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Corona’s‘palusot’ implodes

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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 eitherside winning by a razor-thin margin. But as it turned out it was a massacre!  Twenty senator-judges voted for conviction leaving the threedie-hard Coronistas – Senators JokerArroyo, 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 theirvote.  Sen. Edgardo Angara was thefirst to speak at the podium.  Upuntil the last minute, political pundits identified Angara as leaning to acquitCorona, although his son, Rep. Sonny Angara, was one of the prosecutionspokesmen. So, when he voted “guilty,” it set the tone for the day.  Arroyo followed and as expected votedfor acquittal.  Then the siblings,Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano explained their personal reasons for their vote forconviction. 

Then came Miriam, feisty as ever, who delivered a 20-minute scathing attack on justabout 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 indisgust.  She must have realizedthen 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 forconviction and two for acquittal. With a conviction short of only five votes and 10 senator-judges stillwaiting to vote, Bongbong could have voted for conviction and he would haveearned a lot of political chips. Or, better, abstained from voting, which would have the same effect as votingfor acquittal.  However, he stood firmlyby Corona to the very end. Loyalty?  I don’t thinkso.  I think it was more likekinship 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 lawin April 1972, it did not have a secrecy clause.  However, during the martial law dictatorship, PresidentFerdinand 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 authorizedunder this Act, as amended by Presidential Decree No. 1035, as well as foreigncurrency deposits authorized under Presidential Decree No. 1034, are herebydeclared as and considered of an absolutely confidential nature and, exceptupon the written permission of the depositors, in no instance shall suchforeign currency deposits be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office whether judicial or administrative or private…”

*Absolute confidentiality

But what was Marcos’ real reason when he issued P.D. 1246?  Was he protecting the corrupt or -- aswas 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 onR.A. 6426.  During the last day of Corona’stwo-day testimony on May 22 and 25, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano asked him some clarificatoryquestions.  When Cayetano asked Coronahow much unreported dollar deposits he owns, Corona answered, “$2.4million.” 

When it was Sen. Jinggoy Estrada’s turn to ask clarificatory questions, he askedCorona how much unreported peso deposits he owns, Corona answered, “P80million.” 

Corona insisted that R.A. 6426 supersedes R.A. 6713, which states: “Section 8. Public officials and employeeshave an obligation to accomplish and submit declarations under oath of, and thepublic has the right to know, their assets, liabilities, net worth andfinancial and business interests including those of their spouses and ofunmarried children under eighteen (18) years of age living in theirhouseholds.”  But R.A. 6713 wasenacted 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.  

*Sovereign command

Furthermore,R.A. 6713 was enacted to satisfy the mandate of Article 11, Section 17 of the1987 Constitution, to wit: “A public officer or employee shall, uponassumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submita declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth. In the caseof the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress,the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutionaloffices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, thedeclaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.”

The nagging question is: Should an older law amended by a presidentialdecree take precedence over a “sovereign command” of the Constitution?  The 20 senator-judges seemed to beconvinced that the Constitution has supremacy and primacy over laws legislatedby Congress.  Almost to a person,they voted to convict Corona based onhis non-disclosure of his dollar and peso deposit accounts in violation of theConstitution.  As Sen. TeofistoGuingona III said, “How can one man use the Constitution,which mandates full public disclosure, to conceal millions of dollars in his personalbank accounts?  This isconstitutional perversion in its ultimate form!”

*Implosion

Butit was Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas who hammered in the prosecution’sarguments to destroy Corona’s defense. In his closing arguments last May 28, Fariñas pierced Corona’s defensewith one word, “palusot,” whichtranslates 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 thesenator-judges’ psyche?  

Indeed,“palusot” might have been whatcrossed the mind of Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr.  After the prosecution and defense teams made their closingarguments, Revilla informed top officials of Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats thathe was going to vote for conviction. It was said that Revilla, who is the President and Vice Chair ofLakas-CMD, decided to go with the “emerging majority vote” because there werenot enough senators to vote for acquittal.  

With the conviction and removal of Corona from office, President Benigno Aquino IIIhas finally untied the Gordian Knot of corruption.  Corona’s departure would pave the way to judicial reforms, whichare badly needed to put the country back on track in the fight againstkleptocracy and poverty. There is only one road to take from this day on; thatis, the narrow and straight path – “daangmatuwid” – to economic progress.
A new dawn of hope is finally upon us. 

By Perry Diaz




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