Sunday, June 3, 2012

Corona guilty as charged | Inquirer Opinion

Corona guilty as charged | Inquirer Opinion

Excerpts from Senate Pres. Juan Ponce Enrile's summation and verdict in the impeachment trial of  Chief Justice Renato Corona.  Read the full text. Click the link above.

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Grossly misplaced
With all due respect, I believe that the respondent Chief Justice’s reliance on the absolute confidentiality accorded to foreign currency deposits under Section 8 of RA 6426 is grossly misplaced.
The Constitution, in Article XI, Sec. 17, provides that “A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities and net worth. x x x”
Are we now to say that this constitutional command is limited to a public official’s assets or deposits in local currency? If so, would we not be saying, in effect, that the Constitution allows something less than a full, honest and complete disclosure?
It bears noting that the prescribed form of the SALN quite simply requires public officers and employees to declare their assets, real and personal, the latter to include cash and bank deposits, bonds, etc. It does not require the public officer or employee to indicate whether or not he or she has foreign currency notes or deposits. Neither does it require details such as account numbers, account names, bank identity nor any branch address. All that it requires is a declaration of the total amount of the funds deposited in any bank account or accounts maintained by the public official or employee concerned.
Surely, the Chief Justice knows the equivalent value in local currency of his foreign currency deposits to be able to declare the same as part of his assets, especially since the aggregate amount of these foreign currency deposits, by his own account, amounts to $2.4 million.
The nondisclosure of these deposits, in both local and foreign currency, would naturally result in a corresponding distortion of the Chief Justice’s real net worth.
Consistent with the position taken by this court in the case filed by Philippine Savings Bank before the Supreme Court last February, pursuant to which the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order, I maintain that the constitutional principle of public accountability overrides the absolute confidentiality of foreign currency deposits.
The provisions of RA 6426 cannot be interpreted as an exception to the unequivocal command and tenor of Article XI, Sec. 17, of the 1987 Constitution, and I regret that the highest magistrate of the land, no less, would think otherwise.
Section 8 of RA 6426 provides that except with the written permission of the depositor, “in no instance shall foreign currency deposits be examined, inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau or office whether judicial or administrative or legislative or any other entity whether public or private.”
The so-called conflict of laws between RA 6713 and RA 6426 is more illusory than real. Section 8 of RA 6426 merely prohibits the examination, inquiry or looking into a foreign currency deposit account by an entity or person other than the depositor himself. But there is nothing in RA 6426 which prohibits the depositor from making a declaration on his own of such foreign currency funds, especially in this case where the Constitution mandates the depositor who is a public officer to declare all assets under oath.
Some have raised the question: Why should the Chief Justice be held accountable for an offense which many, if not most others in government are guilty of, perhaps even more than he is? They say that hardly anyone declares his true net worth anyway.
Moral dilemma
Here lies what many have posited as a moral dilemma. I believe it is our duty to resolve this “dilemma” in favor of upholding the law and sound public policy. If we were to agree with the respondent that he was correct in not disclosing the value of his foreign currency deposits because they are absolutely confidential, can we ever expect any SALN to be filed by public officials from hereon to be more accurate and true than they are today?
I am not oblivious to the possible political repercussions of the final verdict we are called upon to render today. I am deeply concerned that the people may just so easily ignore, forget, if not completely miss out, the hard lessons we all must learn from this episode, instead of grow and mature as citizens of a democratic nation.
Those whose intentions and motivations may be farthest from the lofty ideals of truth and justice are wont to feast upon this man’s downfall should this Court render a guilty verdict.
I am equally aware of the tremendous pressure weighing heavily upon all the members of this court as we had to come to a decision on this case, one way or the other.
Sacred duty
But to render a just verdict according to my best lights and my own conscience is a sacred duty that I have sworn to perform.
As one who has been through many personal upheavals through all of my 88 years, I, too, have been judged, often unfairly and harshly. But I have constantly held that those who face the judgment of imperfect and fallible mortals like us have recourse to the judgment of history, and, ultimately, of God.
And so, with full trust that the Almighty will see us through the aftermath of this chapter in our nation’s history, I vote to hold the Chief Justice, Renato C. Corona, GUILTY as charged under Article II, Par. 2.3, and that his deliberate act of excluding substantial assets from his sworn SALN constitutes a culpable violation of the Constitution.
(Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate president, was the presiding officer of the impeachment court that found Chief Justice Renato Corona on May 29 guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution.)

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