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impeachment

The defense’s debacle

The prosecutors in the on-going impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona owe the defense a mountain of gratitude. After all, it was the defense that proved what the prosecutors could not:  That the chief justice has dollar deposits in the amount of— at least—$12 million, which he failed to disclose in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.

 

What on earth was the defense thinking when it called on the Ombudsman as its own witness? Perhaps they thought that the Ombudsman would not honor the subpoena sent to her to testify in the Senate. But why would she ignore such a subpoena when as a retired Supreme Court magistrate, she knows all too well that unlike contempt issued by the courts, a contempt imposed by the legislature may be for a lifetime. Did they think that the Ombudsman would not disclose details of her ongoing investigation, or at least not the documents tending to show the existence of the CJ’s dollar deposits, because to disclose these would be to violate the existing law protecting the confidentiality of dollar deposits without a court order?

 

But why would the Ombudsman not disclose this? To begin with, the secrecy of dollar deposits is only provided for by a law, while the duty of the Ombudsman to “investigate public official” for “illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient” acts and its power to “request any government agency for assistance and information necessary  x x x  and to examine, if necessary, pertinent records and documents” are both provided for by the Constitution. Pursuant to the principle of hierarchy of laws, the Constitutional provisions on the Ombudsman prevail over the prohibition of the FCDU law.

 

What makes the defense act even more perplexing is that from the declarations of the Ombudsman herself, she apparently had no intention of taking the stand in the ongoing trial. When asked by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago to what purpose the Ombudsman could investigate an impeachable officer such as the CJ, the Ombudsman responded that is was only for the purpose of “recommending to Congress the filing of an impeachment complaint after the one-year ban in December of this year.” Ergo, her investigation, if warranted, would have resulted only in a letter to the Speaker of the House perhaps recommending a second impeachment proceeding against the chief justice. This implies that she did not see taking the stand as an option.

 

So the question is: Why did they do it?

 

Lawyer Jose Roy III said it was upon the express order of Corona himself, to know what the Ombudsman has. I guess the defense achieved its purpose—except that in the process, they crucified their client.

 

The defense, after realizing that the Ombudsman dropped a bomb shell against the chief justice, is now saying that the information divulged are: one, not accurate, because the amounts were not verified by the Ombudsman herself; and two, in any case, illegally obtained and hence inadmissible.

 

Such are admirable attempts to contain the consequences of their self-inflicted damage. But these are utterly bereft of merit. To begin with, the Ombudsman divulged the documents only insofar as it forms part of her ongoing investigation about an alleged dollar deposit undeclared by the chief justice in his SALN. Certainly, this was what complainants Rissa Hontiveros-Baraquel et al alleged in their complaint. Moreover, although she has not personally verified the accuracy of the accounts, she is still entitled to presume that a very specialized agency such as the Anti-Money Laundering Council would be discharging its functions regularly. If at all, the AMLC cannot be faulted for heeding the constitutionally mandated power of the Ombudsman to solicit its assistance. Instead, it should perhaps be faulted for not conducting its own investigation even before the impeachment trial.

 

Moreover, the chief justice himself, in the form prescribed for the SALN,  has expressly authorized the “ obtain and secure from all appropriate government agencies, x x x such documents that may show my assets, liabilities, net worth, business interests and financial connections.” How can he now complain about the acts of the Ombudsman?

 

With the testimony of the Ombudsman,  Corona has put the last nail in his own coffin. Ironically, we have the defense to thank for this.

 

The $10 million question

At long last, the die is cast. After repeatedly saying that Chief Justice Renato Corona need not take the witness stand in the impeachment trial against him, his counsel, out of the blue, assured the Senate that the CJ will take the witness stand.

The promise though appeared to have a condition: that is, that the Complainants against the CJ in a pending complaint in the Ombudsman, to wit, former Akbayan Representative Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel and Rep. Walden Bello, together with Harvey Keh, and no less than Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales; should be subpoenaed by the Senate to appear purportedly as hostile witnesses in the impeachment trial. After which, the CJ’s counsel promised that his client will take the stand to rebut what these witnesses may say. This is interesting. While the nation has been left wondering about an alleged 700,0000 dollar account with PS Bank allegedly belonging to the CJ and yet undeclared in his SALN,  the nation gasped with horror at the possibility that the CJ may have a lot more in his  dollar accounts. In fact, the amount is mind-boggling: 10 Million or at least 420 Million pesos at today’s exchange rate.

