Corona found guilty

Posted at 05/29/2012 4:59 PM | Updated as of 05/30/2012 12:32 AM

Only Joker Arroyo, Miriam, and Bongbong vote to acquit

It's a victory for accountability, transparency, says prosecution

A sad day for the judiciary, says head of Philippine Judges Association

MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) - Voting 20 to 3, the Senate found Chief Justice Renato Corona guilty of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution for failing to disclose his wealth in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) as required under the Constitution.

Those who found the chief justice guilty were:

1) Edgardo Angara
2) Alan Peter Cayetano
3) Pia Cayetano
4) Franklin Drilon
5) Francis Escudero

6) Jinggoy Estrada
7) Teofisto Guingona III
8) Gregorio Honasan
9) Panfilo Lacson
10) Lito Lapid

11) Loren Legarda
12) Sergio Osmeña III
13) Francis Pangilinan
14) Aquilino 'Koko' Pimentel III
15) Ralph Recto

16) Ramon Revilla Jr.
17) Vicente Sotto III
18) Antonio Trillanes IV
19) Manuel Villar
20) Juan Ponce Enrile Jr.

Only 3 senator-judges found Corona innocent, five short of  the 8 votes needed for an acquittal:

1) Joker Arroyo
2) Miriam Defensor-Santiago
3) Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

Explaining his vote, Arroyo said the Senate was “one step away from violating the Constitution and passing a bill of attainder,” or an act declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them without benefit of a judicial trial.

He said Corona's trial was not for the ends of justice, “but naked power as it was in 1972,” the start of the martial law.

“The Senate is being asked to remove the chief justice from office all because he submitted an allegedly erroneous SALN,” he said.

“What has happened is the passage that to which the Senate President once warned that we were fearing [was] close to a bill of attainder,” he added.

Miriam: Not an impeachable offense

Santiago said the omission of Corona's $2.4 million and P80 million deposits in his SALN was not an impeachable offense.

She said she found it reprehensible that the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report was introduced as evidence in the trial. She also said she felt insulted by the use of anonymous sources in producing evidence in the trial.

"Three times is too much. Are you for real, prosecution? In the Philippines, anything can be manufactured," she said.

She also noted many public officials use loopholes in the SALN law but are not caught and impeached.

She added: "Daming loopholes ng SALN Law na yan, hindi kayo umimik."

She also said that if God would give her another life, she would investigate everyone in the House of Representatives and the Senate, including herself.

At one point in her lengthy explanation, she was interrupted by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile who asked her to wrap up. "I thought I was unlimited," she retorted.

Bongbong assails use of gov't resources

Marcos assailed the use of government resources to produce evidence against Corona.

He said that throughout the trial, crucial issues emerged from “outside the original ambit of the impeachment complaint" which were "brought forth only after its filing.”

“At the expense of the sub-judice rule, evidence had been presented to the public on several occasions, even before they were formally offered before this Court,” Marcos said.

He said his decision may not be popular but, “when the furor has died down and this political storm has subsided, I know - that like the lady Justice – we shall find solace in the fact that this decision…was fair, impartial and just.”

The Senate no longer voted on the 2 other articles of impeachment.

Victory for accountability

In a statement, the House prosecution panel hailed the verdict as a "victory for accountability, transparency and the rule of law."
 
Panel spokespersons Erin Tañada and Sonny Angara said Corona’s removal from office "heralds a new beginning for the judiciary whose image has been tarnished in the course of the chief justice’s impeachment, as well as provides a big boost to the Aquino administration’s campaign to cleanse the bureaucracy of graft and corruption."
 
“This is the start of putting our republic back in order for we did not convict a man but rather we saved our institutions from grievous harm of corruption and betrayal of public trust,” Tañada said. “We showed our determination towards transparency and good governance with this verdict.”
 
Tañada said the Senate has shown to “our people and the world that our country is politically mature and ready to forge ahead in our fight for transparency and accountability in our democratic processes.”
 
Angara said "much more remains to be done by the government to ensure transparency, accountability and adherence to the rule of law, which are all key to good governance."
 
He also "expressed hope that Corona’s conviction would pave the way for the restoration of the people’s faith in the [democratic] institutions."

