“If they can find it, it’s theirs,” “I’ll execute a deed of donation. If they can show my properties, I’ll just give it to them. The problem with some people, I won’t say who, they think that I am a thief like them.” – Renato Corona.
The alleged Corona properties are located in the cities of Makati, Parañaque, Marikina and Taguig, according to a two-page letter from Land Registration Authority Administrator Eulalio Diaz III.
Of the 45 purported Corona properties, eight are supposedly located in Marikina while 23 are in Quezon City.
Three of them, however, were not in Coronas’ name. Property No. 33 was listed in the name of the National Housing Authority, No. 35 in the name of Burgundy Realty Corp. and No. 44 in the name of Ismael A. Mathay Jr. et. al.
Marikina Representative Romero Quimbo explained that the three properties could be traced back to Corona.
Quimbo said Corona’s latest statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN) in 2002 showed only five properties, a net worth of P13.9 million and P1-million liability.
He said Corona should explain how he was able to secure 40 more properties given his and his wife’s income in the government, noting that most properties were listed in the names of the Coronas when he was already Chief Justice.
Quimbo said the panel still had to investigate Corona’s possible properties abroad as well as bank accounts.
Lawmakers seeking to oust Chief Justice Renato Corona want his entire household to appear at the opening of his impeachment trial on Monday and explain their alleged illegal acquisition of 45 properties.
Corona became emotional when asked about reports that his family members would be summoned by the prosecution in his impeachment trial.
“Marami akong gustong sabihing masakit pero (I have so many bitter feelings to express, but) I place my trust in the Lord sa pangyayaring ito (in what’s happening)” says Corona.
Asked what he intends to do about this latest development, Corona said, “I refer that to the lawyers.”
The prosecutors likewise requested the Senate to subpoena all pertinent documents pertaining to real estate properties in Marikina City, Paranaque/Pasay Cit, Taguig City, and Quezon City registered under the name of the Chief Justice and other family members.
In a “request for the issuance of subpoena” filed before the Office of the Senate Secretary on Thursday, the prosecutors also asked the impeachment court to subpoena the income tax returns of the Chief Justice and family members covering the years 1991 to 2011.
Representative Niel Tupas Jr. and his fellow prosecutors filed the request the day after Corona’s camp asked senators to require Tupas and four other congressmen, including Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, to appear during the trial.
Corona’s legal defense team wanted to question Tupas and company on the circumstances surrounding the approval of the impeachment complaint against him, even if a number of House members had admitted they had not read the voluminous document but signed it anyway.
In their own five-page request, Tupas’ group also asked the Senate to require Corona and his family to produce a variety of documents pertaining to a total of 45 properties allegedly registered under their names.
Cristina Corona, wife of Chief Justice Corona says “We will prevail. We have done no wrong. Everything is legit.”
Reading between the lines, my take is that she was referring to a veiled meaning: that they believed they had played well with local laws (being lawyers themselves) so they can corrupt and steal “legitimately” (legally), so they thought.
Therefore, the respective local laws concerned or involved must be strengthened to prevent future loopholes!
Then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed the wife of impeached Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona to 5 positions at the government-owned John Hay Management Corporation (JHMC) in Baguio City.
This was discovered by veteran journalist Marites Dañguilan Vitug, who wrote the book “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court” that revealed the inner workings of the Supreme Court.
Vitug said Arroyo named Cristina Corona as chairperson, president, chief executive officer, and chief operating officer of Camp John Hay all at the same time in 2007.
Mrs. Corona was also named a member of the board despite alleged opposition from the board of directors.
Arroyo then reportedly forced the JHMC board members to resign.
Court employees protests
Supreme Court employees wore black to show their support for the embattled Chief Justice. Mass-goers sang “The Impossible Dream,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and the “Prayer of Saint Francis.” The Mass celebrant, in his homily, spoke about saints and their sufferings and at one point even asked Corona, who was seated in front, if he wanted to be a saint.
Supreme Court Employees Association president Jojo Guerrero said they have coordinated with other officers and employees of organizations of the judiciary on how they would air their protest against the impeachment. Guerrero said there are about 27,000 rank-and-file court employees around the country.