There’s an obvious difference between the circumstances behind the 700,000-dollar placement and this later 10 Million deposit. In the case of the smaller amount, it was the Prosecution that asked the Court to subpoena PS bank to bring and present to the Court the documentary evidence for such an account. When asked by the Court where the Prosecution obtained its information about the account, the Prosecution panel claimed that a “small lady” in the gallery of the Senate gave it to Rep. Reynaldo Umali. It would later turn out that Rep. Jorge Banal of Quezon City had previously gone to the Katipunan branch of PS Bank to inquire about this 700,000-dollar account. Rep. Banal in turn, claimed that an unknown person left the documents at his residence.

The Supreme Court then came to the rescue of the embattled CJ when in a petition filed by PS Bank, the Court issued an indefinite temporary restraining order which effectively stopped the impeachment court from compelling the bank to produce all relevant documents relative to the $700,000 account. This time, the $10 Million dollar deposit was not even by reason of any document, even information, provided by the Prosecutors. Instead, what is  clear on the basis of newspaper reports are: One, as alleged by veteran Journalist Ellen Tordesillas in a story published by Vera files, the Ombudsman allegedly had asked the Anti-Money Laundering Council to provide her with a copy of the documents establishing that the CJ has an undisclosed amount in  dollar deposits in  undisclosed banks. This, according to Tordesillas, the Ombudsman did in response to the complaint filed by Hontiveros et al.

Two, in a story carried exclusively by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the CJ was allegedly asked by the Ombudsman to explain in writing within 72 hours how he acquired several peso and dollar accounts, described as  “grossly disproportionate” to his salary. Quoting from Carpio’s order, the PDI reported that the CJ was allegedly asked to explain, among others, how he acquired dollar deposits with an “aggregate amount of at least US$10,000,000”.

It was because of this second story that Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago opined that the Ombudsman could conduct a parallel investigation with the impeachment court on the CJ’s concealed dollar deposits. Senator  Edgardo Angara , for his part, said that the impeachment court could accept evidence emanating from the Ombudsman in this regard. The legal basis for both Senators’ opinions is found in the Ombudsman law, which provides that the said office may investigate even impeachable officers for the purpose of recommending to Congress the initiation of impeachment against them.

Apparently, this was the game changer. While the CJ, through his lawyers, lawyers ignored the show cause letter of the Ombudsman arguing that the said office has no jurisdiction over an impeachable officer such as the Chief Justice, the results of such an investigation was nonetheless, the reason why the CJ will now take the stand. According to his counsel last Tuesday evening, this was to “rebut the testimonies” of Hontiveros and the Ombudsman et al, which presumably, will be adverse to the CJ. Obviously the nation will be glued to the proceedings specially when the Ombudsman takes the stand, which she has said she will. And the obvious question will no longer be whether such a huge deposit exists, which for all intents and purposes, appear to be admitted. The issue now is why he did not declare such an amount and how he acquired this huge sum.

The plot thickens. It’s definitely more fun in the Philippines!

Rape and probable cause against Del Castillo

Voting 38-10, with no abstentions, the House of Representatives Committee on Justice determined the existence of probable cause for betrayal of public trust against Supreme Court Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo. This is the latest in the saga of the Malaya Lolas, victims of mass rape during World War II, who have been fighting for redress for the past 60 years. The impeachment, together with the Lolas’ motion for reconsideration pending in the case of Vinuya et al vs. Executive Secretary, are the last remaining legal attempts to obtain justice for these victims.It was my first time to attend the House proceedings. Last week, four of the Lolas trooped to the Committee to give evidence to prove the existence of probable cause against the magistrate. Unfortunately, in the one and only time I could have spoken on behalf of the Lolas in Congress, I happened to be abroad to deliver plenary remarks in an international conference to mark the tenth year of the International Criminal Court in Sydney, Australia. I would have preferred to talk on behalf of the Lolas in Congress. Unfortunately, my restricted and non-refundable ticket to Sydney had already been issued by the time I received my invitation to the Committee hearing. It was my law partner Joel Butuyan and the Executive Director of Center for International Law, Romel Bagares, who went to represent the Lolas in Congress.But just as the Lolas were giving their testimony in Congress, I too was discussing their plight in the ICC conference. Before an audience consisting of the “ who’s who” in international law, I discussed lessons learned and challenges arising from the Philippine accession to the Rome statute of the ICC. One such challenge is the ability of the Philippines to exercise primary jurisdiction in crimes cognizable by the ICC. I argued that the decision in Vinuya, the Lolas’ case, is evidence of a lack of capacity of our courts to apply the basic principles of international criminal law. This may be a from of “inability” to exercise primary jurisdiction. The good news is that this would justify the ICC prosecuting similar crimes in the future without offending sovereignty.

