Tag Archives: Impeachment

The unraveling of Chief Justice Renato Coronado Corona

By Romel Regalado Bagares

Whatever public  sympathy Chief Justice Renato Coronado Corona may have won by his unprecedented testimony in his defense at the Senate convened for his impeachment trial  Tuesday, he promptly lost by his tu quoque  plea – and yes, his unceremonious walkout.

Addressing the all-important question of  his dollar accounts, the Chief Justice dramatically signed a waiver  allowing access to all his assets,  only to say in the next breath that he will submit it to the court if and only if the 188 congressmen who  signed the impeachment complaint against him and Senator Franklin Drilon did likewise.

That said, he excused himself, and without waiting for Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to discharge him from the witness stand, headed for the door, followed by his loyal and faithful servant Midas Marquez and members of his family.

A quick thinking Enrile, though he took about 15 seconds to realize Corona had already left the witness stand and was already out of the session hall, promptly ordered Senate security to seal all exists from the Senate building.

His escape thus blocked, the Chief Justice came back in a wheelchair feigning an episode of hypoglycemia – an all too-familiar play.

It all had the tell-tale marks of a stage-managed performance, captured on television cameras for posterity:

First, in his long-winding speech, he repeatedly referred to himself as a diabetic, as if to prep people on what will happen next.

Second, he read a prepared speech, and he was evidently reading its last line when he uttered, “the Chief Justice of the Republic of the Philippines wishes to be excused” before heading for the door without leave of court.

Third, the cameras showed members of his entourage rising from their seats as if on signal as soon as Corona stepped down from the witness stand, and following him to the door of the session hall.

Fourth, he did not so much as raise a whimper that he was not feeling well. He could have told his lawyers to make the manifestation for him but did not. In fact, cameras caught him in a brief chat with defense counsel Judd Roy as he was on his way out.

Fifth, the speed with which he made for the door belies the claims of someone who was sick.

Sixth, from media reports, it appears that he was intent on leaving the premises of the Senate and only headed for the clinic when he was prevented from taking an elevator on his way out by Senate security personnel.

Evidently he had no plans to submit himself to a cross-examination; his plan all along was to say his piece at the senate and, knowing that his tu quoque – “you too” argument – will not be answered, he will then say he does not anymore expect a fair trial at the senate, and then play the health issue card for good measure.

Brilliant, except that the ploy didn’t work.

For a moment, I thought the moment of truth had come, as he waved for all to see a general waiver allowing access to all his assets; but when he dared Senator Drilon and the members of the House of Representatives who had impeached him to sign a similar waiver, I knew then and there that he did not have any intention to open himself to public accountability.

It was an insult to the Senate impeachment court as much as it was an assault on the bedrock constitutional principle that a public office is a public trust. Public office is not an entitlement that one may wager for one’s personal benefit.

For all his protestations to innocence and personal courage in the face of unjust adversity, he only proved to be a hollow man, bereft of the kind of moral courage befitting the primus inter pares of the Highest Court of the realm.

He does not deserve to remain in office a second longer.

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What we’ve learned thus far from the Corona trial

By Romel Regalado Bagares

Thirty seven days into the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Coronado Corona and we witness a bombshell of a testimony whose reverberations are sure to be heard in the corridors of power in this country for years to come.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, taking the witness stand Monday at the impeachment trial as a “hostile witness,” revealed that the Chief Justice, who only has a declared net worth of f P22.9 million in his 2010 statement of assets, liabilities and network (SALN), owned 82 bank accounts containing at least USD 12 million in deposits.

As I write, the Ombudsman is again on the witness stand, laying down the shocking details of more than 700 dollar transactions involved in the Chief Justice’s bank accounts with five banks, namely the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank), Allied Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank.

