(Editor's note: Leo is a former investment banker and management consultant. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics; B.Sc. and M.Sc.)
Four people closed for the Prosecution: Congressmen Tupas, Fariñas, Belmonte and Sen. Enrile.
Tupas opened with the high ground, stressing a Chief Justice needs to adhere to the highest standard of moral conduct.
In a captivating discourse, Fariñas summarized the Defense’s position as smoke and mirrors. His presentation was all the more weighty since he did not sign the Impeachment Articles. He commended the CJ for buying dollars at P2/$1 when he was only in grade 6, and enquired how P3.5 MM in cash in his SALN had become P183 MM in peso and dollar deposits, how P22 MM in net worth almost P200 MM. The CJ’s claims of peso co-mingling and dollars cheaply bought, Farinas argued, were all “palusot” to hide the wealth he had somehow amassed. The term will be tomorrow’s headline, the sound bite of the proceedings.
Belmonte made the final statement, bringing the full political weight of the House of Representatives behind the Articles. This will not go unnoticed by the Senators.
And so the Prosecution closed its case… or so it thought.
In the Q&A that followed, the Presiding Officer asked of the Lead Counsel, a former Associate Justice of the SC and law professor:
1. Does the Foreign Currency Law prevent a depositor, if he wishes, from disclosing his dollars? Answer: “No”. In fact the CJ disclosed it in his testimony last Friday.
2. The Constitution obliges a public official to disclose all his assets in his SALN. Why would it be harmful for the CJ to report his dollar deposits? Answer: “Not sure but off the top of my head, it could expose the CJ to kidnapping.” By this argument, the CJ should not disclose any of his assets –property, pesos, etc.-, dollar or non-dollar.
3. What does “culpa” mean in the phrase “culpable violation of the public trust and the Constitution”? Answer: “Not sure what “culpa” means, I guess I did not attend my Law 101 class when it was explained”. In the spirit of camaraderie, Farinas, a bar top-notcher, answered for him: “Culpa” means “an intentional fault” as in the CJ did not intentionally disclose his dollars even when he could have. “Culpa” will be the other headline tomorrow.
4. If you expressly “disobey” the law by failing to disclose your true assets, is this an expression of bad faith? Answer: Hmmm.
JPE’s questions effectively summarized the case for the Prosecution namely, the CJ could have but did not disclose his dollar deposits; this is a conscious violation of the Constitution and as such is an impeachable offense. Enrile did not mean to weigh in but when you are so smart and you spot something so dumb, you simply cannot help yourself.
In its defense, Cuevas & Co. laid a minefield of legal technicalities and personal insults like, the FCDU and the SALN are in conflict, the CJ could not disclose his dollar deposits without violating the confidentiality of the FCDU law, the AMLAC report was “ totally useless and irrelevant”, the Ombudsman was a liar, the President wants to take over Government, the Senate could not declare the FCDU law unconstitutional, the Prosecution should have cross-examined their client if it wanted answers, and, by the way, the trial was a sham to start with. The Senators’ eyes were glazed. Miriam was caught yawning. The Defense lost them somewhere between “unconstitutional” and “immaterial”.
The Defense is clearly paving the way for its appeal to the Supreme Court. Cuevas had already announced this on Sunday. Needless to say, this did not endear him to the Senators. A visibly irked Enrile affirmed the Senate is the ultimate arbiter of the case. Nobody likes to be told they have just wasted 5 months of their time.
So there we are. The trial is finally headed for a verdict.