According to the Philippine Constitution, impeachable public officers such as the President, the Vice President, Members of the Supreme Court, Members of Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of:
1. Culpable violation of the Constitution
4. Graft and corruption
5. Other high crimes
6. Betrayal of public trust
As far as the recently concluded prosecution presentation of evidence for Article 2 or the impeachment of Chief Justice (CJ) Corona is concerned, the prosecution is basing its case of the charges of Culpable Violation of the Constitution and Betrayal of Public trust. Article 2 of the impeachment charge states that the CJ failed to disclose his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth (SALn) as prescribed by Section 17 of Article 11 of the Constitution which states:
“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. In the case of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.”
The fact that the SC Clerk of Court has produced the CJ’s SALn has effectively shattered the prosecution’s charge that the CJ did not file his SALn so the prosecution’s focus has shifted to the qualifier “shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law”. However, this route was also obliterated by the SC’s 1989 resolution regarding the limitations on the release of the SALns of the Members of the SC. The resolution exempts the court from the legal requirement for all public officials to file their respective SALns and make these available to the public. The SALns may still be accessed by the public but under the permission of the court. This resolution was established to prevent fishing expeditions in an effort to harass and influence the decisions of the justices and this resolution has been reaffirmed by a succession of Chief Justices after CJ Narvasa. It is therefore clear that CJ Corona did in fact file his SALn and the issue of the access to his SALn was not due to his doing but a policy within the SC.
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The failure of the prosecution to pin the CJ on those two grounds takes the issue now to the “truthfulness” of the CJ’s declarations in his SALn. The prosecution successfully obtained permission from the Senate tribunal the issuance of subpoenas for the CJ’s bank accounts. Never mind that the subpoenas would stifle the Bank Secrecy Law and never mind that the request for the subpoenas emanated from a mere suspicion and not ultimate facts when they drafted the articles of impeachment, out of “liberality” and “public interest”, the Senate tribunal relented. (It is worth noting that the charge was from a mere suspicion and not ultimate facts because the prosecution never had access to the SALn prior to the day the Clerk of Court presented the CJ’s SALn in the impeachment trial) When the bank accounts were opened, sure enough, the prosecution noted discrepancies between the bank accounts and the CJ’s SALn.
As of this writing, the prosecution has already admitted that most of the grounds of impeachment against the CJ are not applicable. Even if it is granted that the CJ may have committed perjury, according to the prosecution panel themselves, perjury is not considered as a “High Crime”. So given the admission, the prosecution took the route for “Culpable Violation of the Constitution” and “Betrayal of Public Trust” and this route seems to be anchored on the apparent dishonesty of the CJ’s declaration in his SALn. They claim that the declaration of the SALn is done under oath and is not merely a ministerial act. Hence, the discrepancy in the SALn versus the CJ’s bank accounts is a manifestation of Constitutional violation and public trust betrayal as “Public office is a public trust”, according to Section 1 of Article 11 of the Constitution.
From how the scenario appears, it does seem to put the CJ on a bind. However, before we jump into conclusions it is important to note that the provisions of law actually allow public officers to correct discrepancies in the SALns. Under Republic Act 6713, Section 10a:
“The designated Committees of both Houses of the Congress shall establish procedures for the review of statements to determine whether said statements which have been submitted on time, are complete, and are in proper form. In the event a determination is made that a statement is not so filed, the appropriate Committee shall so inform the reporting individual and direct him to take the necessary corrective action.”
So it seems that according to the provisions of law, SALNs may be corrected by public officers when the SALns are determined to be defective. It would be a different case if the discrepancy in the CJ’s SALn was previously pointed out and if he was previously instructed to make the necessary corrective action and he refused to do so. However, this is the very first time such a discrepancy is pointed out so the law seems to actually provide the CJ remedy to correct any pointed discrepancies without the penalty for culpability.
Given that the impeachment ground of “Culpable Violation of the Constitution” may not be enough to be supported by the prosecution’s evidence, the stronger basis of their charge seem to be anchored in the very vague notion of “Betrayal of Public Trust”. But what is it exactly? What does public trust really entail?
Have you had flaky friends in your life? Have you had friends who disappointed you in a number of instances when they failed to deliver on things they promised to do for you? Let us consider this scenario”¦ suppose that Tony forgets one time to feed his friend and roommate Bobby’s dog despite promising to do so. Bobby may very well decide to move out and take his dog with him. However, it would be absurd for Bobby to automatically justify ending his friendship with Tony simply on the grounds that Tony failed to deliver on his promise to feed his dog (at one time). However, let us suppose that Tony told a group of people about details of Bobby’s secret of having experimented with an incestuous relationship with his mother, despite having promised Bobby not to tell anyone, would this be a good justification for Bobby to end his friendship with Tony? The answer is “Yes”. The difference between the first scenario and the second scenario is the gravity of offense. In the first scenario, we would merely feel a sense of disappointment while in the second case we do feel a sense of betrayal.
In the first scenario, Tony could buy Bobby a six pack and a Super Supreme pizza to compensate or make up for breaking his promise to feed Bobby’s dog. In the second case, what good would a six pack and a Super Supreme pizza do to compensate for telling others about Bobby’s dark secret? What possible use would those bring in repairing their friendship? If trust has been breached by betrayal, not only will it be almost impossible to be remedied, the offer of remedy would most likely not do anything to repair the broken trust.
So now given this argument, let us go back to Republic Act 6713. Given the fact that the provision of law even allows public officers to remedy a discrepancy in their SALn, doesn’t this suggest that the gravity of the offense is more in line with disappointment rather than betrayal?
Is disappointing the public trust an impeachable offense? If so, then almost all our public officials ought to be impeached. Why not start with the one-track minded vindictive lazy jaundiced man sitting on a throne inside the Palace by the stinking river?
Calling a spade, a spade…