Her testimony is nothing less than monumental in the history of efforts to enforce accountability to the public of public officers in the Philippines and occasions the following reflections:

An activist Ombudsman. Of course, an individual is not the institution. But it takes a leader with a clear vision and firm resolve to revitalize a moribund institution. In our experience, governmental institutions have often become giant bureaucracies of lethargy, bereft of energy to carry out their constitutional and legal duty to dispense public justice.  For far too long, the Ombudsman has failed to perform its constitutional and legal duty to safeguard the interests of the public against official corruption and malfeasance under the cornerstone principle that “a public office is a public trust.”

The Ombudsman was at its lowest during the long dark reign of the Arroyo administration, where Merceditas Gutierrez transformed the Tanodbayan into a preserve for the protection of her benefactor and all her political allies from public accountability. But the appointment of Conchita Carpio-Morales as Chief Ombudsman has shown that the right person at the helm, an institution can and will work.

The singular importance of an independent Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). The Chief Ombudsman’s revelations at the Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona has also placed on the spotlight the AMLC,  one of whose purposes was precisely to serve as an anti-corruption arm of the government. Under the law which created it, the AMLC is composed of the Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) as Chairman and the Commissioner of the Insurance Commission (IC) and the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as members.

In her testimony, the Ombudsman said that a 17-page document she obtained from the AMLC showed that  Chief Justice Corona kept more than USD $12 million in “fresh deposits” in five banks where he owned 82 dollar account over an eight year-period, from April 2003 to early this year.

All this time, we heard nothing from the AMLC about these accounts purportedly owned by the Chief Justice when under the law, it was its duty to investigate suspicious bank transactions and prosecute those behind it if needed.   Apparently, all it did was make a file of these transactions and put it away – that is, until Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was booted out of power.

The only explanation I can think of for the inexcusable inaction of the AMLC in the case of the bank accounts of the Chief Justice, assuming the Ombudsman’s report is true, is that its members, who were all appointees of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, were simply beholden to their benefactor that they could not lift a finger to touch one of her closest allies, Chief Justice Corona.

The right heads should roll over this long inaction by the people at the AMLC.

The Senate convened as an impeachment trial as democratic discipline.  What we’re witnessing is People Power expressed in the institutional, yes, constitutional way.  There is a time for citizens taking to the streets to demand reforms in government. There is also a time for citizens entrusting to democratic institutions the task of making government work the way it should.

This is the kind of state-building that requires on the part of citizens patient engagement with “slow politics.” This is democratic discipline that cannot be developed overnight. The history of democratic states around the world is one marked by a long struggle for the development of a governmental sphere where the idea of the public interest is supreme.  What we need as a nation is a legislature, an executive and a judiciary no longer captive to private or familial or clan interests. We need to engage our own institutions to develop patient and mature statecraft.

The Supreme Court and the SALN. Our High Court has carved out for itself an exemption to the requirement on public officers to disclose their statement of assets, liabilities and network to the public, making as its primary justification the danger of criminal minds using the disclosure as an occasion to foist on them some imagined blackmail. The impeachment trial of the Chief Justice only underscores the necessity of making all public officers – including the honorable Justices of the Supreme Court – accountable to the public through disclosure of their SALN.  The High Court cannot anymore hide beyond that sorry excuse.

We’re still a long way off, but the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona has shown us which way to go.

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This piece first appeared in my weekly column for The News Today.

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A man named Renato C. Corona

Today, I make a debut of sorts as I begin an adventure as a column writer for the Iloilo City-based The News Today (TNT). In case you’re wondering what’s the connection, the newspaper’s publisher, Rommel Ynion, and the editor-in-chief and general manager, Junep Ocampo, were my former colleagues back in the day at The Philippine Star.  My thanks go to them for giving me this opportunity.  I write Mondays and my column runs under the name  scīre licet, which is latin for “it is permitted to know.”  Here’s my first piece as a columnist:

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By Romel Regalado Bagares

I BARELY KNEW  who he was then, but I saw him arrive at the Edsa Shrine a few hours before his principal – Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – did; it was one or two days away from Erap’s departure from Malacanang as a result of People Power II and I was then a junior law student in the evening program of the UP College of Law who also worked as a reporter for The Philippine Star.

