Embarrassment of riches
One, before the trial resumed last Monday, several senators again reminded the world about the impropriety of the prosecution bringing its case before the media, particularly in the form of press conferences. The prosecution had been warned, they said. If they didn’t comply they could be cited for contempt.
True enough, there’s something a little askew about prosecution holding press conferences before and after the trial. They should leave that to commentators who are relatively independent, or at least are not thoroughly compromised by the very nature of their positions.
But it gets a little more complicated outside of press conferences. The proscription presumes that reporters are a passive lot who wait for their sources of news to drop bread crumbs on them. When the opposite is true: Reporters will badger you with questions, even, or especially, of the speculative type. That’s what has gotten a lot of officials in hot water, answering those types of questions and finding themselves on the front pages next day as having offered those thoughts voluntarily. The prosecutors get to be asked questions about where they are going with their witnesses, they are perfectly within their rights to answer.
It’s certainly beyond the impeachment’s court’s scope to prevent them from doing so. The impeachment court’s power to discipline its ranks ends where the freedom of the press begins. The prosecution though would do well to observe some niceties and stop looking too eager to bludgeon their case home. It makes them look rather insecure, and could backfire in the end by making the defense, and their client, look like the underdog.
Two, Serafin Cuevas asked witness Giovanni Ng to pay a little more attention to his questions as he was getting on in years and couldn’t remember them himself. If he himself had been paying a little more attention to the proceedings, he would have seen that Jinggoy Estrada had already made the case for him. His cross had to do with whether or not the eye-popping discount Megaworld gave Renato Corona for a penthouse in Bellagio – a whopping 40 percent – was really eye-popping. Estrada had asked questions along those lines earlier, only to get answers he wasn’t banking on. Ng opined it wasn’t.
Ng said the discount owed to certain blemishes in Corona’s unit, the fixing of which would have cost Megaworld time and money, and the fact that 2008, when Corona obtained the property, was the pit of a global recession. It was reasonable to offer that kind of discount. Of course, it would help the prosecution if it could show that Megaworld had pending cases before the Supreme Court when Corona transacted for the property, but they would never be able to prove wrongdoing. Quite simply, Megaworld is not the best source to pin down Corona on that issue. What business will readily admit it effectively bribed a chief justice?
Still, the prosecution did a good job suggesting the extent, and extensiveness, of Corona’s properties, particularly in the form of (pent)houses. Corona’s Bellagio unit alone should land him in all sorts of straits. If his stated income before the BIR is to go by, then he clearly could not afford it. He has less income than some of my friends in the NGOs. If he had other means to acquire them, then it makes it worse.
One, why did he not declare having won in the lotto, being left a fortune by a long-lost uncle, running a business that earns more money than jueteng, or whatever benevolent source his money came from? Those are taxable. Two, if he had other sources of income, how come he’s in the alpha list of the BIR? That is only for people who have no other source of income but their salaries. Those who do must file an income tax return.
More than that, the profile of him that emerged last Monday is of someone you would not trust with your money, never mind your life. At the very least, this is a Chief Justice who has too many things to hide. The defense doesn’t really do him a favor—at least in the public’s eyes—by splitting hairs: His daughter might have actually paid for a unit even if his name appears on the checks; he hasn’t been given the title yet and so may not be deemed the owner of a property he fully paid for seven years ago, and so on. It merely deepens the public’s impression of the torture he and his fellows inflict on the law.
At the very most, Imelda had her shoes, Corona has his houses. Corona’s houses may not add up to 2,000, but a dozen or so of them looks like a fetish as well. It’s an embarrassment of riches, which should really be an embarrassment. Or a plain source of shame.
Three, what a relief to not have Miriam Defensor-Santiago in the Senate last Monday. The problem is not just that she raises her blood pressure, it’s that she raises other people’s blood pressure. Not least that of TV viewers, to go by their comments in the media, social and mainstream. Their authors appear to have scoured the thesaurus for adjectives relating to disagreeable. Santiago seems to be trapped in the days when people extolled her for being feisty, which allowed her to nearly clinch the presidency. She has long ceased to be feisty, nowadays she’s just crusty.
By sheer contrast, Juan Ponce Enrile has done a marvelous job steering the trial. I may not like his politics, but I have to take my hat off to the way he has run things. He has continued to give a lesson in civility, something lawyers in particular seem to need badly. He has dealt well with egos, some of them quite massive ones, and picked up the pace despite the legal obstacles unceasingly put up by the usual suspects. Enough to make you believe he’s atoning for his sins and gone on legacy mode.
The other one just gives whole new meanings to the saying, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings.”
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