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On to the next battle

We’re back to reality. After almost five months of televised Senate impeachment trial of erstwhile Chief Justice Renato Corona, we go back to our regular toils and live with the realities on the ground. Dubbed as “Corona-vela,” the long-running impeachment drama ended with the conviction of the Chief Magistrate of the Supreme Court, capping this single-minded mission of the Aquino administration.

As if by cue, flash floods inundated several parts of Metro Manila following sudden heavy downpour yesterday afternoon. As usual, traffic came back with a vengeance in Metro Manila roads. As usual, these roads were rendered impassable, especially to light vehicles due to flash floods ranging from gutter-deep to knee-deep in areas obviously with clogged drainage.

Metro Manila Development Authority monitored flash floods even near Malacañang Palace where President Benigno Aquino III, or P-Noy for short, holds fort. I hope the administration is prepared to prevent another, using the President’s own word, “catastrophe” of nature with the onset of the rainy season.

Thankfully ending the post-conviction speculations, no less than the official spokesman of Corona announced that the ex-Chief Justice would not seek any reversal of the impeachment verdict. Tranquil Salvador III officially disclosed this yesterday after conferring with Corona at the Medical City where the ex-Chief Justice is recuperating from his stress-induced ailments.

So it’s business as usual. Speaking of business, it is welcome relief to read statements to media issued by businessmen’s groups that Corona’s impeachment trial did not at all distract nor dampen the business climate in the country.

In fact, Ramon Ang, president and chief operating officer now of our country’s flagship carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) and San Miguel Corp. (SMC), noted business was normal even during the grueling impeachment period.

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For the Senate, it is also back to its own calendar of business. With just a week left of the second regular session of the 15th Congress, Senators are rushing to pass pending bills in various stages of the legislative mill before their sine die adjournment this June 7.

Voting 20-0, the Senate on Wednesday approved on third and final reading a bill protecting the confidentiality of victims and witnesses in criminal cases. Senate Bill (SB) No. 1537, or the Witness Confidentiality Act, seeks to protect victims and witnesses by withholding their contact numbers and addresses during trial.

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, author of SB 1537, explained that victims and witnesses are often discouraged from testifying “freely and truthfully” for fear that offenders would be able to get their contact numbers and addresses during trial or hearing.

Methinks, this really needs no legislation. It should be mere common sense for the police authorities not to endanger the victims and witnesses by giving out such information. Are there no other better and more vital legislation our lawmakers could think of?

While the impeachment drama was taking place at the Senate, it turned out our lawmakers came up with another bright proposal called Data Privacy Act. The proposed bill authored by Sen. Edgardo Angara supposedly seeks to make illegal for the service providers such as health care institutions like hospitals to release to third parties any information they have on clients and customers without their consent.

Already in advanced stage of legislation, the reconciled version of this proposed law is set to be ratified by the Senate and the House of Representatives. What makes this bill dangerous is the reported provision that seeks to penalize media for reporting such information. Angara sought to assuage media that the lawmakers have agreed to remove this provision after journalists’ groups got wind of it. He clarified yesterday that only those directly behind the release of private information would be held liable under the proposed measure.

P-Noy allies at the Senate are also pushing their colleagues to approve the proposed amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering Act before they adjourn next week. The Philippines is under pressure to pass the AMLA amendments that would conform to international standards set by the Financial Anti-Money Laundering Task Force (FATF). The country has until June 15 to comply with the FATF deadline lest foreign exchange remittances by our Filipino workers abroad would be subjected to stringent requirements by banking institutions.

In the course of the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice, the AMLA amendments bill has come under closer scrutiny in relation to Corona’s dollar accounts. Through AMLA Council records provided to the Ombudsman, Corona was convicted for not declaring in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) his $2.4 million deposits. 

Though Corona insisted on the confidentiality protection under the Foreign Currency Deposit Act, the Ombudsman argued this was waived under the SALN provision that each of them in government filed. Apparently, there is something wrong somewhere in these two laws that sealed the conviction of Corona.

The impeachment trial, though the Senators were robed to give it semblance of a court proceeding, is a political exercise in reality. Had it been strictly judicial, the Palace would have lost its case against Corona. This should merit review of our lawmakers instead of cooking up no-brainer bills.

A day after the impeachment court handed down its 20-3 verdict against the ex-Chief Justice, P-Noy declared at the Palace that his administration’s fight against corruption in government does not end with Corona’s conviction. Well and good, if that’s the case.

What really turned me off — and I’m sure many others felt the same way — was hearing P-Noy’s continued tirades against an already down and out Corona. It was cruel, if not unchristian, of P-Noy to kick a fallen man.

Obviously, as far as P-Noy is concerned, his avowed anti-corruption drive will keep its guns trained on ex-administration officials who would be their next targets in the battles ahead.

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