The impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona has certainly divided the sentiments of the Filipino people. There are Filipinos who side with the prosecution in condemning the Chief Justice despite the absence of hard evidence; there are Filipinos who side with upholding the rule of law and respecting the institutions; and then there are people who are still confused about which of the two sides they will believe.
In forums around the Net, it can be gleaned that there are still many Filipinos who are totally clueless about the law. This actually includes even our own legislators and Senators. To be fair, an impeachment proceeding is not something that Filipinos come across everyday. And this is part of the reason why applying the rules of the court seems to be a problem for both the Senator-Judges and the prosecutors, a reality that contributes to the mounting delays in the proceedings. Most of them either do not know how to follow the rules or are deliberately disregarding the rules. Not surprisingly, the defense team does not seem to have a problem with the court rules.
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Some Filipinos get even more confused after the presentation of evidence from only one side is shown in court due to time constraints and more questions arise usually after the prosecutors discuss the merits of the case with the media. Now discussing the merits of the case with the media is supposed to be against the court rules but that doesnâ€™t matter much to the prosecutors. Violating the court rules seems to come so naturally to the prosecutors much the same way that breathing does to most. Theyâ€™ve been using the strategy of convincing the public of Chief Justice Coronaâ€™s guilt when the defense team is not around because they can get away with claims or suggestions without receiving any objections.
Since there are many Filipinos who are still confused about certain aspects of the case, I will try to address some â€œclarificatoryâ€ questions that keep popping up.
1. Why doesnâ€™t Chief Justice Corona want to disclose his alleged dollar account?
At this point, the public is not sure if the Chief Justice really has a dollar account. The prosecution has provided illegally-obtained copies of the alleged dollar account but the witness, President of PSBank Pascual Garcia III could not confirm if that is indeed Coronaâ€™s. Due to the Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines, PSBank cannot disclose any of their clientâ€™s foreign currency deposits held in their bank. The bank can be held criminally liable if they disclose any information about their clientâ€™s account to anyone. A temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Supreme Court has been successfully granted to PSBank to protect them from being forced to surrender information about their clientâ€™s foreign currency deposits.
2. What would be the effect of allowing the illegally obtained evidence from the bank on the banking institution and the economy?
The effect could have devastating consequences. The banking industry is built on trust. Individuals and corporations â€œtrustâ€ their banks to handle their funds safely and with confidentiality. Once the banks lose their customersâ€™ trust due to a breach in their confidentiality agreement with them, a bank run can occur. A bank run is when their customers panic and withdraw their funds from the bank. This can actually cause the bank to collapse.
For those who are not aware, much of the funds in a bank are actually tied up in investment portfolios and cannot be withdrawn all at the same time. A bank run does not only affect the bank alone, it can also affect other industries whose funds are tied up with the bank. Even individuals who canâ€™t get their money once a bank’s reserves dry up will experience financial distress.
A breach in confidentiality agreements can also result in foreign and local investors who have dollar accounts packing their bags and moving elsewhere the minute they see that they could also become victims of individuals or agents who are â€œfishingâ€ for information. The exodus of investors can destroy our already ailing economy and wreak havoc in our society. Business Mirror columnist, John Mangun made an observation which he shared on his Twitter account that the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) is indicating high net foreign currency selling, which could mean that the impeachment trial is affecting investor confidence.
3. Is it true that violating the Foreign Currency Deposit Republic Act 6426 can land people in jail?
Perhaps anticipating the dire consequences of such possible bank run scenarios as mentioned above, the law is clear about strict confidentiality. So the answer is yes; any person who violates the law can be jailed or fined. For everyoneâ€™s information, here is whatâ€™s stipulated in the law:
Section 8. Secrecy of foreign currency deposits. â€“ All foreign currency deposits authorized under this Act, as amended by PD No. 1035, as well as foreign currency deposits authorized under PD No. 1034, are hereby declared as and considered of an absolutely confidential nature and, except upon the written permission of the depositor, in no instance shall foreign currency deposits be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office whether judicial or administrative or legislative, or any other entity whether public or private; Provided, however, That said foreign currency deposits shall be exempt from attachment, garnishment, or any other order or process of any court, legislative body, government agency or any administrative body whatsoever. (As amended by PD No. 1035, and further amended by PD No. 1246, prom. Nov. 21, 1977.)
4. Why canâ€™t Chief Justice Corona simply disclose his dollar account if he has any?
That is a very hypothetical question, which I will answer hypothetically.
The Chief Justice probably does not want to disclose his alleged dollar account because for one, the presentation of his â€œallegedâ€ dollar account and his existing peso accounts are not covered by the articles of impeachment. The impeachment court resolved earlier that that evidence for Article 2.4 would be disallowed. Article 2.4 pertains to the alleged “ill-gotten wealth” of the Chief Justice. Therefore, when the Senators allowed the subpoena of bank accounts, they violated their own ruling on Article 2.4. In short, the court judges contradicted themselves. It was only Senator Miriam Santiago who remembered their resolution but her appeal to stop the subpoena was junked by the rest of the Senators.
5. Why did Chief Justice Corona through his lawyers file for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to stop the trial?
According to defense team spokesperson Tranquil Salvador III, the TRO is â€œnot intended to kill the trial, but to temporarily stop it.â€ The defense also claims that the events in the last few weeks of the trial have made them realize that the whole impeachment trial is degenerating into a persecution of the Chief Justice. The defense and many people also observe that the prosecution is violating the Chief Justiceâ€™ rights.
