GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/15 March) – Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and his defense team can self-destruct as gleaned from their statements and reports in the media after the prosecution had rested its case and as soon as they have started their defense.
They foresee acquittal as they deem the prosecution evidence weak. But some surprises, twists and turns in the course of their defense can strengthen the perceived weak evidence of the prosecution.
The prosecution formally rested its case last March 3 offering 242 pieces of evidence mostly for Impeachment Article 2, the rest for Articles 3 and 7. On February 28, it announced this to the Impeachment Court (IC) together with the withdrawal of five articles – 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8.
Despite the plea of the defense to suppress the alleged illegally obtained documents from the banks, the senators accepted all the evidence during their caucus last March 6. The defense had opposed at every step the presentation of these documents as evidence invoking the Rules of Evidence in the regular trial of criminal cases. The senators upheld the principle that “an impeachment is not a criminal case” as IC chair Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile had told chief defense counsel Serafin Cuevas (ABS-CBNews.com, February 24).
The prosecution claims it has strong evidence for Article 2 to prove that Corona is guilty of culpably violating the Constitution and betraying public trust by failing to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth according to Article XI, Section 17 of the Constitution and R.A. 6713, Section 8. Within its limitation, the evidence for Articles 3 and 7 can supplement that in Article 2.
While the prosecution did not say so, it can be inferred that it withdrew the five articles on realizing the futility of prosecuting them. The Supreme Court by barring the justices and other Court officials from testifying in the IC and banning the disclosure of Court documents has denied the prosecution access to evidence necessary to prosecute the five articles. Conviction in one article is enough to remove Corona as chief justice.
The withdrawal will shorten the trial. On hindsight, the prosecution made sense when it opted to re-order the presentation of the articles of impeachment. Had it followed the original order, the trial would have been stuck right at Article 1 – indefinitely thereafter – as the prosecution could not obtain the needed evidence from the Supreme Court. The senator-judges seem to have appreciated the wisdom in the prosecution’s surprise move.
Defense Counter Move
The defense counter-move looks well studied and ordered – argue by technicality to dismiss the complaint and the prosecution evidence. Why go the full rounds if a knockout can be done at the very start? But, if this is not possible, the defense is prepared to fight for points.
How does the defense plan to win by technicality?
It will argue that: First, the case was filed contrary to legal procedures; Corona was not heard in a pre-trial depriving him of his rights to due process. Second, the prosecution obtained its evidence for Article 2 disregarding the Rules of Evidence; it is inadmissible. Third, the IC must rule on the five withdrawn articles of impeachment to acquit Corona. Fourth, failure to disclose the SALNs may not be a ground for impeachment.
How does the defense plan to refute the prosecution evidence?
This is the prosecution evidence in a nutshell: Corona’s SALNs are full of inconsistencies and discrepancies considering his known sources of income, his acquired properties, his income tax returns, deeds of sale, and cash on hand and in bank. Evidently, he is hiding much of his incomes behind his children and the Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc. of the Basa clan of which his wife is a member and claimed to be the present BGEI president.
Through witnesses, the defense will show the inconsistencies and discrepancies in the SALNs are justifiable; the buildings discovered to have been bought by the Coronas in the name of their children were really bought by their children; real properties omitted from the SALNs belong to others; he has other sources of income, his allowances; and BGEI is a legitimate company – hence, the legitimacy of Corona’s loan from BGEI and of the BGEI money deposited in Corona’s bank accounts.
Corona’s fate solely rests on Article 2. Obviously, he and his defense are not seriously concerned about Articles 3 and 7.
Mending Not Enough
The prosecution might not have a well studied plan but it was instinctively flexible. The sudden filing of the impeachment complaint prevented Corona from using the Supreme Court to stop his impeachment. When it saw the futility of obtaining from the Supreme Court the evidence to prosecute the five other articles of impeachment, it withdrew these articles.