In a written statement passed on to attendees of the Novena masses held at the Supreme Court grounds initiated by multi-sectoral group Solidarity for Sovereignty(S4S), S4S called on “all freedom-loving Filipinos to safeguard our democracy and sovereignty and fight for it now that it is being attacked.”
“This administration must be reminded that all authority of government emanates from the people and that its sovereign will must be respected and must prevail at all times.
“Let it be known to all and sundry that all members, supporters, sympathizers and advocates of the S4S be it religious or priest, military, youth, OFW (overseas Filipino worker), farmer, worker, urban poor, professional, etc. — have agreed that it is time to stand up against the creeping dictatorship of this administration,” the statement read.
S4S also stressed that the Constitution “has enshrined the checks and balances within government through the co-equality of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.”
The group also lambasted the 188 members of the House of Representatives that filed the impeachment complaint for “singling out” Corona “when 6 of his supposed crimes were all collegial in nature which is a clear manifestation of outright persecution by the legislative upon the instigation of the executive of the head of a co-equal branch of government.”
After the Mass, high court employees chanted “CJ! CJ!” to show their support for Corona.
Later, members of Unified Groups for the Advancement of Truth sponsored a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court grounds.
However, at around lunch time, the militant Confederation for the Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (Courage) picketed the high court taking it to task for its “antipeople decisions.”
Meanwhile, court officers and employees plan to drape with black cloth all the statues at the Supreme Court building at the start of the impeachment proceedings.
Corona questions the validity of the impeachment complaint anew
Dismissing the prosecution team’s comments as inaccurate, Chief Justice Renato Corona’s camp reiterated that there is basis to question the validity of the impeachment complaint.
The prosecution panel led by Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. had argued in its comment to Corona’s motion for preliminary hearing that the impeachment complaint was properly verified, and said his request was a “mere afterthought.”
The prosecution panel led by Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. had argued in its comment to Corona’s motion for preliminary hearing that the impeachment complaint was properly verified, and said his request was a “mere afterthought.”
But in a reply filed on Thursday, the defense panel said the prosecutors did not explain how it was possible for all the 188 congressmen who signed the articles of impeachment to have read, understood, and evaluated it in a short period of time.
“The complainants are asking this honorable impeachment court to act upon a sham complaint,” wrote the defense team.
Corona’s team also denied that his request was an afterthought made only days after he already filed an answer to the impeachment complaint.
Earlier, he also said in a speech that he is ready to face the trial.
“When he gave a speech on December 14, 2011, he (Corona) was not aware that the verification of the complaint was fatally defective. He had not yet been served with a copy of it,” the defense panel said.
The defense team asked the Senate to consider its reply to the prosecution’s comment.
Corona’s lawyers stressed that the impeachment court has the power to determine whether the complaint is valid or not through a preliminary hearing. In a request for subpoena, they asked the Senate to summon a number of congressmen to testify on how the complaint was approved.
Senator-judges will decide on Corona’s request for a preliminary hearing on January 16, the first day of trial.
Enrile nixes Corona team’s bid for pretrial
In a preview of legal strategy, Chief Justice Renato Corona’s team is seeking a pretrial conference in an attempt to look at the prosecution evidence, but Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has rejected the initiative.
The defense team headed by retired Justice Serafin Cuevas wants to have the conference to settle a variety of issues, from the “quantum of proof” needed for a conviction to the identification of witnesses and how much time would be devoted to their examination by both camps.
Ramon Esguerra, a member of the defense team, said settling these issues during the preliminary conference would “help abbreviate the proceedings, the entire process.”
Corona’s camp said the pretrial conference would give an opportunity to determine what type of evidence would be needed to secure a conviction.
Esguerra said it remained unclear whether the basis would be “preponderance of evidence,” as was purportedly the case during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada in 2001 that was aborted and led to his ouster in a people power uprising.
But Enrile on Tuesday had said a pretrial conference was no longer needed, noting that issues, such as the one on the time limit for the examination of witness, were already covered by existing rules.
“There will be no pretrial,” he told reporters, citing the Senate’s mandate to “forthwith proceed” with the trial once the articles of impeachment had been transmitted by the House of Representatives.
