Friday, January 20, 2012

Impeach court starts retracing Corona’s ascent to Supreme Court


From the Website of Inquirer ( News )

links: http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/131097/impeach-court-starts-retracing-corona%E2%80%99s-ascent-to-supreme-court



Impeach court starts retracing Corona’s ascent to Supreme Court

By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
12:51 am | Friday, January 20th, 2012

 


Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona. INQUIRER/NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

With the turnover of Chief Justice Renato Corona’s statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs), the impeachment court has begun to retrace the steps he took before he assumed the top post of the Supreme Court in 2010.


Although tedious, the process allows the nation to see how this jurist—who has described himself as being of a family “of no ordinary means”—walked the corridors of power under two administrations in a political and legal career spanning two decades.



After two days of delay, the presentation of evidence and witnesses on Article 2 of the impeachment complaint, which began on Wednesday and continued yesterday, has enlivened the heretofore insipid proceedings. It also set into motion the prosecution’s strategy to lay the basis for Corona’s conviction of betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, and graft and corruption.


Article 2 alleges that Corona violated the Constitution and betrayed public trust “when he failed to disclose to the public” his SALNs.


On Wednesday, the impeachment court compelled Supreme Court Clerk of Court Enriqueta Esguerra-Vidal to turn over an envelope containing Corona’s SALNs covering the period 2002-2010 (first as associate justice and later Chief Justice of the high court).

This allowed the prosecution to obtain what could turn out to be the smoking gun necessary to prove its claim that Corona had amassed assets beyond his means.

The Chief Justice has admitted ownership of only five of the 45 properties linked by the prosecution to him and his family as alleged proof of his “ill-gotten wealth.”


A cursory reading of the SALNs will yield the impression that Corona’s rise to power was, to a great extent, intertwined with the political career of his appointing authority, then outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.


Shared fate?


Apart from the assets, liabilities and net worth, a SALN contains the “position/income,” “office,” and “office address” of the public official submitting the document.


Before the impeachment court adjourned late on Wednesday, the prosecution elicited additional evidence from Marianito Dimaandal, the head of the Malacañang Records Office, in the form of SALNs submitted by Corona covering the period 1992-2002.


In that 10-year span, Corona served in various capacities in the executive branch.

He joined the government in 1992, during the term of President Fidel Ramos. He first served as assistant executive secretary for legal affairs and concurrent head of the Malacañang Legal Office, a sub-Cabinet post, before being promoted to the post of deputy executive secretary and, later, chief presidential legal counsel.


But it was the decision of then Vice President Arroyo to pick him as her chief of staff and spokesperson in 1998 that laid the groundwork for his entry to the Supreme Court four years later, on April 9, 2002.


Corona reached the peak of his legal career on May 12, 2010, when he became chief justice. But the circumstances of his appointment were questionable because under Section 15, Article 7 of the Constitution, a sitting president is barred from appointing vacancies in the judiciary during an election period.


His assumption of the post of Chief Justice and head of the judiciary now forms part of the grounds of Article 1, which states: “Respondent betrayed the public trust through his track record marked by partiality and subservience in cases involving the Arroyo administration from the time of his appointment as Supreme Court justice which continued to his dubious appointment as a midnight Chief Justice and up to the present.”


Evidentiary weight


The presentation of evidence was highly anticipated not only by the senator-judges and the defense but also by the people crowding the Senate gallery for one cogent reason: The actors and spectators in this political exercise may now appreciate the evidentiary weight of the documents initially leaked by the prosecution to the public via the media.


The initial debacle encountered by the prosecution, which was widely criticized for its decision to rearrange the presentation of evidence in support of the eight articles of impeachment, had stymied the proceedings, a fact enunciated by the senator-judges during this week’s trial.


Thus, the presentation of witnesses was a welcome development: Esguerra-Vidal and Dimaandal to attest to the veracity of the SALNs; Randy Rutaquio, Register of Deeds of Taguig City, and lawyer Carlo Alcantara, acting Register of Deeds of Quezon City, to the authenticity of the deeds of sale of the properties; and Sedfrey Garcia, Register of Deeds of Marikina City, also to the authenticity of the deeds of sale.


The audience at the gallery, which for days had been showing signs of boredom, found renewed enthusiasm, craning forward to look at the bureaucrats seated on the witness stand.


The senator-judges have also ensured that the proceedings were moving forward, raising points of order and posing questions to the witnesses even at the risk of being seen by others as lawyering for the relatively inexperienced prosecutors from the House of Representatives.


The active participation of Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Vicente Sotto III, Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Franklin Drilon, Joker Arroyo, Edgardo Angara, Teofisto Guingona III, Pia Cayetano, Francis Escudero and Francis Pangilinan and the efficiency with which Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile was marshaling the proceedings have ensured that the procedural obstacles thrown by the defense would not derail the trial.


‘Continuing objection’


The lead defense lawyer, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas, has taken every opportunity to object to prosecution moves, in an effort to cast doubt on the credibility of the witnesses to testify on the probative value of the documents subpoenaed by the impeachment court.


Watching virtually every word coming from the prosecution, Cuevas has also repeatedly registered an objection to the line of questioning of Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga and private prosecutors Mario Bautista and Jose Justiniano.


The defense has maintained that the articles of impeachment lacked appropriate “charges” against Corona, and claimed that the Chief Justice was being tried for allegations based on “reports and suspicion, in violation of the rules of pleading.”


For an impeachment complaint to be answered, it should “state factual matters,” Cuevas said.


To speed up the trial, Enrile has recommended that Cuevas register “a continuing objection” to the presentation of evidence arising from the submission of documents by the Supreme Court Clerk of Court, Malacañang Records Office and Land Registration Authority.


Cuevas agreed to do so since it would give Corona the legal standing to later question the conduct of the impeachment proceedings in another forum should the senator-judges render an unfavorable decision at the end of the trial.