â€œWeâ€™re asking to pause and think about these events â€¦ while the Supreme Court is still determining the legality of the impeachment courtâ€™s resolution,â€ he said. â€œThis is respect for the rule of law.â€
Rico Paolo Quicho, another defense lawyer, said the decision to seek relief from the Supreme Court was a â€œwholistic approachâ€ and a â€œculminationâ€ of events, which happened during the first three weeks of Coronaâ€™s impeachment trial.
According to Quicho, they opted to file the petition â€œbecause we cannot just let the prosecution trample on the rightsâ€ of the Chief Justice.
6. In what way does the prosecution â€œtrampleâ€ on the rights of Chief Justice Corona?
The very first time the Chief Justiceâ€™s rights were violated was when the impeachment complaint was passed despite not going through the verification process. Two lawyers have in fact, pointed out that the articles of impeachment against the Chief Justice were not verified as per the Constitution’s Article XI Section 3(2):
Lawyer and former Misamis Oriental governor Homobono Adaza and and Atty. Alan Paguia filed their petition as they pointed out articles of impeachment, which the House submitted to the Senate, fail to comply with the Constitution’s Article XI Section 3(2).
According to such provision, “a verified complaint for impeachment may be filed by any Member of the House of Representatives or by any citizen upon a resolution of endorsement by any Member thereof, which shall be included in the Order of Business within ten session days, and referred to the proper Committee within three session days thereafter.”
The impeachment complaint wasn’t verified as required so this is merely a scrap of paper which the Senate can’t assume jurisdiction over, however, Adaza and Paguia noted.
Their claim validates the allegation by some members of Congress that the impeachment complaint was rushed and railroaded and that the 188 Congressmen who signed the impeachment complaint may not have read and understood the articles of impeachment properly.
Other blatant violations on the Chief Justiceâ€™s right to due process include, the prosecution team lying about the Corona’s alleged “45 properties” to the media, the prosecutionâ€™s presentation of illegally obtained evidence, prosecution members conducting a trial by media, and the prosecution team’s fishing for evidence by seeking to subpoena bank accounts; all of which indicate that the impeachment complaint had no basis. More importantly, some Senator Judges showed their bias for the prosecution by helping the prosecution during the trial and not adhering to their own rules. These are just some of the violations that can also be criminal in nature, which members of the prosecution can be liable for.
7. Why must we strictly adhere to the law?
Laws exist to protect the individual from the potential abuse of the government and not the other way around. It is stipulated in our constitution in ARTICLE III of the BILL OF RIGHTS under Section 1:
No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.
Government officials tend to abuse their power in the Philippines, which is precisely the reason why we should ensure that the rule of the law is strictly adhered to.
8. Is it right for the Supreme Court to issue a TRO on the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona?
If there is a motion filed with the Supreme Court to issue a TRO on the impeachment trial, the members of the Supreme Court can act on it based on the merits of the complaint. Since they are the interpreters of the law, they will have to issue their decision based on whether or not the law has been strictly applied in the impeachment complaints and during the proceedings. It is stipulated in our constitution in ARTICLE VIII JUDICIAL DEPARTMENT:
The judicial power shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such lower courts as may be established by law.
Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.
And Section 5, part 5:
Promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the integrated bar, and legal assistance to the under-privileged. Such rules shall provide a simplified and inexpensive procedure for the speedy disposition of cases, shall be uniform for all courts of the same grade, and shall not diminish, increase, or modify substantive rights. Rules of procedure of special courts and quasi-judicial bodies shall remain effective unless disapproved by the Supreme Court.
It is crystal clear that the Supreme Court has the power to stop the nonsense that is going on in the Senate impeachment court. No less than noted constitutional expert Joaquin Bernas reiterated that the Supreme Court has last say on the meaning of the law.
â€œWhat all this means is that the Supreme Court can come in when needed to determine the meaning of the law,â€ Bernas said.
â€œThis does not mean superiority of the [high court] over the the other departments. All it means is that the Constitution has placed in the [Supreme Court] the power to determine with finality the meaning of the law. It means the superiority of the Constitution, and it just so happens that in the constitutional structure of our government, there is separation of responsibilities.
â€œThere is no superiority of one over the others; there is only superiority of the Constitution over all.â€
The issuance of a TRO to stop the trial should not be seen as the seed of a “constitutional crisis” because even a regular person can interpret what is written in the constitution without difficulty. The trial has already wrought enough havoc in the daily lives of those involved, not to mention long-term damage to our economy. It would be sheer arrogance on the part of the members of the legislative and executive branches of government to refuse to recognize the Supreme Courtâ€™s authority on this matter. Just like how Congressman Rudolfo FariÃ±as is showing his arrogance by threatening to impeach the eight judges who granted a TRO against the subpoena of Chief Justice Coronaâ€™s alleged dollar accounts. Perhaps he needs to redeem himself after the comedy act he delivered on Day 13 of the trial.
Now donâ€™t get me wrong, I am all for uncovering the truth. I just hate the way the legislative and executive branches of government are depriving an individual, one who just happens to be a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, of due process. After all, if Chief Justice Renato Corona were really guilty, it would be a shame that he would get away on the grounds of the prosecutionâ€™s incompetence.
In life, things are not always what they seem.