Vizconde to recount meeting with Corona

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc -

Congressmen-prosecutors are confident of proving the third article of impeachment against Chief Justice Renato Corona. The count is for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust. Corona had conferred with litigants about cases pending in the Supreme Court. Injudicious, the congressmen say, this amounts to “serious breach of the confidentiality rule.” The basic law requires magistrates to be of proven integrity, probity and independence. Based on this the Judicial Code of Ethics forbids them from, among others, discussing cases with litigants or attorneys outside the courtroom.

One such litigant is the hapless Lauro Vizconde, whose wife and two daughters were massacred in their home in the summer of 1991. By own admission Corona had met with Vizconde in July 2010 in his chambers. There they discussed the status of the celebrated multiple-murder case. The lower and appellate courts earlier had convicted the scions of leading families, including the son of a senator. The case was pending in the SC since 2006 on automatic review. Months after the meeting in Dec. 2010 the SC overturned the convictions by a vote of 7-4. Anguished, Vizconde went public with their previously unreported chat.

Vizconde and Corona have differing versions of the meeting. The former says he came to visit in Sept. 2010 with Dante Jimenez, long-time associate in the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC). After congratulating Corona on being appointed CJ, they inquired about the lingering case review. A verdict was due in three to four months, Corona intimated. Then, the bombshell: Justice Antonio Carpio, his erstwhile rival for CJ, purportedly was lobbying with their colleagues for acquittal.

Corona, through spokesman Midas Marquez, said that the visitors had arrived with no appointment. Queried, the doorman admitted letting them in as “prominent” personalities. After initial pleasantries, the “upset” Vizconde accused Corona of “conniving” with Carpio to delay the review by DNA-testing one of the convicts. Corona replied that the SC, not just him, would rule collegially.

Malacañang at the time was decrying SC rulings against President Noynoy Aquino’s initiatives. In his inaugural of June 30, 2010, Aquino junked tradition of having the Chief Justice swear him into office. On the other hand, Carpio was being murmured to be close to the new President. This was because several of his past law firm partners had campaigned for Aquino’s vice presidential running mate Mar Roxas.

Vizconde deems a debt of gratitude Corona’s accommodating him with a meeting in 2010. But he feels duty-bound nonetheless to testify against him because of the VACC’s crusade for a better judiciary. He says that Corona should have curbed inside lobbyists in the SC.

Justice Roberto Abad had penned the acquittal. Concurring were Justices Conchita Carpio-Morales, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza, and Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Corona dissented, along with Justices Martin Villarama, Teresita Leonardo de Castro, and Arturo Brion.

Carpio inhibited himself, since he had testified at the lower court for the defense. So did Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., being related to one of the parties; and Mariano del Castillo and Eduardo Nachura, whose previous law firms had been involved in the two-decade long case. Those were in line with judicial ethics.

The story on Vizconde’s talk with Corona broke on a Tuesday, SC en banc day. Corona opened that conference by denying having accused Carpio of lobbying. Carpio, in turn, asked the justices to raise a hand if ever he had approached any of them about the Vizconde case. No one did.

The impeachment trial will recount the events, prosecutors say, likely by next week.

* * *

The impeachment trial resumed yesterday with Filipino used with ease. Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Manuel Villar effectively spoke in the national language for everyone to comprehend. So did national radio-TV anchors and analysts before and after the hearing. Also the congressmen-prosecutors and defense lawyers who were interviewed about the legal issues. And even the English maven Miriam Defensor Santiago.

Speaking in Filipino was never an issue, because the senator-judges, the lawyers, and the witnesses already were doing so. It only seemed to be an issue because of supposedly untranslatable English terms, like “subpoena duces tecum, ad testificandum” or “sui generis”. And, as Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto quipped, even the word “recess”.

And yet “subpoena duces...” and “sui...” aren’t really English but Latin. They are used in the original only for legal purposes. But they have easily understandable meanings. “Subpoena duces tecum” is “ipadala lahat ng dokumento.” And “subpoena ad testificandum” is “ipatawag upang tumestigo.” No sweat, because Filipino consists of Tagalog, English, Spanish and all the major Philippine languages.

Let the Tagalog or Bisaya purists have their way in their venues. Not having wider following is their lookout. They will never have the mega-audiences of glib Filipino broadcasters Ted Failon, Korina Sanchez, Gerry Baja, Anthony Taberna, Deo Macalma, Arnold Clavio, Rey Langit or Eli Aligora. But Filipino speakers-listeners will not be left out of national debates because almost everyone uses it.

And oh, the Tagalog for “recess” is “pahinga”. But as many of us learned from Sotto’s long-running TV variety show Iskul-Bukol TV, “recess” in Filipino is none other than ... “recess.”

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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