Not delaying tactic
Esguerra said the pretrial option was not a dilatory tactic. So was the previous motion for a preliminary hearing to verify the impeachment complaint signed by 188 House members, he said.
Enrile said the senators, sitting as an impeachment court, would rule on the motion when the trial of Corona opens on Monday.
Esguerra (no relation to this reporter) said his camp could also go to the Supreme Court if the Senate ruled against them.
“You cannot say that you cannot go to the Supreme Court. Remember that we still have the option on the particular incident about verification,” he told in an interview.
“If the Senate rules against our motion, then under the broader jurisdiction provided for under the Constitution, if we find that there is grave abuse of discretion on the part of the impeaching body, we’ll go to the Supreme Court,” the lawyer added.
Esguerra acknowledged that such a tack could be portrayed as dilatory by House prosecutors, but he said: “What can we do? That remedy is available to us. The Constitution provides for it.”
Said Enrile: “We will not shackle the parties in presenting their side. The only thing that I will probably ask is no dilatory, unnecessary arguments.”
Esguerra said “surprise” witnesses should not be admitted during the trial, but acknowledged that the decision would be up to the impeachment court. “There should be none,” he said.
Definition of terms
Esguerra said the preliminary conference could also clarify the “definition” of “betrayal of public trust” and “culpable violation of the Constitution,” which constitute the case against Corona, along with alleged graft.
“No one has defined it (betrayal of public trust) that’s why we need to clarify it,” he said.
Enrile said prosecutors could amend an article of impeachment in the middle of the trial, but would have to “bring it back to the House and vote upon it again.”
“Yes, unless I’m outvoted by the other members (of the Senate),” Enrile replied when asked if a charge against Corona could be revised during trial.
“We do that all the time, an amendment to the complaint,” he added.
Back and forth
Skirmishing before the media continued in spite of a gag rule adopted by the Senate and warnings issued after the prosecutors last week released documents purportedly showing Corona’s alleged illicit acquisition of a swank condominium unit and other properties.
Akbayan Representative Arlene Bag-ao told reporters that Corona was “grasping at straws to turn the table against the prosecution and to deflect the attention of the public,” citing his motion to the Senate to cite prosecutors in contempt.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said he did not believe the prosecutors should be sanctioned. “Eventually, (the evidence) will come out anyway.”
The prosecution team members had since been castigated by a number of senators for releasing evidence in media before the actual impeachment trial could begin. Corona later asked senators to impose sanctions on the prosecutors. He said he had already admitted owning the property in his official reply to the impeachment complaint.
A day after releasing documents on Corona’s alleged questionable acquisition of property in Fort Bonifacio Global City, the House prosecution panel was reminded that it might have violated the rules of the impeachment trial with its disclosure.
“As a senator, I cannot sit idly by and watch blatant violations of our rules of procedure on impeachment trials that unambiguously prohibit senator-judges as well as the prosecutors, the person impeached, their counsels and witnesses from making any comments and disclosures in public pertaining to the merits of a pending impeachment trial,” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in a statement.
“If we allow such undisciplined public presentation of evidence by any party in utter disregard of the ethics of their legal profession to continue, the Senate may lose control of the situation and I am certain it will damage not just the Senate as an impeachment court, but the sacredness of the whole impeachment process as well,” Lacson said.
“Hopefully, if they want to say anything, let them say it before the impeachment court and hopefully they will realize that they are bound by the rules on decorum that they cannot use gutter language so to speak when they are appearing before the Senate impeachment court,” Sen. Francis Escudero said.
“They should present their evidence to the Senate. They should not present it to the media,” Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said. “It will be the impeachment court that will eventually decide on the case.”
Some of the members of the prosecution team took exception to statements from some senators that they are violating the sub-judice rule of the Senate in revealing the Coronas’ Bellagio penthouse.
“This is a case of the people versus the Chief Justice. The people have a right to know,” Tañada said.
Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., who heads the prosecution panel, said he and his colleagues did not touch on the merits of the impeachment charges in revealing the Bellagio penthouse.
“We only stated a fact as alleged in the complaint. Further, the people have the right to know the facts in an impeachment proceeding, which is actually the power of the sovereign people,” he said.
