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Understandable reactions

Kibitzers, commentators, the so called “civil society” and especially the prosecutors heaping all sorts of blames and insults on Corona, calling him names, asking him to quit already should perhaps try to put themselves in his place and find out how he feels right now. For sure, being merely human, they will also fight back, defend their honor and reputation which is being soiled, clear their names, and take every move proving that the accusations and actions against them are baseless and/or illegal. This is especially true at this stage when, like Corona, their case is still on-going and their guilt has not yet been clearly and definitely established. More so if, like Corona, they also see and feel that the people ganging up on them look equally if not more guilty and “dirty” as they are, specifically in regard to alleged discrepancies or falsities in their SALN.

Aggravating the picture here is the apparent mobilization by the present administration of the vast resources and immense powers at its command to dig up more dirt against Corona and to portray him as unworthy of holding the lofty position of Chief Justice of the highest court of the land. The best example is the on-going examination and investigation of Corona’s income tax return as admitted by the BIR commissioner in her testimony at the impeachment trial. While the BIR can really examine and investigate the income tax returns (ITR) of any taxpayer, its decision to conduct the same on Corona and his wife at the height of the impeachment trial is highly dubious because of its wrong timing. Then there are also reports about the investigation now being conducted on the alleged plunder committed by his wife for eventual filing in court. People really cannot help but ask why only now?

The answer however is already quite clear at this time. All these moves are just designed to force Corona to quit and give up his post rather than to really remove him from office through the impeachment process. Actually the initiation of the impeachment complaint by the Lower House was merely part of the tactic to put more pressure on him to resign. The haste in filing the articles of impeachment and the apparent unpreparedness of the prosecutors prove this point.

And this unpreparedness is once more shown by the prosecution’s recent move to subpoena officials of the Philippine Savings Bank (PSB) and the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) requiring them to produce records of Corona’s alleged bank deposits merely because a “short lady” handed to one of the prosecutors (Congressman Rey Umali) an envelope containing information on those deposits. This latest move of the prosecution shows that when they prepared the complaint particularly Article 2 on the non-disclosure or inaccurate disclosure of the SALN, they are not aware of these deposits or their contents. They decided to ask the impeachment court for a subpoena on those banks only when that mysterious envelope was handed to one of them. This is a classic example of a “fishing expedition”.    

Corona’s current stance is therefore understandable. He has already reached the point of “no retreat, no surrender” or no resignation because he was pushed to it by those who want him out. Hence he has to take some awkward or embarrassing but legally feasible moves further subjecting him to criticisms like his recent action to seek remedy before the Supreme Court where he is the Chief. His latest move can indeed be perceived as bringing the ball game to his home-court where he somehow enjoys an advantage. It may also result in a potentially dangerous confrontation between the Senate which has the sole power to forthwith try and decide all impeachment cases (Article XI Section 6, Constitution), and the Supreme Court which has the expanded power to determine whether there is grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government (Article VIII Section 1).

Actually Corona’s latest petition for Certiorari before the SC will not precipitate a constitutional crisis as feared by some quarters. His petition does not question the exclusive jurisdiction of the Senate to try and decide the impeachment case against him. Indeed he has already recognized the Senate’s jurisdiction when he filed an answer to the impeachment complaint and participated in the trial. His petition merely questions a particular act of the Senate during the trial as constituting grave abuse of discretion, which is the issuance of subpoenas to PSB and BPI to produce the bank records of his alleged deposits therein. This simply means that if his petition is granted, those bank records of deposit cannot be considered as evidence for the prosecution but the trial can proceed with respect to the other Articles of impeachment.

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The alleged grave abuse of discretion committed here lies on two points. First is that the said bank deposits have no bearing at all in any of the charges in this case. It could have been material to prove the charge of ill gotten wealth in paragraph 2.4 of the 2nd Article of impeachment. But said par.2.4 has already been scrapped. Second is the possible violation of the bank secrecy law (R.A. 1405) and the Foreign Currency Deposit Law (R.A. 6426) prohibiting disclosure of any information relating to the bank account of any person. The issues arising here are whether this case falls within the exception provided in RA 1405 and whether RA 6426 admits of any exception.

The better alternative for the SC here is therefore to take cognizance and rule on this petition. It will not only settle the contentious issues regarding RA 1405 and 6426 but will also clarify the limits of its expanded power to review alleged grave abuse of discretion committed by other branches of government. As now worded this power is as broad and nebulous as to cover almost every act. But apparently this power was added by the 1987 Constitution only in reaction to the martial law experience.

All the foregoing views and suggestions should not be construed as attacking the prosecution or favoring Corona They are given to promote fairness and justice under a government of laws and not of men.

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