COMMENT: Corona’s Ironic Conviction

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/09 June) — Chief Justice Renato C. Corona pushed his luck too far beyond the limit in that afternoon of May 22. After that fateful episode, Corona and the Defense must have seen the end not boding well for them. They must have sensed the impending doom – the disaster — as the drama neared its dénouement.

That Tuesday evening, Corona checked in at the Medical City in Pasig; by midnight he was in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). He must have been really sick. But that did not move the Court. On Friday, May 25, he forced himself to be at the court as ordered – a medical team in tow. The Defense did not conduct a direct examination. While the Prosecution waived its cross examination, the senator-judges did cross-examine to extract damning admissions.

Rattled?

Back in court, Corona released without condition the waiver he signed three days earlier. That was casting the last straw – gambling on its futility. The Court took note of the offer but did not accept it. Only the Defense or Prosecution could use it to have bank officials summoned. On its own the Court would not summon witnesses.

 

Why did Corona not release the unconditional waiver outright on Tuesday afternoon? By then, the Prosecution might have been tempted to request the Court to summon bank and AMLC officials.  There was no more time by that Friday; the Court had already set for the following Monday and Tuesday the closing arguments and the handing down of the verdict through open court voting.

 

Corona acted like rattled. Did he really want bank and AMLC officials summoned to affirm or deny his testimony? As it was, the last minute issuance of the absolute waiver was mere grand show – palabas lamang. That cast doubts on his sincerity and questions on the veracity of his claim to having only $2.4 million in four bank deposits.

 

In reality, with Corona testifying, the corroboration from bank officials was unnecessary. Enrile and other senator-judges believed Corona had in his possession the most authentic evidence – his bank passbooks and other documents. Why did he not submit these as his evidence?

 

He could be playing smart on the Prosecution and the Court, as if challenging: “Here’s my waiver. I dare you examine my bank records.” But, whatever, the burden to prove the truth of his testimony was on him.  Doubts aggravated the disaster.

 

Disastrous

How disastrous was Corona’s testimony?

 

According to Enrile, as of March, the 23 senator-judges were divided. In the first group [3] were Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for acquittal. In the second group [11] were Franklin Drilon, Teofisto Guingona III, Panfilo Lacson, Francis Pangilinan, Sergio Osmeña III, Ralph Recto, Manuel Lapid, Antonio Trillanes IV, Edgardo Angara, Alan Peter Cayetano and Pia Cayetano for conviction.

 

In the third group [9] were Juan Ponce Enrile, Gregorio Honasan, Ramon Revilla Jr., Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, Loren Legarda, Vicente Sotto III, Manuel Villar, Francis Escudero and Aquilino Pimentel III still undecided. Any five of them could swing the vote to either acquittal or conviction.

 

The Prosecution had weak evidence when it rested its case. Enrile said he noticed the third-group senator-judges were positively influenced by the Defense’s presentation of evidence. Lacson observed: “Had the Ombudsman not appeared, the Chief Justice might have been acquitted.”

 

Until he committed his mistakes, Corona appeared to have neutralized Ombudsman Morales. His offer of a waiver on his deposits elated the senators, Lacson said. But his dare to Drilon and the 188 signatories to the Articles of Impeachment to do the same turned them off. And after his walkout, “Everyone had this fear of a unanimous vote for conviction.” Succeeding events were anticlimactic.

 

On Sunday, May 27, Enrile and six other senators in Group 3 met at the residence of Senator Legarda to discuss their vote. Not only five, but all the nine joined Group 2 to oust Corona from the most exalted position of “Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines”. They could not excuse him, “now” or ever!

 

The Prosecution’s closing arguments by House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., Chief Prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr. and Prosecutor Roldofo Fariñas all heavily leaned on Corona’s testimony. He “bends justice to hide his crime”, said Belmonte. He hid “98%” of his cash assets, said Fariñas and ridiculed him for resorting to “palusot” (smart evasion) or lame excuses.

 

The Defense’s closing arguments by Chief Counsel Serafin Cuevas and Counsel Dean Eduardo de los Angeles were pathetic. They invoked lack of evidence, good faith and the laws preventing Corona from disclosing his dollar deposits – the last, the same reasoning of Corona, among the faults in his testimony leading to conviction.

 

The Philippine Daily Inquirer said it all in its lead: “Chief Justice Renato Corona was convicted not because of the prosecutorial skills of his accusers but the blunders committed by his lawyers – foremost of them, presenting Corona as their star witness (May 31: Enrile cites defense’s blunders).

 

In its May 29 editorial, PDI described Corona: “The Chief Justice was, in the end, the worst witness against himself”; then referring to the immortal words of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth [Act V, Scene V], continued: “The tale he told, to quote a certain dramatist wise to the follies of men like Corona, was one ‘told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’. [Underscoring supplied]

On Trial

 

Corona accepted the verdict; in fact, he has already removed his personal things from the Supreme Court. But the trial has shifted to President Aquino III and his government, the Congress and the Filipinos.  There are no formal charges; there are no prosecutors; but the impeachment trial raised challenges for them to meet.

 

First, was Corona impeached to remove an imposing obstacle on the President’s anti-corruption program dubbed as “Matuwid na daan ó landas” (Straight road or path)? But Corona and his allies have charged that his impeachment was to give vent to President Aquino’s vindictiveness and pave the way for his dictatorial tendency. This challenges Aquino’s sincerity.

 

Second, during the impeachment trial, there surfaced flaws and inadequacies in the laws concerning the filing of SALNs (RA 6713); regulating the foreign currency bank deposits (RA 6426); and, preventing the crime of money laundering (RA 9160 as amended by RA 9154) — all abetting abuses and evasion by high government officials. These challenge the Congress to enact amendments.

 

Third, the impeachment of Corona indicated that the abuse of the above laws and acts of “palusot” are rampant. Corona had the misfortune of being the one accused.  Many of his accusers and legions among the millions of Filipinos who approved of the impeachment of Corona are as impeachable – if not more than – as he. This is the great paradox of the Filipinos – sensitive but lacking in sensitivity and delicadeza, explaining why corruption has thrived so well and so long in the Philippines. This challenges the nation.

 

If these challenges are not properly met by the President, the Congress and the Filipino people, the impeachment of Corona will go down in Philippine history – to echo the Philippine Daily Inquirer – as one “[done by idiots], all sounds and fury, signifying nothing” and its high political and monetary (more than P6 million) costs will go to waste. (“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards 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 patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com.)