A colleague of mine, who covered the Malacañang beat, instantly recognized him and approached him for an interview. It was from her that I learned that the guy in the suit who arrived with a business-like mien was the lawyer Renato C. Corona, chief of staff for Mrs.  Macapagal-Arroyo, then Vice President and ostensibly, Erap’s constitutional successor.

I joined the huddle to hear what he had to say.

In the interview, Corona told of an alleged plot by two leading politicians to set up a civilian-military junta in case Erap stepped down from power. These two politicians, he claimed, were fronting as Erap’s supporters.  Obviously, the lawyer wasn’t for the plan either, because it would mean his principal would be upstaged in the resulting scheme of things.

But among my activist-friends gathered at the Serviam Hall above the Shrine, there had been a buzz of excitement. They were calling for a march of one million people to Malacañang (it wasn’t obvious then that they were exaggerating their power to rally citizens behind them).

More importantly, they talked of the declaration of a revolutionary government, a new beginning with a clean political slate.  Even the law student in me – who had his fair share of law school readings of Supreme Court decisions on constitutional controversies occasioned by People Power I – was for it.

As I now look back to that historical moment nearly 11 years ago I tell myself I should have perhaps realized right away that Corona’s presence at the shrine signaled that the politicians were taking over.

True enough, before long the motley collection of civil society groups who led the call for Estrada’s ouster called a press conference, joined by politicians.  At the head of the presser was the late senator Raul Roco, a man I greatly admired and whose botched candidacy for the presidency in 2004 I supported.

His announcement was met with disbelief by not a few faces at the Serviam Hall: no, we weren’t going to declare a revolutionary government; instead, we’re following the constitutional rule on succession.

That of course, meant that Erap would be replaced by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

How I could tell you that many civil society groups my reportage followed as they pressed for Erap’s resignation had no love lost for his constitutional successor either.

To them, her brand of politics was suspect (as one of them would say:  someone who associated with Norberto Gonzales early on in her political career will always be suspect).

They weren’t sure she was any better than Erap.

And how they resented the idea that with Erap’s removal from power and the politicians’ successful maneuver towards constitutional succession, it’s as if they themselves were responsible for handing over to her the reins of political power!

No, it certainly wasn’t their intention. All that time, they took pains to distinguish between removing Erap from power and installing Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo in his stead.

Of course, Roco was eventually rewarded the education portfolio under the Arroyo administration. While he did well as education secretary, I’d like to think the announcement he made on the penultimate day of People Power II was something he regretted later on because four years after EDSA Dos, he would join calls for Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation.  That historic press conference certainly wasn’t his proudest moment.

But I didn’t see Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo or her favored chief of staff at Roco’s press conference.

But the next day, January 21, 2001, Mrs.  Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo –a former President’s daughter –  was sworn into office as the 14th President of the Republic of the Philippines.

I was standing only a few meters away when Chief Justice Hilario Davide administered her oath of office at the historic shrine.

Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo promised a mouthful that day while the late Jaime Cardinal Sin and former Presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Corazon Aquino looked on:  a successful fight against poverty within the decade,  the return of high moral standards in government and society, a shift from personality-driven to program-based politics, and a leadership by example.

In other words, exactly the kind of exalted things her nine-year hold on power went against.

“I feel God put me in this point of our history and there is hard work.. There is much to be done and the President’s job is one where one must work hard,” Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo said at one point in her inaugural speech.

The next  day I shared by-lines with a colleague in our paper’s banner story: “A time to heal, a time to build.”

It certainly didn’t feel that way to me.

But I’m now pretty sure it did that day 11 years ago for a man named Renato C. Corona.

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Here’s a link to the column as it appeared on TNT’s website.
(Disclosure:  A former journalist and now a lawyer by profession, Mr. Bagares is part of a team of private lawyers tapped by the House of Representatives to assist its members tasked as prosecutors in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.)

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