MINDA DA NEWS: So, What Now?

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/29 February) – In the 7th week and after 25 days of the impeachment trial the prosecution rested its case against Chief Justice Renato C. Corona having prosecuted only Articles 2, 3 and 7 of the impeachment complaint. The move was a surprise but a welcomed one.

While Articles 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 will no longer be prosecuted, the prosecution reserves its right to present more evidence to strengthen Article 2 should the Supreme Court lift the Temporary Restraining Order against the disclosure of Corona’s dollar deposits. The hearing on merits of Corona’s petition is expected to be over soon.

With the surprise move comes the question: So, what now?

The prosecution is confident of having presented a strong case – Article 2 alone being enough to convict Corona. The defense has dismissed this claim – no substantial evidence has been presented. These are normal reflexes of contending sides at the midpoint of any judicial trial, especially in criminal cases.

How grounded is the prosecution’s confidence?

Former Dean Raul Pangalangan of the University of the Philippines College of Law told ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel): “Prosecution [is] strongest in Article 2; weaker on Articles 3 and 7 both on factual and legal [angles].” It is the make-or-break issue in the impeachment complaint, ANC observed. (ABS-CBNews.com, February 28, 2012).

How will Corona and his defense refute the prosecution evidence on Article 2? Let’s all watch.  The defense’s assurance it will is most interesting.

Let’s review Article 2 and the prosecution evidence.

Article XI, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution provides that: “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.”

 Republic Act 6713 (Approved: February 20, 1989) states in Section 8: “Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interest including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age.” Subsection A details the content of the SALN and requires the yearly filing “on or before April 30”.

In prosecuting Article 2, the prosecution has shown that Corona’s SALNs from 2002, the year he was appointed Supreme Court justice, until 2010 did not reflect correctly his “assets, liabilities and net worth”. Not all his real properties were included with those included undervalued compared to the acquisition costs. Only a lesser percentage of his bank deposits were reported. His real property and cash assets recorded in the Register of Deeds and in the banks were beyond his known personal resources.

That he violated Article XI, Section 17 of the Constitution and Section 8 of RA 6713 has been established. That by this Corona “committed culpable violation of the Constitution and/or betrayed the public trust” is yet for the prosecution to recapitulate relevant to the charge and for the defense to refute.  Either Corona is dismissed or retained as Chief Justice.

But the defense’s burden is not easy. Corona is accused of violating the Constitution and RA 6713, not for amassing ill-gotten wealth. The defense can prove as legally acquired Corona’s real property and cash in the banks. That is not the burden in Article 2. In fact, the more the defense justifies Corona’s bank deposits – including the dollar deposits Corona has promised to disclose “in due time” – the more it admits his dishonesty in filing his SALNs, the wide disparity between his declared and real wealth.

Yet, the prosecution is far from sure to have Corona dismissed. The defense, besides presenting evidence, will vigorously attack the prosecution evidence from its weakest point – technicality, invoking the Rules of Evidence. If it can have the prosecution evidence dismissed by technicality, it may not need present its own evidence.

The prosecution has a strong case if its evidence is admitted. But this is not enough. Will two-thirds or 18 of the 23 senators-judges – the number needed to convict Corona – agree with its evidence? More than truthfulness will determine the final judgment of the senators sitting as judges.

As Impeachment Court chairman Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile advised the prosecution and defense this afternoon (February 29) – obviously, more against the prosecution — not to prejudge the impeachment trial based on their respective evidences: “No one can be sure of the outcome of this case even if you’ve presented your evidence. We will wait for the completion of the entire trial until the judgment can be pronounced.”     

So, what now? Corona has as much confidence to be acquitted as the prosecution has of his dismissal. It is the Impeachment Court that will weigh the opposing evidences; its decision is final and not appealable.

The prosecution has, indeed, a strong case. But prudence should have restrained it from pronouncing its confidence to convict Corona. While this pronouncement may have elated the anti-Corona constituents, it has to some degree offended the Impeachment Court – an error too risky to commit at this time. – (Patricio P. Diaz/MindaNews.)