The much-anticipated vote on the impeachment case against Chief Justice Renato Corona finally came to pass last May 29, 2012. It was supposed to be suspenseful to the very end with either side winning by a razor-thin margin. But as it turned out it was a massacre! Twenty senator-judges voted for conviction leaving the three die-hard Coronistas – Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. — circling the wagon in a desperate attempt to defend the beleaguered Corona.
The senator-judges were called one by one, in alphabetical order, to explain their vote. Sen. Edgardo Angara was the first to speak at the podium. Up until the last minute, political pundits identified Angara as leaning to acquit Corona, although his son, Rep. Sonny Angara, was one of the prosecution spokesmen. So, when he voted “guilty,” it set the tone for the day. Arroyo followed and as expected voted for acquittal. Then the siblings, Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano explained their personal reasons for their vote for conviction.
Then came Miriam, feisty as ever, who delivered a 20-minute scathing attack on just about everybody… except Corona. She even used words like “kagaguhan” — stupidity – in belittling the prosecutors and anti-Corona senator-judges.
Sen. Franklin Drilon followed Miriam. While he was explaining his vote, Miriam walked out of the trial room in disgust. She must have realized then that the battle was over. Yep, it was time to flee the battleground and leave the other Coronistas to fend for themselves.
By the time Bongbong stepped up to the podium, the vote was running 11 for conviction and two for acquittal. With a conviction short of only five votes and 10 senator-judges still waiting to vote, Bongbong could have voted for conviction and he would have earned a lot of political chips. Or, better, abstained from voting, which would have the same effect as voting for acquittal. However, he stood firmly by Corona to the very end. Loyalty? I don’t think so. I think it was more like kinship to the issue of dollar deposit accounts.
Secrecy of dollar deposits
When the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA) or Republic Act 6426 was passed into law in April 1972, it did not have a secrecy clause. However, during the martial law dictatorship, President Ferdinand E. Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 1246 on November 21, 1977, which amended Section 8 of RA 6426 to read as follows: “Secrecy of Foreign Currency Deposits. All foreign currency deposits authorized under this Act, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1035, as well as foreign currency deposits authorized under Presidential Decree No. 1034, are hereby declared as and considered of an absolutely confidential nature and, except upon the written permission of the depositors, in no instance shall such foreign currency deposits be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office whether judicial or administrative or private…”
But what was Marcos’ real reason when he issued P.D. 1246? Was he protecting the corrupt or — as was officially postulated — encouraging foreigners to invest in the country? That was then. But today, under the 1987 Constitution, does the “absolute confidentiality” clause allow public officials or employees not to disclose or report their dollar deposits in their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN)?
That was the gist of Corona’s defense. Claiming immunity under R.A. 6426, Corona hinged his final defense on R.A. 6426. During the last day of Corona’s two-day testimony on May 22 and 25, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano asked him some clarificatory questions. When Cayetano asked Corona how much unreported dollar deposits he owns, Corona answered, “$2.4 million.”
When it was Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s turn to ask clarificatory questions, he asked Corona how much unreported peso deposits he owns, Corona answered, “P80 million.”
Corona insisted that R.A. 6426 supersedes R.A. 6713, which states: “Section 8. Public officials and employees have an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and the public has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth and financial and business interests including those of their spouses and of unmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in their households.” But R.A. 6713 was enacted into law on February 20, 1989, twelve years after Marcos’ P.D. 1246, which amended R.A. 6426; therefore R.A. 6713 should prevail over the older R.A. 6426.
Furthermore, R.A. 6713 was enacted to satisfy the mandate of Article 11, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution, to wit: “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 nagging question is: Should an older law amended by a presidential decree take precedence over a “sovereign command” of the Constitution? The 20 senator-judges seemed to be convinced that the Constitution has supremacy and primacy over laws legislated by Congress. Almost to a person, they voted to convict Corona based on his non-disclosure of his dollar and peso deposit accounts in violation of the Constitution. As Sen. Teofisto Guingona III said, “How can one man use the Constitution, which mandates full public disclosure, to conceal millions of dollars in his personal bank accounts? This is constitutional perversion in its ultimate form!”
But it was Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas who hammered in the prosecution’s arguments to destroy Corona’s defense. In his closing arguments last May 28, Fariñas pierced Corona’s defense with one word, “palusot,”which translates to lame excuse or alibi. Throughout his presentation, he used “palusot” numerous times, each time driving a nail into Corona’s coffin. Could it be that “palusot” was subconsciously translated to “guilty” in the senator-judges’ psyche?
Indeed, “palusot” might have been what crossed the mind of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. After the prosecution and defense teams made their closing arguments, Revilla informed top officials of Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats that he was going to vote for conviction. It was said that Revilla, who is the President and Vice Chair of Lakas-CMD, decided to go with the “emerging majority vote” because there were not enough senators to vote for acquittal.
With the conviction and removal of Corona from office, President Benigno Aquino III has finally untied the Gordian Knot of corruption. Corona’s departure would pave the way to judicial reforms, which are badly needed to put the country back on track in the fight against kleptocracy and poverty. There is only one road to take from this day on; that is, the narrow and straight path – “daang matuwid” – to economic progress.
A new dawn of hope is finally upon us.