For the first time in the country’s history, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic of the Philippines was convicted today by the House of Senate sitting as impeachment court for “incomplete disclosure in an annual statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN)” as required by law under Article II of the Articles of Impeachment, and dispensed the voting of other charges contained in the Articles.
Mr. Renato Corona, the 23rd highest magistrate of the country received the verdict after 43 days of trials characterized by many experts as akin to a political telenovela complete with a cast of characters that bemused, irritated, and agitated the public except that it was done in the halls of Senate. Mr. Corona was impeached in December 2011 after the Articles of Impeachment that constituted the impeachment complaint were endorsed by 188 solons from the House of Representatives to the House of Senate, an action that generated public debate for the hasty endorsement of the Articles.
The original eight Articles of Impeachment were later reduced by the prosecution to three in the middle of the trials, and these were: Article II, for incomplete disclosure in annual Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth); Article III, for “flipping” a final and executory Supreme Court decision); and Article VII, for irregular issuance of a temporary restraining order to allow former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to flee abroad.
The convicted magistrate was pressured to testify on his behalf waiving his constitutional right against self incrimination when prosecution’s witnesses, defense’ hostile witness, and news media articles pointed out that the he accumulated more than $10 M dollar deposits, large amount of Philippine currency deposits, and several real properties disproportionate to his income. During his testimony on May 18, he admitted that he has dollar deposits amounting $2.4 million and another 80 million Philippine peso deposits (almost $2 million).
In his testimony, Mr Corona said that he did not divulge the dollar deposits to his SALN because he is protected under the existing foreign currency deposit law which allows complete confidentiality of bank deposits except only upon written consent of depositor. He also did not disclose his peso deposits to his SALN because according to him, the said amount was co-mingled with his family’s funds, therefore difficult determine what is his. The defense in its closing arguments propounded that Mr. Corona could not be faulted for non-disclosure of bank deposits to his SALN because he acted in good faith. And that such non-disclosure is not an impeachable offense.
In his first appearance in the impeachment court, he signed a conditional waiver for the inspection of his bank deposits, both dollar and peso provided the 188 solons who endorsed the Articles, and Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon would also sign a waiver allowing the inspection of their bank accounts. The hearing was punctuated by an aborted walk-out that resulted the lockdown of the Senate session hall to prevent Mr. Corona and his family from leaving the premises of the Senate building. He reappeared hours later to the impeachment court on a wheelchair invoking medical condition. In his second court appearance several days after, he no longer required the conditional signing of waiver and allowed the banks to disclose his bank deposits.
The Philippines constitution is explicit that “… members of the Supreme Court …. may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.” The conviction of an impeachable official n of impeachment may result to removal from office and perpetual disqualification from holding any public office. In impeachment, the constitution grants to the House of Representatives the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment while the House of Senate exercises the role of a trial court.
The disclosure of all assets, liabilities, and net worth of all public officials, whether elected or appointed, upon assumption of office is mandated by the constitution. Mr. Renato Corona was the first chief magistrate of Judiciary to have been convicted by impeachment court in the Philippines. In the latest Pulse Asia survey, 60% of Filipinos indicated that they would respect the verdict of senator-judges to convict the Chief Justice. Early this year, public officials were polled by Social Weather Station Survey, and Mr. Corona obtained the negative satisfaction ratings.