In contrast, the Corona lawyers did not show flexibility. At the opening of their defense last Monday, March 12, they stubbornly stuck to their plan. They should have abandoned their knockout move when IC Chair Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile and four other senator-judges reiterated the denial of their earlier petitions to junk the impeachment complaint and the prosecution evidence for Article 2. But they still persisted with Rep. Tobias Tiangco as their first witness to open a closed issue – as a saying goes, “to beat a dead horse”.
Eventually, they must have seen the futility of trying a knockout; the IC refused to flip-flop. Last Tuesday, they started mending the battered Corona’s SALNs. The task will not be easy; the road ahead may have more thorns than roses, full of pitfalls and surprises at every twist and turn. The discrepancies and inconsistencies may be straightened out; the sufficiency and legality of Corona’s incomes may be proven. But mending is not enough. Will all these make Corona’s SALNs inviolate – free him from penance for his sins?
If not, the defense will ironically only highlight Corona’s guilt in not declaring his assets, liabilities and net worth according to the 1987 Constitution and RA 6713, Section 8 – the offense for which he is being impeached.
In our last Comment, we discussed how BGEI can undo Corona. What at first appeared casual may turn out to be most explosive. When Mrs. Corona testifies on BGEI, she will not just “connect the dots” as Sen. Francis Pangilinan would like to put it; she will raise big question marks.
For instance, in showing the legitimacy of BGEI as a corporation, its money in Corona’s bank accounts and its P11 million loan to Corona, Mrs. Corona may raise the question of her own legitimacy as BGEI president as Corona has claimed. She may raise the question of how BGEI can be legitimate when the SEC has revoked its registration or license.
In acknowledging that the “big bulk” of the P32 million plus in three time deposits that Corona closed on December 12, 2011 was from the P34 million BGEI got from the sale of its Sampaloc lot in 2001, Mrs. Corona may have to explain what was done with the P34 million until 2009. And curiously: Why was the P37.7 million (P32 million plus interests) from the three time deposits re-deposited as one checking account still in Corona’s name?
Mrs. Corona may be asked to clarify Corona’s pronouncement that the Basas have been given back their shares; they are no longer owners of BGEI. Corona also said that BGEI still has properties after the sale of its Sampaloc lot and commercial building. These and the other questions above may merit summons of the Basas from the impeachment court for corroborative questioning or for invitation by the prosecution as rebuttal witnesses.
Expect a lot of fireworks! Expect an unpleasant surprise – worms crawling out of the can named BGEI. The Chief Justice and his wife will stake their credibility against that of the 90-year-old Franciscan nun, Sister Flor Basa, one of the two living original stockholders, and her niece, Ana Basa, daughter of deceased major stockholder Jose Maria Basa III.
The Basa-Corona confrontation will be the grand finalé of the epic drama, preferably featuring the testimony of the Coronas. The first two witnesses to debunk the charges in Article 2 showed careful defense planning. So far, the defense has presented evidence to prove the earning capacity of Corona and the trustworthiness of the Coronas. More sources of Corona’s income will be revealed; more alleged undisclosed properties will be proven as owned by others.
While the defense team is demolishing Article 2, Corona is on media blitz to show how the Aquino administration is persecuting him. Win at the IC the issues and the minds of the senator-judges; win by media blitz the minds and sympathy of the nation. Of course, the twin thrust is a gamble.
Corona with his defense team will erase all doubts on the legitimacy of the sources of his money to acquire real properties and that in the bank. To the surprise of all, including the Basas, Mrs. Corona will prove that BGEI is operating legitimately; she owns it and is in full control of it as her husband has claimed in his media interviews.
The crucial question, however, is: Have all these legitimate money and property been disclosed in his SALNs?
Corona can self-destruct by just revealing all his wealth without meeting head-on the impeachment charge – failure to disclose his assets, liabilities and net worth as the 1987 Constitution and RA 6713, Section 8 require. While ugly implications are unavoidable and hurt, he is not accused per se of violating graft laws and of hiding his wealth.
(“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 email@example.com.)