.]
The second sentence specifically refers to the top officials of the land: “In the case of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed in the manner provided by law.” [Author’s Note: Supplementary to Section 8 of RA 6713, offices have requirements in the disclosure of the SALNs.] j
In Corona’s Case
The President asks: “Paano po ba tinupad ni Ginoong Corona and batas na ito?” [In his English version: “Just how did Mr. Corona obey this law?”] He had his SALNs locked up in a safe; he did not declare all his assets and liabilities. In 2010, “he declared cash in the amount of 3.5 million pesos” while having a deposit of “31.5 million pesos” with the PSBank according to the testimonies of the bank president and a branch manager.
He directs a remark to Corona: “’Di ho ba tayong lahat ay mapapasabing: Naman! Maliwanag pa po sa sikat ng araw: Ginoong Corona, and sinumpaan mong salaysay ay hindi tugma sa natuklas na pag-aari mo. Maski saang paaralan po, hindi lang sa Pilipinas kundi sa buong mundo, 3.5 million pesos does not equal 31.5 million. Alin po ba ang totoo, Ginoong Corona?”
[In his English version: “Oh, come on. It is clearer than the light of day: Mr. Corona, the account you have sworn to be true does not correspond to the assets that have been discovered. In any school in the world, 3.5 million does not equal 31.5 million. Which is the truth, Mr. Corona?”]
How liable is Corona? Very! — If the precedent in the records of the Supreme Court is to be followed.
The President reminds Corona of the case, Rabe vs. Flores, the Court affirmed in1997. Delsa Flores, an RTC court interpreter in Davao del Norte, was dismissed from office forfeiting all her benefits and barred for life from employment in government for failing to include in her SALN the rental of a stall she owned at the public market.
To relate Flores’ case to Corona’s: “Sa isang court interpreter, iyan po ang batayan. Magkano ang upa sa isang puwesto sa palengke? Sa Punong Mahistrado po ba, dapat naiiba? Kung si Ginang Flores po ay sinisante, ano pa kaya ang dapat hatol kay Ginoong Corona? Kailangan pa po bang tanungin kung impeachable offense ang ginawa niya?”
[In his English version: “This was the basis for firing a court interpreter. How much is a stall in the wet market anyway? Are we supposed to treat our Chief Justice any differently? If Mrs.Flores was fired for what she did, then what is a rightful verdict for Mr. Corona? Is there still any question if his actions constitute impeachable offense?]
Obviously, the President is appealing more to the impeachment court than to his audience – appealing for Corona’s conviction.
Aquino on the Arroyo-Corona connection: “Ginoong Corona, sana naman po ay huwag n’yo na kaming paikutan. Alam naman namin kung bakit ka isiniksik ni “Ginang Arroyo sa Korte Suprema: iyan po ay para pagtakpan ang katiwalian niya. ’Di ba nagsimula ang lahat ng ito nang muntik ka nang magtagumpay na napatakasin si Ginang Arroyo?”
[In his English version: “Mr. Corona, please don’t give us the runaround. We all know why Mrs. Arroyo placed you in the Supreme Court: to cover up for her corruption. Didn’t all of this start when you almost succeeded in aiding Mrs. Arroyo in her escape?”] Had Arroyo left last November, she could have evaded the 2007 electoral sabotage case she now faces by returning after the prescription of the crime in May this year.
That Corona is the focus of Aquino’s speech – to use his own very words – “is clearer than the light of day”. After confronting Corona of his sins against the SALNs law and twitting him of his “overdue” promise to reveal his bank deposits “in due time”, he asks his audience to judge: Should “the Chief Justice … be exempted from the laws all of us must follow?” Alluding to the class he thinks Corona represents: “Are those in power immune to questions, to investigations, and to criticisms?”
Yet, he says, “this is nothing personal” – nothing more than that “we are fighting to preserve the integrity of our justice system” as symbolized by a blindfolded lady holding a balance scale.
With this symbol, he provokes revulsion should Corona be acquitted. “Put yourself in the shoes of Delsa Flores: What must you be feeling now seeing someone in a higher position who has hidden a much higher amount from his SALN?”
His point: Corona represents inequality in our justice system — a “system in which people take advantage and are taken advantage of; a two-faced justice system, one face for the powerful, and another for those in the margins”.
At the outset, his “simple question” is personal: “Can we still trust Mr. Corona?” In his conclusion, this becomes universal: “Do we allow this system to continue?” He exhorts his audience and all the people to “take a stand now” to change the system.
But Corona represents the system to be changed. President Aquino is interfering in the impeachment of Corona. May he? We will discuss this in another COMMENT. [“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.]