The audience was in disbelief when told about the Vinuya decision They could not understand why the Court declared that the waiver of further reparations provided in the San Francisco Peace pact should prevail over the jus cogens norm against rape as a war crime and the duty to provide redress to victims thereof. That the women are entitled to reparations despite the waiver of further reparation has been the consistent position of the United Nations, particularly the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Since the pendency of Vinuya, the South Korean Constitutional Court has expressed the same opinion. Only recently, the latter ruled that a failure of the South Korean government to espouse their comfort women’s claim is unconstitutional.

Worse, the audience was baffled with our Court’s opinion that rape only became criminal in the 1990s as a result of the decision of the Rwanda tribunal in the case of Prosecutor v. Akayesu. This was what prompted me to instruct my law associates to look at each and every footnote cited by the Court in Vineyard. Simply put, that conclusion was wrong.

Back to the Congressional hearing, much of the time spent prior to the voting on the existence of probable cause was whether the plagiarism and the twisting complained of by the complainants were serious enough to warrant impeachment. The chairman of the committee, Rep Neil Tupas, started the hearing by reading from the proceedings of the constitutional commission. It was clear from what Tupas read that betrayal of public trust as a impeachable offense is new. It was added to include acts which may not be criminal- but could still affect the fitness of an impeachable officer to hold office.

Yesterday’s ruling was ground breaking not only insofar as the Lolas’ quest for justice is concerned. In Roque v. De Venecia, our Court ruled that the definition of betrayal of pubic trust is beyond the ambit of judicial review and is a political question, The question was given an answer yesterday: 32 counts of plagiarism and the twisting perpetrated by Justice Del Castillo in Vinuya, albeit allegedly without intent, constitute betrayal of public trust.

Future magistrates, beware.

Corona’s (not so) secret account

    I expected Annabelle Tiongson, manager of the Katipunan Branch of PSBank, to do as she did. Why shouldn’t she? As Niñez Cacho-Olivarez reported, the bank document that formed the basis for the prosecutors to subpoena Chief Justice Renato Corona’s dollar account at PS Bank came from Tiongson herself. Had the Senate ignored the […] More →

SALN

All public officers are required to file their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth on or before 30 April of every year. This is provided by RA No. 6713, otherwise known as the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. The rationale for the filing of the same is to […] More →

The wrong IBP statement

Was both sad and disappointed when the Integrated Bar of the Philippines took the stand that the impeachment against Chief Justice Renato Corona was an affront to the independence on the Judiciary. Sad because I hold the IBP very dearly, having served as its Presidential Assistant for Human Rights for two years during the incumbency […] More →

Morality in the impeachment process

Am very much bothered by pronouncements made by the members and the chairman of the House Committee on Justice that they will abandon the impeachment proceeding against Justice Mariano del Castillo. The reason given was that the House could not handle the prosecution of the Corona impeachment and that of del Castillo at the same […] More →

10-4-9 for removal of Corona

So it happened. A few days after my column last week where I exhorted the impeachment of both Chief Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justice Mariano Del Castillo, the President, weary of yet another TRO from the Arroyo court -asked his allies in Congress to impeach the Chief Justice. And while I have maintained that […] More →

Flip-flop

I am one of those disturbed by the recent order of the Supreme Court to reopen a final and executory decision ruling that the dismissal of 1,200 Philippine Airlines flight attendants was illegal. I too, find this decision—made in response to a letter of the lawyer of one the richest men in the world—to be […] More →

IMPEACHMENT: AT LAST!

The good news is that after five or so years, we may finally impeach Merceditas Gutierrez. This is because of the Supreme Court’s ruling yesterday dismissing her petition to restraint the House of Representatives from hearing two impeachment complaints against her. The Ombudsman complained that since two petitions were filed against her; to wit, one […] More →

Battle Royale

Impeachment is once again controversial. In an unprecedented move, the House Committee on Justice lead by its Chairman, Rep. Neil Tupas Jr., voted overwhelmingly to defy a status quo order ordered by the Supreme Court on the impeachment complaint filed against the Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. At issue is whether a second impeachment complaint by the […] More →