‘In due course’
Three weeks into the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, as more evidence of enormous sums of money in the Chief Justice’s name across various bank accounts has come to light despite the yeoman efforts of his defense team to prevent their disclosure, Corona’s lawyers have repeatedly assured the public that there is nothing irregular about these huge amounts, that some rational explanation is forthcoming about their glaring non-inclusion in Corona’s SALNs, and that everyone should be patient because that definitive explanation—along with the contents of Corona’s dollar accounts which have been sealed by a Supreme Court TRO—will be presented to the public “in due course.” No specific date so far as to when that due course is, but Corona’s lawyers say that, other than being patient, the country needs to trust them at their word.
Their client, meanwhile, seems to be singing a different tune. Where before Corona had chosen to personally appear at the opening of the trial to proclaim his innocence and affirm that he was ready to disprove every single charge against him, lately he appears to have abandoned even the merest pretense that he still recognizes the legitimacy of the court and the process lodged against him. Not only did his lawyers file a petition before the Supreme Court asking that the impeachment trial be quashed. Last Monday, he also came out with a statement that blasted President Aquino for his alleged campaign to rig the trial by bribing the senator-judges to the tune of P100 million each (“clearly… an impeachable offense,” charged Corona) and reiterated his belief that the President was merely getting back at him for the high court’s adverse decision on Hacienda Luisita. In his own words: “Itong impeachment trial na ito ay isang huwad, isang paghihiganti ng sukdulan at kahiya-hiyang tangka na pigilin ang pagbabahagi ng lupain sa Hacienda Luisita.”
How Corona can imagine himself staying on and remaining effective as the country’s highest magistrate, the supposed avatar of judicial wisdom and sober-mindedness, after such an unhinged-sounding outburst is anyone’s guess. Those words, however, aren’t even the most striking part of his statement. That had to do with his fast-multiplying assets—or, rather, an allusion to them, because that was all the Chief Justice could be bothered to do when he sort of explained them away by virtue of family wealth. “My wife and I have been privileged to come from families of comfortable means,” he said. “We have lived simple and frugal lives since we got married more than 40 years ago, to the point of thriftiness. This contributed to how we have been able to accumulate these assets.”
The Chief Justice is taking the public for fools. The breadth of his possessions is not the only issue, it is also the fact that he failed to include them in his SALNs. Not only once, but repeatedly over the years, despite those documents being sworn statements, and despite his own court having ruled in at least two instances that lower-level government bureaucrats deserved jail time for even minor discrepancies and omissions in their SALNs. The only time Corona’s multimillion-peso deposits and posh properties became relevant to the question of his fitness for his august office was when his own SALNs showed he had a tendency to hide, shade over and fudge the extent of his properties.
That capacity to dissemble—okay, to lie—when his very office demands the highest standards of rectitude, integrity and respectability from its occupant is what is at issue. Not Corona’s ownership per se of his possessions. That distinction becomes even more crucial now that PSBank’s officers have revealed two more multimillion-peso accounts under Corona’s name apart from the previously identified ones totaling some P20 million, and another Bank of the Philippine Islands account of P12 million—while Corona’s SALN for December 2010 only indicated P3.5 million in assets. Two of these newly disclosed accounts Corona had terminated on Dec. 12, 2011, on the same day he was impeached by the House of Representatives.
Another day, another revelation of undeclared assets. Will Corona finally talk about them? No use holding our breath there. By his refusal until now to account for his wealth vis-à-vis his SALNs, by choosing to run to his peers at the Supreme Court rather than simply open his dollar deposits if indeed he had nothing to hide, Corona has no one to blame but himself for the abysmal regard much of the public has for his honesty and fealty to the truth. “In due course” just won’t cut it.
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