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Monday, February 20, 2012

Chief Justice Corona Impeachment Trial: A Perversion of Justice


The Impeachment Case against the Chief Justice of the Philippines, Renato C. Corona is now on trial.

It is creating a lot of noise, tension, confusion and dissension among the 3 branches of government, the media (social media, included), the banking industry, entrepreneurs, investors, religious groups, activist groups, and the public, in general.

The proceeding is described as both quasi-judicial and quasi-political in nature. Its function is said to be unique and independent, not bound by the co-equality of the three branches of the state namely the Executive, Judiciary and Legislative. It is also said to lay as precedent to future impeachment cases as this is the first impeachment in the country that actually pushed through in trial.

Impeached Officials:

Official
Position
Date
Result

Joseph Estrada

President

November 13, 2000

Trial Aborted

Merceditas Gutierrez

Ombudsman

March 22, 2011

Resigned prior to trial

Renato Corona

Chief Justice of the Suppreme Court

December 12, 2011

Trial Ongoing

The  Impeachment Tribunal is composed of 23 Senator-Judges presided by the Senate President. It has the sole power and authority to hear, try and decide the Impeachment Case. Selected members of the House of Representatives act as Prosecutors to prove their case against the Impeached Official. The functions of the two Houses of Congress in an Impeachment Trial are different from their roles as legislators.  However, it would be impossible for the public to totally isolate their new functions from their image as elected public officials with their party affiliations especially because the proceeding is being covered live and uncut by the media.

The media coverage of the Impeachment Trial including the press briefings of both the Defense and Prosecution Teams as well as the statements being made by politicians and other personalities regarding the issue, naturally elicits public opinion that consequently solicits support. The Media therefore is a powerful vehicle and venue for propaganda and grandstanding of those who would want to push their agenda. In fact, protest and support rallies (called Pro or Anti) of different factions and personalities are being called, if not organized and funded to show their strength in numbers on the streets! The Public through the information fed by the Media, can't help but take sides! There are supporters and critics of all conceivable opposing camps such as prosecutors vs. defense lawyers, Corona vs. Noynoy, Supreme Court vs. Malacanang, Supreme Court vs. Impeachment Court, Atty. Cuevas vs. Congressman Tupas, Majority Senate Members vs. Minority, Catholics and other sects vs. Iglesia Ni Cristo, and even media networks like ABS-CBN vs. GMA 7,  Inquirer vs. Philippine Star or Manila Bulletin, and all other personalities, organizations and what-have-you! Some even associate themselves by wearing the colors Red or Yellow! Each and everyone has been accused of being partial, but who is not guilty? After all, aren't we all entitled to our own opinions?

The Executive Branch also has its own share of bias, there being no love lost between the President and the Impeached Chief Justice. It all started on the alleged "midnight appointment" of the latter by the former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.  The then, newly elected President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III did not hide his dismay and refused to be sworn in by the Chief Justice which was the tradition. He was quoted as saying:

Excerpts from Inquirer, read full story here: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20100515-270055/Aquino-may-be-sworn-in-by-barangay-captain

"[The Constitution] says that before assuming office, the President will subscribe under oath. It does not say [before whom]. I am waiting for my lawyers' opinion, but [my oath of office] will probably be before the barangay captain of Tarlac,
"There are questions whether I will take my oath before [Corona]," Aquino said. "I do not want my own oath-taking to be (done) before a questioned entity. There is no requirement [for a President] to take his oath before a Chief Justice. That is primarily a tradition, and not a requirement of law." 
Aquino agreed with Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel's earlier statement that Ms Arroyo's appointment of Corona was a cause for war. 
The highest officials of the 2 most powerful branches of government in the land obviously started off on the wrong foot in a power dance with each other and it would not be their last!

The Supreme Court, on November 15, 2011 issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) with 8-5 magistrate votes, against a government directive particularly, DOJ Circular 41 that barred Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from leaving the Philippine soil. The Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila De Lima did not heed the TRO pending the resolution of a motion for reconsideration which was subsequently denied, with again 8-5 votes. The stand off led to a dramatic airport showdown as the former president disembarked from an ambulance with a neck brace and  strolled into the airport by her husband on a wheel chair! They were however barred by immigration officials from taking their flights as directed by the DOJ Secretary. The issue on whether the former President should be allowed to leave the country or not was finally settled when the Commission on Election (COMELEC) with 5 out of 7 votes (2 abstained) filed on November 18, 2011, an electoral sabotage case against the former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in connection with the 2007 Senatorial elections. Since no bail can be posted for the electoral sabotage case, the Pasay City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 112 under Judge Jesus Mupas where the case was filed, issued a hold departure order against Arroyo.

The final straw?: Supreme Court Ruling on Hacienda Luisita

Excerpts from Inquirer, read full story here: http://opinion.inquirer.net/18035/sc-ruling-on-hacienda-luisita 
(Editor’s Note: By a vote of 14-0, the Supreme Court ordered on Nov. 22 the distribution of land to farm workers of Hacienda Luisita, an estate owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III. 
The ruling capped the decades-old struggle of farm workers in the sprawling sugar plantation to own a piece of land. At least 14 farm workers, union leaders and agrarian reform advocates lost their lives in the struggle. Most of them were shot dead. 
“I am happy because I will have something to leave to my grandchildren and they can say that this land is the product of their grandmother’s struggle,” said Anita Flores, 65, after the court issued the ruling.  
Then on December 12, 2011, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was impeached by the House of Representatives by 188 Votes.

