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Corona goes ballistic!

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On November 17, 1973, theembattled U.S. President Richard Nixon faced media editors and defended hisrecord in the Watergate scandal in June 1972, saying that he never profitedfrom his public service.  “People have got to know whether or nottheir President is a crook. Well, I'm not a crook. I've earned everything I'vegot,” he said.

But it was not enough thatNixon emphatically insisted, “I’m not acrook.” Faced with certain impeachment in the U.S. House of Representativesand conviction in the Senate, Nixon resigned the presidency on August 9,1974.  

Philippine Supreme CourtChief Justice Renato Corona’s trouble with the law has stark similarity toNixon’s attempt to deceive the public. “I’m not a crook” was a forcefulstatement that is not dissimilar to saying “Iam innocent,” which is a more subtle way of conveying the same message.  In January 2012, when Corona’s impeachmenttrial began, he declared: “Only death canstop me from defending myself against my enemies.  I am innocent of all the charges being leveled against me.”  

*Opening statement

Last May 22, Corona took thewitness stand to testify in his own defense. He requested to deliver hisopening statement to the people, which the presiding officer and SenatePresident Juan Ponce Enrile allowed.

His opening statement turnedout to be a scathing attack against President Benigno Aquino III whom heaccused of orchestrating the impeachment case, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales,Land Registration Authority (LRA) Administrator Eulalio Diaz III, the Houseprosecution team, the media, critics, and members of the Basa-Guidoteclan.  He spared no one; not eventhe deceased patriarch of the Basa-Guidote clan, Jose Ma. Basa III, whom heinsulted -- and defamed -- by saying that he was an unemployed “spoiled brat”who oppressed his own mother and lived off his parents’ money.  

The highlight of his“opening statement” was his debunking of the testimony of Carpio-Morales whotestified before the impeachment court on May 14 and presented a 17-page reportprepared by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), which detailed 705transactions involving 82 dollar deposit accounts and 31 peso deposit accountsowned by Corona in nine branches of five banks in Metro Manila.  Corona claimed that he currently hasonly four dollar deposit accounts and three peso deposit accounts, which headmitted were not reported in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and NetWorth (SALN).  He said the other accountshave already been closed

After almost three hours ofemotional testimony -- dramatized with tearful moments -- Corona declared thathe had no legal duty to disclose his dollar accounts in his SALN due to theforeign currency deposit confidentiality law.  However, in an unexpected twist, he pulled out a pen fromhis breast pocket and signed a document, which he said was a waiver authorizingbanks to disclose his dollar and peso deposit accounts.  He also authorized AMLC, LRA, theBureau of Internal Revenue, and the Securities and Exchange Commission todisclose his records.  And finally,he directed the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court to release his SALNs from2002 through 2011.  It wasbrilliantly executed and electrifying! Bravo, maestro!

*Defiance

Then came the stinger!  He directed his defense team todistribute blank copies of the same waiver he signed and challenged Sen.Franklin Drilon and the 188 congressmen who signed the impeachment complaint todo the same.  And in a display of defiance,he declared: “This is not a manipulation.This is a challenge to public accountability. I am no thief, no criminal, Ihaven't done anything wrong but I am also no fool.”
And then he said that ifthey declined to sign their waiver, there was no point in his waiver and hedirected his defense team to rest the case.  He then stood up saying, “TheChief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused,” andwalked out.

Enraged by Corona’s walkout,Enrile ordered a lock-down, which prevented Corona and his wife Cristina fromleaving the Senate building to the basement garage where his car was waiting bythe exit door… with engine running.

Prevented from leaving the building, the Coronas went to the Senate clinic andthen to the Senate executive lounge. He emerged on wheelchair together with his son-in-law, Dr. ConstantinoCastillo, who told the media that Corona was suffering from low blood sugar andhigh blood pressure, and was feeling dizzy. 
One hour after he walkedout, Corona went back to the trial room on a wheelchair.  After Enrile dressed down defensecounsel Cuevas, he directed Corona to return the next day for direct and cross-examination.  The Coronas then tookoff and went directly to Medical City.

*No-show

The following day, Coronadid not show up at the resumption of the trial.  Cuevas informed Enrile that Corona was transferred to theIntensive Care Unit for “close monitoring” for 48 hours because he was considereda “high risk” for possible heart attack. 

Enrile then ruled that the defense bring Corona back on May 25 at which timethe defense would finish its formal offer of documentary evidence.  He directed the prosecution and defenseteams to be ready to make their closing arguments on May 28.  And with finality, he said that averdict would be rendered the same day or the following day at the latest. 

*Can of worms

What puzzles me is: Why didCorona walk out?  Based on theverbal and body language that I observed, I believe that Corona used theimpeachment court as bully pulpit to attack Aquino and others whom he perceivedas the real perpetrators and conspirators of his impeachment.  In my opinion, Corona didn’t want to besubjected to a grueling cross-examination where the prosecution could prydeeper into his financial affairs and open a can of worms that would onlystrengthen the case against him.

It was a no-win situationfor Corona.  But in the end, heavoided the dreaded cross-examination and instead opted to leave it to thediscretion of the senator-judges to decide whether to swallow his testimonyhook, line and sinker without the benefit of cross-examination.  

But he could have avoidedthe cross-examination without drawing the ire of the senator-judges – and thepublic -- by simply asking the presiding officer to excuse him because he wasfeeling dizzy due to low blood sugar. Enrile wouldn’t have any choice but to let him go. 

*Arrogance

At the end of they day, itwas his arrogance that finally did him in.  When he referred to himself in the third person, “The Chief Justice of the Republic of thePhilippines wishes to be excused,” he projected himself as being above theimpeachment court.   Hissupremacy and primacy couldn’t be questioned in any manner by a bunch ofpoliticians. 

It didn’t help Nixon get offthe hook by merely saying, “I am not acrook,” 40 years ago. Likewise, I don’t think it would help Corona prove his innocence bymerely saying, “I am no thief, nocriminal, I haven't done anything wrong but I am also no fool.” That’s notenough.  He had to demonstrate itand live it… convincingly.  Andthat’s what the senator-judges would judge him by. 
Going ballistic is not going to cut it!

By Perry Diaz




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