By Ellen Tordesillas
In a vote of 20-3, the impeachment court declared Chief Justice Renato Corona "Guilty" of having committed "culpable violation of the Constitution and/or betrayed the public trust when he failed to disclose to the public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth as required under Sec. 17, Art. XI of the 1987 Constitution.
Under the Rules of Impeachment, there is no appeal. He is thus immediately removed as chief justice
The charge was number two of the Articles of Impeachment. The senate-turned-impeachment court did not find it necessary to vote on the two other charges.
Those who voted "Guilty" were: Edgardo Angara, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Franklin Drilon, Francis Escudero, Jinggoy Estrada, Teofisto Guingona III, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson,Lito Lapid, Loren Legarda, Sergio Osmeña III, Francis Pangilinan, Aquilino Pimentel III, Ralph Recto,Tito Sotto, Ramon "Bong" Revilla, Jr., Antonio Trillanes IV, Manuel Villar, at Juan Ponce-Enrile.
Those who voted "Not Guilty" were Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and Ferdinand Marcos,Jr.
It was a historic political exercise, the first impeachment trial to have been completed. Other attempts for impeachment were either aborted as in the case of former President Joseph Estrada or didn't reach the Senate as in the case of former Supreme Court Hilario Davide and former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
The fact that it was completed shows the maturing of democracy in the country. Much of the credit goes to the tight and adept handling of Presiding Judge Juan Ponce-Enrile, who was both compassionate and liberal when situation called for it as when Corona was at the witness stand and firm when the court and the law were being undermined by the prosecution's immature handling of the case.
Even as he voted to convict Corona, Enrile didn't pass the chance to score the Prosecution: "As a lawyer, I must confess that I was personally frustrated by the loose and hasty crafting and preparation that characterized the presentation of the charges contained in the Articles of Impeachment. It seemed that the case was being built up only after the charges were actually filed. The repeated recourse to this Court's compulsory processes to obtain evidence which normally should have formed the factual basis of the charges in the first place further burdened and, at times, taxed the patience of this Court.
He also expressed "disdain" over " the indiscriminate, deliberate and illegal machinations of some parties who have been less than forthright with this Court in presenting dubiously procured and misleading documents which were spread to the media obviously to influence this Court's and the public's opinion." He was referring to the erroneous list of 45 properties by Corona released by Land Registration Authority Administrator Eulalio Galland Dias which upon verification was narrowed down to five.
Enrile recalled his warning "against unethical and unprofessional conduct, the penchant to engage in trial by publicity, to use the media to disseminate and advance so called 'information' or 'evidence', to provoke and disrespect this Court and its members, and to irresponsibly hurl disparaging insinuations and accusations.
All senators cited the Constitution as basis for their arguments.
Those who voted "Guilty" anchored on the provision on the "Accountability of Public Officers."
They said his non-reporting of his P80 million and $2.4 million deposits. He declared only in his 2010 SALN P3.5 million cash assets.
Those who voted "Not Guilty" cited a provision in the Bill of Rights,Sec. 14 (2), Art. III that states, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved…"
They also argued that even if he made a mistake in his SALN declaration, it was not an impeachable crime.
A number of the senators who "Guilty" cited the case of the court interpreter in the Regional Trial Court in Davao del Norte who was dismissed for failure to include in her SALN that she owned a stall in a public market.
They all said, how can you compel other government employees to abide by the requirements of the SALN if you allow the Chief Magistrate of the land to get away with his non-reporting of his huge bank deposits?
A number of senators also said the trial of Corona raised the bar of public governance and public accountability. Escudero said "Ibig sabihin nito, mula ngayon, pwedeng nang tanggalin sa pwesto ang punong mahistrado pati na rin ang pangulo at ikalawang pangulo at iba pang impeachable officers kapag meron silang di dineklara sa kanilang SALN."
The trial developed an ironic twist. Pressured to reveal his bank deposits,Corona signed a waiver giving permission for the Court access to his bank accounts and challenged the 188 signatories of the impeachment complaint and Drilon to do the same in the spirit of transparency and accountability which the impeachment trial was all about.
Escudero and Alan Cayetano hurled the same challenge as they themselves expressed willingness to sign waivers to their bank deposits.
Escudero said, "At dapat pantay nating ipatupad ito di lamang sa kanya kundi sa ating lahat!"
Cayetano extended the challenge to the President and his men : "I ask the President to instruct his cabinet to sign the waivers or resign and leave government. Lead by following, or get out of the way. Executive, legislative, judiciary. COA, Comelec, BIR, Customs, judges, governors, mayors, barangay captains, congressmen, senators, let us agree on one standard."
Malacañang and the 'crusading' congressmen were unusually quiet to the challenge. In tagalog, "dedma"
Unlike other senators, who announced their decision at the end of their explanation, Trillanes went straight to the point:"My verdict is guilty."
He said, "As to the matter of public policy, it is in the best interest of the country to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona. A conviction signifies that transparency and accountability as principles in governance take precedence over legal technicalities. This effectively takes away any refuge for the corrupt public official. Moreover, the claim of "co-mingled funds" and the confidentiality of dollar deposits will never be accepted as alibis.
"A conviction also signifies that our system of checks and balance is working well and that Impeachment can now be effectively used as a tool of the state to make high government officials accountable for their actions. From now on, No one is untouchable.
"Lastly, a conviction signifies that we have considerably raised the standards for a Chief Justice of our Supreme Court. He must not only possess vast legal knowledge and wisdom necessary to interpret the law according to its spirit and intent. But, more importantly, he must have unquestionable moral integrity and strength of character to render him impervious to corruption and political pressure as he administers justice for our country and people."