Private defense lawyers Homobono Adaza and Alan Paguia filed an urgent motion urging the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the trial on January 16 until it rules on their petition questioning the constitutionality of the proceedings.
The two lawyers feared the case they earlier filed could be rendered moot.
Reacting to the fireworks, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez told reporters: “We are hoping that the proper bodies will not be unduly influenced by these obvious maneuvers by the two parties.”
Three weeks to wrap up the case
That’s all the time the House prosecutors say they need to wrap up their case against Chief Justice Renato Corona, whose trial for culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust and graft and corruption begins on Monday before the Senate impeachment court.
The trial is expected to be covered live by major television and radio networks, aside from print and blog reports.
The Senate court will hold hearings from Monday to Thursday starting at 2 p.m. beginning on Monday. Congress is scheduled to go on recess on March 24 for the summer break and resume its sessions on May 6.
Asked if he will watch the TV coverage, President Benigno Aquino III said: “Obviously, in addition to my regular duties, one would want to know what has transpired already.”
The prosecutors’ office at the Senate is ready.
Three officers of the prosecution panel inspected its assigned working area in the Senate building, the spacious Ambrosio Padilla Room. This is located far from the session hall, where the trial will be conducted.
“We are barred from talking to (senators) unless it is for administrative purposes. We have been advised not to talk to them so as not to create any impression that we are cooking something up,” said Cavite Representative Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya, the panel’s manager.
Abaya came to the Senate with the prosecution panel spokespersons—Marikina Representative Romero “Miro” Quimbo and Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara.
“We would tell the prosecutors that everything is already in place. That changes were made at minimal expense. We just spent for the divider constructed by an engineering team from the House,” Quimbo said.
“We think our presentation of evidence will not be more than three weeks for all eight articles. We don’t know on the part of the defense, but we think that delaying the proceedings is part of their strategy,” said Quezon Representative Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III.
Tañada said a prolonged trial would benefit Corona.
“There is a risk that the public and media might lose interest in the case if it lasts more than six months. But if the evidence of guilt is overwhelming, and this is firmly planted in the minds of the public, the Corona team runs the risks of earning the ire of the public for its dilatory tactics,” he said.
The prosecution has already accused Corona of “obvious delaying tactics,” such as seeking a prehearing trial and questioning the validity of the 188 lawmakers who endorsed and signed his impeachment.
“We expect more preliminary motions to be filed, but we are hopeful that this trial will proceed. The quicker it is terminated, the better it is for the Filipinos,” said Quimbo.
Angara said the entire trial should take no more than a month and a half to two months.
“I talked with senior lawmakers and they said three months will be too long, six months will be unbearable,” Angara said.
He said that the Corona team would consider it a “key victory” if they are able to extend the trial beyond six months, betting on the public’s short attention span and the media’s hankering for fresh stories.
The spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines called on Filipinos to closely monitor the trial.
“We should be critical observers of the proceedings,” Iñiguez said. “Follow it closely and not make judgments immediately.”
The civil society group Kaya Natin! said in an interview with the Inquirer that Filipinos—whether for or against Corona—should get “engaged” and not be mere “bystanders.”
“Let’s act now. We should not wait for the trial to end in another Edsa revolt. We only act when we’re disgruntled,” said Kaya Natin! convenor Harvey Keh.
The 2001 impeachment trial of then President Joseph Estrada was short-circuited during the presentation of evidence and led to a walkout by senators, triggering a people power revolt that ousted him.
“Let the impeachment proceed and let us ensure that it’s credible,” Keh said.
Stop Talking To Senators
President Benigno Aquino should stop talking to senators in an effort to convince them to convict Chief Justice Renato Corona of charges levelled against him when he was impeached by the House of Representatives, a Catholic bishop said Thursday.
But another bishop said that was simply the reality of politics in the Philippines.
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said it was “morally wrong” for the President to lobby with the senators to have the Chief Justice convicted in his impeachment trial by the Senate.
“The President should not be doing that. That’s morally wrong,” Bastes said in an interview broadcast on the Church-run Radio Veritas.
“It is wrong for him to influence the senators because the Senate decision in the case of Corona would then have the blessings and influence of the President. That is not right. He should allow the senators to decide without mixing it with politics,” he added.
Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said he was not surprised that the President was talking with senators about Corona’s fate since Aquino also did this with members of the House of Representatives, who impeached him on eight counts of violation of the Constitution and betrayal of the people’s trust.
Cruz said it was in the nature of the country’s politics for the President to “dictate” even on co-equal branches like Congress and the judiciary.
“The President just wants the assurance that Malacañang will succeed in the end. This is not surprising because this is what politics is like in our country,” he said.
Corona is howling at the moon every time he speaks ill of the government that stood against him.
He himself sees things differently. He sees what he is doing as rallying the troops to fight those that threaten to destroy the courts and democracy.
“I am here. I am not going anywhere. I am your defender and most of all I am your chief justice. Together we will face these challenges and fight all who dare to destroy the Court and our system of justice under the Constitution.”
That’s all very fine, except for one thing. He is not the one defending democracy, he is the one destroying it. He is not the one preserving the courts, he is the one scuttling them. He is not the one upholding the Constitution, He is the one trashing it.
And, oh, yes, he is going somewhere: straight to the dustbin of history after a short and completely forgettable tenure as chief shyster.
And he is also in a world of his own when he speaks of democracy and a justice system in attack.
“Lahat na itinaya ko na dito. Hindi na para sa akin ito, para na ito sa demokrasya.” says Corona
And now he tells us he is not a thief, after the discovery of his fortune of a properties which are not possible to accumulate out from his government salary, which only shows how if you’ve gotten used to seeing an upside-down world, you’re going to complain that it’s upside down when it’s been turned back on its feet.
“Manalo, matalo, ang mahalaga rito ay maipakilala ko ang sarili ko. Let it not be said that I did not defend my principles. I am still fortunate because I have the opportunity na panindigan ang aking prinsipyo, not all are given this opportunity.” Corona adds.
What does it take to hold on to principles? How difficult is to be man of integrity in today’s world? Principles are difficult to stand by, especially when a majority oppose.
Many believe that the government’s case is “very strong” and that all of the pieces of evidence – including documents on a P14.5-million penthouse unit at the Bellagio condominium in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig – could withstand “the most rigorous scrutiny” by the senator-judges in Corona’s trial.
Corona said yesterday that his acquisition of the Bellagio unit was aboveboard.
The impeachment complaint “is the product of thorough research and inputs submitted by concerned citizens who could no longer stand the willful and deliberate trampling of the Constitution and the rule of law by Corona.”
The impeachment complaint is not the complaint of 188 representatives of the people against Corona. It is the complaint of the overwhelming majority of Filipinos who want Corona removed because they want a clean, honest and impartial judiciary.
Corona sits in the High Tribunal on the basis of an illegal appointment by disgraced former President Arroyo who now faces serious charges of electoral sabotage and plunder during her nine years of misrule.
Apart from being a midnight appointee as chief justice, Corona has shown obvious partiality and bias for Arroyo in 19 cases brought before the Supreme Court.
The recent statement of court administrator and spokesman Midas Marquez reacting to an admission of Ronald Llamas, Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs, stating that Corona’s likely acquittal by the Senate sitting as an impeachment court was an indication that the cases against him are weak.
The Cabinet member said he was merely talking of likely outcomes in the trial, and “an acquittal is a possibility, just as a conviction is also a distinct – and very real – possibility.”
“For the SC spokesman to speculate that the senator-judges would dismiss the complaint because it is weak is very unseemly, and preempts the decision of the Senate. He has no authority to spread rumors about how the senator-judges would vote,” Llamas said.
Corona’s impeachment is the best thing to have happened to democracy in a long time. Corona’s impeachment is the best thing to have happened to the courts in a long time. At the very least, it begins the process of cleansing the Supreme Court of its dregs, not unlike the way Jesus Christ rid his father’s temple of seedy merchants. Corona is not the Supreme Court, he is merely a squatter in it. Corona is not the institution of law, he is merely the despoiler of it.
At the very most, rather than befouling the Constitution and the separation of powers, it deodorizes them. Corona’s impeachment reminds us of what the Constitution and the separation of powers really are.