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The SALN Revolution

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The recent impeachment and removal of Renato Corona as the Chief Justice of theSupreme Court of the Philippines was without precedence in the annals ofPhilippine jurisprudence.  However,the impeachment trial was fraught with uncertainty and high drama, which up tothe very end could have gone for conviction or acquittal.  But the final verdict of 20-3 forconviction was meted out based on Corona’s own admission or “confession” -- onthe last hour of the last day of his testimony -- that he owns dollar and pesodeposits amounting to $2.4 million and P80.7 million, respectively, which hedid not report in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth(SALN).  It was an act of “hara-kiri” knowing full well that by his admission his fate was sealed.  But did he have a choice? 

But the sad denouement was not scripted nor predicted.   Up to that last act, a conviction was doomed from thestart of the impeachment trial, which lasted 44 days.  On the one hand, the House prosecution team was unable topresent clear and convincing evidence. They simply didn’t have the prosecutorial aptitude to make theircase.  On the other hand, the defenseteam – consisting of top defense lawyers led no less by the seasoned retiredSupreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas – managed to dispute the credibility andveracity of the evidence.  

But it was the defense team’s own undoing that shattered Corona’s defense.  When the members of the defense teamdemanded that Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales testify as a condition forCorona to take the witness stand in his own defense, they didn’t realize thatwhat they did was akin to opening the gates of Troy to accept a gift – a woodenhorse – from the Greeks that would destroy the fortress-city from within.  And when Carpio-Morales presented thedamning 17-page report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) thatdetailed 705 transactions – movement of money – involving 82 bank depositaccounts in Corona’s name, Corona’s once formidable defense collapsed just like what happened to ancient Troy.    

*Conviction
On May 29, 2012, the senator-judges voted to convict Corona.  How did that happen?  A few days after Corona was dealt the “guilty”verdict, Sen. Loren Legarda revealed that two days before that fateful day,seven senator-judges – the “Magnificent Seven” -- met at her home to ponderCorona’s guilt or innocence.  Ledby Senate President and Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile, the powerful blocof senators consisted of Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Majority Leader TitoSotto, Gregorio Honasan, Loren Legarda, Manny Villar, and Ramon RevillaJr.  

Ultimately, it was Corona’s admission of not reporting his dollar and peso deposits in hisSALN that sealed his fate, and as a consequence, the members of the Enrile blocdecided that Corona was guilty of not reporting the true value of his assets in his SALN, which was the essence of Article II of the Articles of Impeachment.  
*Sovereign command
With emphasis on truthful SALN disclosure as a key factor, the 20 senator-judges whovoted for conviction hinged their judgment solely on Corona’s failure to reporthis dollar and peso deposits, which is a violation of Section 17 of Article 11,which mandates:  “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.”

For the first time since the 1986 EDSA “people power”revolution, this “sovereign command” of the 1987 Constitution was enforced uponthe highest echelons in the government, no less than the Chief Justicehimself.  And for the first time, aconstitutional officer had been removed from office for culpable violation ofthe 1987 Constitution and betrayal of public trust. 
*People’s victory
This is a victory for the Filipino people who have seen how those in powertrampled the 1987 Constitution for their own personal interests.  The people saw how former President GloriaMacapagal Arroyo manipulated them into staging a sham “people power” revolutionin 2001 to unseat President Joseph “Erap” Estrada and take over the presidencyherself. They saw how Gloria attempted to manipulate and amend the Constitutionso she could remain in power indefinitely.  They saw how Gloria stacked the Supreme Court with justicesloyal to her.  They saw how Gloriamanipulated the appointment of Corona as Chief Justice during the periodbanning midnight appointments during elections.  And they saw how corruption in government made their livesmiserable.  But the peoplepersevered hoping that someday their aspirations would be heard by thepowers-that-be.

So it did not then come as a surprise that during the impeachmenttrial, polls taken consistently showed that the people were convinced ofCorona’s guilt.  The people wantedhim removed from office.  Yet, thesenator-judges were not influenced by public opinion against Corona saying thatthe evidence was not convincing enough. As Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano told the media during an interview, “I don't want to convict an innocent man butI don’t want to acquit a guilty man either.”  It’s an ambivalence that was leaning more towards anacquittal because, in the final analysis, who would convict an innocent manunless there is clear and convincing evidence of guilt?

But serendipity helped Cayetano out of his dilemma.  Right after Corona’s abbreviatedtestimony on his second and last day on the witness stand on May 25, Cayetanoasked Corona: How much unreported dollar deposits did he own?  Corona answered, “$2.4 million.”  What more did Cayetano want to hear to makeup his mind?  On May 29, he voted “guilty” as charged.
*Redemption
The turn of events in the final days of the impeachment trialhas brought to the forefront of public debate Enrile’s leadership during thetrial.  He was credited withsteering the trial on an even keel avoiding controversial situations that couldhave rocked the boat. 

His sterling leadership had a redeeming effect on his past political life.  Having been on the wrong side ofhistory as the Defense Minister during the dark years of the martial law regimeof the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, he – together with then Gen. Fidel V.Ramos – led the 1986 EDSA “people power” revolution.  For once, Enrile was on the right side of history but notfor long.  After Cory Aquino wasinstalled as President, Enrile stayed out of Cory’s circle and was oftenalleged to have figured in several attempts to remove her from office through aseries of coup d’états. 
As a senator-judge during the impeachment trial of Erap Estradain 2001, Enrile together with 10 others became known as the “Craven Eleven”
whovoted not to open the “second envelope,” which was supposed to contain Erap’sbank accounts.  As a result, theprosecution team led by then Rep. Joker Arroyo walked out; thus, throwing thetrial in turmoil.  A few days laterthe sham people power revolution – or “EDSA 2” – erupted and Gloria took overthe presidency from Erap.

At age 88, Enrile is back on the right side of history just likewhere he was during the EDSA revolution.  But this time around, the revolution he’s fighting for is tomake public officials accountable and transparent to the people.

At the end of the day, his role in the conviction of Corona hasbeen the redeeming moment of his life and deserving of a special place in ourhistory.  Indeed, his long andcolorful political life can be defined in one short statement: “From EDSA revolution to SALN revolution.”  Nothing is loftier or nobler than that.

by Perry Diaz




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