“We hope it is not just a change of personnel but a change in mindset and a change in the way things are done in government,” Angara added.

'A sad day for judiciary'

In a statement, the president of the Philippine Judges Association said it was a "sad day for the judiciary."

"Judicial independence has passed away. The men and women in judicial robes are grieving as they cower in fear while the sword of Damocles hovers over their heads," said Judge Franklyn Demonteverde, presiding judge of the Regional Trial Court - Bacolod City.

However, he said they will support the Senate's decision.

"While we abide by the decision of the impeachment court, we can only pray - God help the judiciary," Demonteverde said.

Stronger democracy or dictatorship?

Corona became the first high-ranking official in Philippine history to be removed from office via the method prescribed by the Constitution.

Then-President Joseph Estrada's impeachment trial in 2001 was cut short by a military-backed civilian uprising which ousted him from office, instead of via the impeachment process.

The 5-month long impeachment process is seen by analysts as an exercise that will strengthen the country's democratic institutions.

Various surveys have shown that the Filipino people will accept the verdict of the Senate, regardless of whether Corona is found guilty or not.

The historic vote on Tuesday was also expected to strengthen the Aquino presidency, as well as its campaign against corruption and efforts to promote transparency and accountability.

Corona, however, has said that President Aquino's bid to remove him from office is an attack on an independent branch of government, and that if he is removed from office, it would lead to a dictatorship.

98% of cash assets undeclared

In its closing arguments Monday, House prosecutors said Corona failed to disclose 98% of his cash assets in his SALNs.

Corona's defense lawyers argued that the law on foreign currency deposits provides for absolute confidentiality, and that failure to disclose is not one of the impeachable offenses provided under the Constitution.

The vote focused on Article 2 of the impeachment complaint filed by 188 congressmen last December 12, which alleges that Corona failed to disclose his SALN as required under Sec. 17, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution.

The senator-judges no longer voted on the 2 other articles of impeachment (Articles 3 and 7), which accuse Corona of failing to meet the competence, integrity, probity and independence of a government official, and favoring former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in one of his decisions.

During the 44 trial days spread out in 5 months, the chief justice's real property acquisitions and dollar deposits became the subject of heated debate and discussions.

Family feud

The family feud between the Coronas and the Basas over Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI) also hurt his stature during the trial, although the two families began to reconcile last Friday by hugging and kissing at the Senate session hall during a caucus break.

In the beginning, many thought the prosecution would likely lose, with many senator-judges criticizing them for their unpreparedness and poor presentation of evidence.

They were assailed for presenting a bloated list of Corona’s real properties, and for wrongly fishing for evidence during the trial.

The defense, on the other hand, earned the ire of many senators when they claimed that Malacañang tried to bribe a couple of them in order to vote for the opening of Corona’s dollar accounts. The Senate voted 13-10 to respect a Supreme Court TRO on Corona's dollar accounts.

Corona's dollar accounts

In the last days of the trial, the focus was on the dollar accounts of Corona. The defense presented a hostile witness, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, who presented an Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report which purportedly shows Corona had at least $10 million-$12 million in transactional balances in 82 foreign-denominated accounts.

The allegation prompted Corona to agree to take the witness stand, a move which many thought was a big mistake.

Corona debunked Carpio-Morales’ accusations, saying he has only $2.4 million, including interest earnings since the early 1970s, plus P80 million in commingled funds.

He said there was no need to declare his dollar deposits in his SALNs because of the absolute confidentiality clause in the Foreign Currency Deposit Act.

He then signed a waiver authorizing banks to disclose his financial assets, but the Senate merely took note of it since it was not a producer of evidence for either party.

Corona's move last May 22 to leave the witness stand without being excused and attempt to leave the Senate also proved costly since many senators saw it as an attempted walkout and disrespect of the impeachment court.

He returned last Friday and apologized for his sudden exit from the witness stand.

Corona admitted that he did not disclose US$2.4 million in dollar deposits and nearly all his peso deposits. All in all, he said he has P100 million in his bank accounts.

Following his conviction, he is removed from office and perpetually disqualified from elective or appointive public office.

As of posting, he was still in The Medical City in Pasig undergoing treatment. -- with a report from Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News