Excerpts from Inquirer, read full story here: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/109793/188-solons-impeach-cj-corona
Allies in the House of Representatives, seeking to appease an angry President Benigno Aquino III, on Monday swiftly impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona for interfering in the prosecution of former President  and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“This is very important, grave and historic,” Speaker Feliciano Belmonte declared after a hastily called caucus of the ruling Liberal Party and its coalition partners and party-list groups that  three hours later produced the articles of impeachment against Corona.
“We realize the gravity of this decision,” Belmonte added.
He said the 57-page document was signed by more than the one-third of the 285 House members, a requirement under the Constitution to impeach the Chief Justice without going through the plenary debates.
Recently the Supreme Court, in its capacity as the highest judicial court in the Philippines and the sole interpreter of the Constitution and the guardian of basic rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, issued a Temporary Restraining Order to the Senate Impeachment Court to stop it from compelling bank officials to disclose information on Chief Justice Renato Corona’s foreign currency deposits as protected by Republic Act No. 6426, or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act.

8-5 Vote in Favor of Issuing a TRO

Justices who voted in favor of the TRO were:

1. Teresita de Castro
2. Arturo Brion
3. Roberto Abad
4. Jose Perez
5. Lucas Bersamin
6. Martin Villarama
7. Bienvenido Reyes
8. Jose Mendoza.

The dissenters were:

1. Justices Antonio Carpio
2. Ma. Lourdes Sereno
3. Mariano del Castillo
4. Diosdado Peralta
5. Estela Perlas-Bernabe.

Those who inhibited were:

1. Renato Corona
2. Presbitero Velasco


The Temporary Restraining Order issued by the Supreme Court was respected by the majority of the Impeachment Court with 13-10 votes.

Senator-Judges who voted to heed the high court's TRO were:


1. Juan Ponce Enrile 
2. Joker Arroyo 
3. Miriam Defensor-Santiago 
4. Manuel Villar
5. Ralph Recto 
6. Francis Escudero 
7. Koko Pimentel 
8. Loren Legarda 
9. Gregorio Honasan 
10. Ramon Bong Revilla Jr. 
11. Ferdinand Marcos 
12. Jinggoy Estrada 
13. Vicente Sotto III.

Senator-Judges who voted to defy the order were: 


1. Senators Franklin Drilon 
2. Alan Peter Cayetano
3. Pia Cayetano 
4. Sergio Osmena III 
5. Edgardo Angara 
6. Panfilo Lacson 
7. Francis Pangilinan 
8. Antonio Trillanes IV 
9. Lito Lapid
10. Teofisto Guingona III.


The Congressmen-Prosecutors are alleged of not having an iota of evidence on the 8 Articles of Impeachment when they Impeached the Chief Justice but used the Impeachment Court to subpoena and gather the evidences for them, particularly bank records, thus the manner was dubbed as a "Fishing Expedition."  The sources of evidences according to the Prosecutors themselves were purportedly "unknown" therefore, they (Prosecutors) could not vouch for its authenticity as stipulated on their request for subpoena. Congressman-Prosecutor Rey Umali claimed a "small lady" handed him the photocopy of Chief Justice Corona's bank records in a brown envelope inside the Senate building. The Impeachment Court ordered for the CCTV recording of the Senate building on the said incident date to verify the claim of Congressman Umali but it did not show a "small lady" handing him the same.

An unexpected revelation on the 19th day of the Impeachment Trial on Thursday, February 16, 2012 once again raised the issue of how the evidences were obtained in relation to the probable  violation of R.A. 1405 (Bank Secrecy Law) and Republic Act No. 6426, or the Foreign Currency Deposit Act. Senator-Judge Loren Legarda asked the Bank Manager witness if she had been approached by anyone regarding the bank accounts of the Chief Justice maintained in their bank and she answered "Yes." The witness positively identified the person who went to their bank to inquire about the Impeached Chief Justice's bank accounts as Congressman Jorge "Bolet" Banal of the 3rd Electoral District of Quezon City where their bank (Katipunan Branch) is located, therefore under the congressman's defined area of responsibility and constituency. Congressman Banal confirmed the witness' statement that he indeed went to the bank on January 31, 2012 to ask the bank manager to help him identify and confirm details on  the photocopied bank document in his possession pertaining to Renato Corona's bank account but the bank manager politely refused to help him. He further explained that the photocopied document was slipped under his garage gate by an anonymous person. The Congressman added that he conducted the investigation on his own initiative as part of the Prosecution Secretariat but did not bother to inform the Prosecution Team or any of its members about the incident anymore.

So far, the Prosecutors' presentation of witnesses and documentary evidences under Paragraphs 2.2 and 2.3 of the Articles II of the Articles of Impeachment against the Chief Justice aimed to show that his alleged properties and bank accounts do not tally with his filed Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN). However, the source and the manner by which the evidences were obtained are in question. The Prosecution Team's strategy has been alleged as resorting to a "fishing expedition" and trial by publicity.

On the other hand, the Defense Team has yet to present their side but was alleged to be resorting to legal technicalities to file for a mistrial or nullity of the Proceeding as part of strategy.

The Senator-Judges did not escape scrutiny either, some were accused of partiality. The President of the Republic is also alleged to be meddling and using influence by issuing public statements on his stand regarding the Impeachment.

While all parties concerned including top officials of the 3 branches of government are dangerously treading on each others' power zones and  blatantly airing their stand on the matter through the Media, the captured audience watch the ala telenovela (TV Drama Series) Impeachment Proceeding in mesmerized bewilderment.

Do not follow the majority when they do evil, 
or when they pervert justice in a lawsuit. 
Do not be partial, not even to the poor. 
---EXODUS 23:2

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