GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 February) – After three weeks of impeachment hearing against Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, the evidence the prosecution have so far presented should convince him to resign. That is his best option.
At the outset, he vowed to face trial. As it has turned out, he shuns it. His defense panel has been trying to prevent the prosecution from presenting evidence of dishonesty in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). His defense panel failing, he filed in his own Court a petition to restrain the impeachment court from looking into his bank deposits and to effectively stop the impeachment trial.
In hiding the truth about his assets and liabilities, Corona and his defense panel have tacitly admitted the offenses charged in Impeachment Article II: Culpable violation to the Constitution and/or [betrayal of] public trust for failing] to disclose to the public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth as required under Sec. 17, Art. XI of the 1987 Constitution. The prosecution has decided to present Article II ahead of I.
Corona is facing eight complaints: for culpable violation of the Constitution (Article V); for culpable violation of the Constitution and/or betrayal of public trust (Articles 1I, III and IV); for betrayal of public trust (Articles I, VI and VII); for betrayal of public trust and/or graft and corruption (Article VIII).
Presented to the impeachment court were his SALNs for 2002 to 2010; his Income Tax Returns for the same period; the real properties he and his wife have acquired until 2010; and peso accounts in the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) for 2005 to 2010. He is also known to have dollar accounts in PSBank and accounts in other banks.
It has become evident that: (1) some of the properties he and his wife have bought have not been disclosed in his SALNs; (2) those disclosed have been grossly undervalued compared to values in the deeds of sale; and (3) the bank accounts are not reflected in his SALNs.
Dishonesty in the disclosure of his assets and liabilities in his SALNs is a violation of “integrity” required of public officials under “public trust” in Section 1, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution. Unless it is later shown by his defense panel that he and his wife have legal sources for those undisclosed large bank accounts, he is liable for ill-gotten wealth – a case for criminal prosecution, not impeachment. However, such manifestation will be additional proof of his dishonesty or lack of integrity.
How damaging are the mis-declaration and non-declaration of assets and liabilities in Corona’s SALNs? According to decided cases in the Supreme Court, they are seriously damaging (philstar.com, February 6, 2012: What is ‘public trust’?) The three cases cited by the Star involve “acts of dishonesty and negligence in the submission of SALN”.
In the first case, the respondent was Delsa M. Flores, Interpreter III of the Regional Trial Court Branch IV of Panabo, Davao del Norte. She “was dismissed from service with forfeiture of all retirement benefits and accrued leave credits and with prejudice to re-employment in any branch or instrumentality of the government, including government-owned and controlled corporations”.
The Supreme Court en banc exhorted: “We have repeatedly held that although every office in the government is a public trust, no position exacts a greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an individual than in the judiciary.” [Underscoring supplied.]
In the second case, the respondent was Salvador Pleyto, undersecretary of Public Works. He failed to disclose in his SALNs for1990 to 2011 the business interests and financial connections of his wife. Instead of dismissal as ordered by the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court in its March 23, 2011 decision “imposed on Pleyto the penalty of forfeiture of the equivalent of six months’ salary from his retirement benefits for simple negligence”.
In the third case, the Supreme Court in its January 31, 2011 decision, “found Nieto Racho guilty of dishonesty and ordered him dismissed from service in relation to his failure to include in his SALN alleged bank accounts which were not commensurate to his income as a government official”. Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza penned the decision and Chief Justice Corona certified it.
The decision elaborated the meaning of dishonesty, the manner and motive in committing it and its implications. Referring to Racho, the Court concluded “that Racho is guilty of dishonesty because of his unmistakable intent to cover up the true source of his questioned bank deposits”.
All these three cases decided by the Corona Court, two of them in 2011, reflect clearly the charges for which Corona is being impeached. By these precedents, Corona has already been judged guilty – with Corona himself certifying.
By these precedents, Corona must resign before the impeachment court finds him guilty.
RA 6713 [approved February 20, 1989] known as the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees” elaborates the doctrine “Public office is a public trust”, Section 1, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution. Section 8 of RA 6713 requires all government officials and employees to file under oath (1) their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth and (2) a Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections. Corona is being impeached for allegedly violating this.
Section 8(A) provides: “The two documents [“Statement” and “Disclosure”] shall contain information on the following: (a) real property, its improvements, acquisition costs, assessed value and current fair market value; (b) personal property and acquisition cost; (c) all other assets such as investments, cash on hand or in banks, stocks, bonds, and the like; (d) liabilities; and, (e) all business interests and financial connections.”
Corona’s counsel explains that the values of Corona’s condominiums in his SALN are the assessed values; hence, there is no undervaluation. But the omission in his SALN of the “acquisition costs” and “current fair market value” as required in Section 8(A)(a) hides the undervaluation and further proves Corona’s dishonesty.
Corona’s counsel has argued that whatever discrepancies there are in Corona’s SALN can be corrected later. Why were the errors not corrected earlier? Can the correction still be done under Section 10 of RA 6713 [Review and Compliance Procedure]?
Last week Corona and his counsel veered away from RA 6713 and shifted attention to
RA 6426 that governs foreign currency deposits in Philippine banks. The Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the impeachment court from compelling PSBank to reveal Corona’s dollar accounts. He is charged under RA 6713; RA 6420 is only incidental to the charge.
The discrepancies in Corona’s SALN show clearly his guilt as charged in Impeachment Article II. His bank accounts not declared in his SALNs means dishonesty. By promising to disclose “in due time” his dollar deposits (philstar.com, February 11, 2012), Corona admitted the existence of such deposits – a personal admission of his dishonesty.
As the hearing on Impeachment Article II was coming to a close last week, Corona and his counsel must have seen the inevitability of conviction for “betrayal of public trust” as charged for violating RA 6713. They petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the impeachment proceedings and declare null and void the articles of impeachment.
Corona and his supporters have assailed the impeachment as an assault against the Supreme Court and the entire Judiciary. The Supreme Court, not only Corona, is also the aggrieved party. Isn’t it awkward that the aggrieved parties are the petitioners and will at the same time sit to resolve the petition for their own relief?
Corona refused to heed the suggestions for him to go on leave during the pendency of the impeachment trial. He vowed not to resign. Now that Impeachment Article II is a wall to imposing to scale, he is using his power to demolish it – nullify the charges against him and stop the impeachment proceedings.
To use another metaphor, if the fence is too high to jump over, tear it down.
(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)