5 June 2012
Don’t stop with Corona
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) welcomes the verdict to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution as a step forward in holding the highest government officials accountable in the discharge of their functions.
The public interest and outcry for accountability and justice that had built up in the course of the impeachment trial demands now the determined and unrelenting pursuit of the prosecution of Corona should there be probable cause for criminal cases, and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Ret. Gen. Jovito Palparan and other high public officials charged with plunder, human rights violations and other crimes committed while in office.
The decision in the long and arduous impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona opens a new chapter in our legal and political history. Legally, it asserts and affirms the stern standards for public officials as provided in our statutes yet ignored or circumvented. In spite of the legal hair-splitting that Corona’s defence has thrown in the proceedings and the self-serving reading of the law, the verdict clarifies the interpretation of certain issues long obscured or distorted.
The defenses offered by Corona in failing to properly declare his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN) — the confidentiality of foreign currency deposit accounts and that he declared his SALN in good faith — are politically unsound and legally untenable arguments which will only allow corrupt public officials with a convenient excuse to explain possibly illegally acquired assets.
Politically, the conviction of Corona restores a semblance of government authority unto the people, whose interests has for so long been ignored by public officials that ought to be their representatives. The decision particularly strips of his august position a Chief Justice who is beholden to his patron Gloria — how unfortunate that Corona’s relationship and loyalty to the former president had not been duly exposed in his trial.
Article 7 (partiality in granting a temporary restraining order in favor of Arroyo’s travel) was compromised with its abrupt termination in order to accommodate the Aquino administration’s drive against corruption through disproportionately highlighting Article 2 (failure to declare his SALN as required in the constitution).
The duplicity of the administration’s push for transparency in the government was revealed days after the conclusion of the impeachment trial with their unwillingness to waive the confidentiality of their bank accounts for whatever lame excuse they may have. Also frustrating is that the impeachment proceedings typified how moneyed and powerful litigants are treated with favor in courts of law when the body overbent backwards in dealing with the Chief Justice during the course of his testimony.
The challenge for us now is how this matter will define us in the future.
NUPL believes that the Senate decision outright demands that impeachable officers — among them the President — declare their complete SALN.
In an administration that keeps on mouthing ‘daang matuwid,’ it is only proper to expect that all members of the Cabinet, as alter egos of the President, make their SALN public, and to waive confidentiality over their domestic and foreign bank accounts and other assets lest they be branded as hypocrites. This is in order to breed a culture of conscious responsibility and public accountability of public officials.
To underscore his sincerity, President Noynoy Aquino must also show the same fervor in pursuing disciplinary cases against every other official who has not been honest, whether they may be friends and family, or even if he does not stand to gain advantage or satisfaction.
More particularly, President Aquino must step up the investigation and prosecution of former President Arroyo and her posse accused of cheating, stealing and violating the people’s rights. No other public official has earned such notoriety for skimming through and evading the law with pompous impunity. If President Aquino was able to marshal with marked fixation the whole government machinery towards the conviction of Corona, he should be equally able to muster all resources at his disposal to ensure that corrupt officials and callous human rights violators suffer the same fate.
Now that the dust has somewhat settled, perhaps the greatest lesson from this experience is that the people deserve a space in the debate.
Beyond the legalese and political colors, the people have also collectively recognized that the problem lies in the system, not simply people. The end of the impeachment hardly brings good news to the ordinary Filipino: wages are the same, consumer goods unaffordable to many and human rights are still being violated. Many people have participated in and followed the drama dubbed “Coronavela” if only for the chance, and mayhap the possibility, of change.
NUPL believes that the people are sharpening discernment and gaining the maturity to refuse to be pawns in the games of the elite and the ruling class. The entitlement in our Constitution is plain and clear: “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”
Atty. Edre U. Olalia
NUPL Secretary General