Defense wins Round 1
Two things happened in Thursday’s impeachment trial that bears commenting on.
First, it was publicly acknowledged—unfortunately, I can’t remember which senator said it—that there are actually two trials going on: one inside the Senate session hall, and another one outside it, the latter at a faster pace. While the senator did not go into specifics, I am reasonably certain that he was alluding to the trial by publicity being conducted by the spokesmen for the prosecution panel, sometimes with the cooperation of the media.
Of course the second trial is moving faster! After all, that’s how a Star Chamber (in its evolved form) or a lynch mob would operate. Those undertaking the media blitz (including those of the 188 “verified complainants” who promised to “educate” their constituents on the issues), must view the Senate as an impeachment court with either utter contempt or complete indifference, else they would not disregard the latter’s rules with such impunity.
The rationalization for this behavior is that they want to get at the truth—which should not be obstructed by “technicalities.”
But after re-reading the impeachment complaint, another explanation comes to mind: except for parts of two articles, the eight-article complaint doesn’t appear to have much of a legal or factual leg to stand on, alas. It may have fallen victim to too-hurried and/or careless a preparation. In which case, the only way for a clear-thinking senator to vote for conviction on the basis of an ill-prepared complaint (aggravated by the palpable lack of preparation or inexperience of the House prosecutors) would be if he or she feared a public opinion backlash if there is acquittal. Hence the media blitz by the prosecution.
They should beware a boomerang. As Abraham Lincoln said, “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”
The second incident on Thursday worth commenting on was the announcement by the prosecution panel that unless the Senate issues subpoenas to the banks where the Coronas hold accounts, they would be winding up their presentation of evidence on Article II of the complaint, and start on Article III, which has to do with the “flip-flopping” decisions of the Supreme Court, the appointment of Corona’s wife to a government corporate job, and his discussing the then pending Vizconde murder case, with Lauro Vizconde and Dante Jimenez.
From the trial deliberations, I don’t think that the Senate will be so obliging. As Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile intimated, no proper foundation was laid by the prosecution for their request. In other words, the latter merely wanted to go on a “fishing expedition.”
Thus, now is a good time to evaluate the prosecution’s case with respect to Article II of the complaint, reproduced in full:
“II. RESPONDENT COMMITTED CULPABLE VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION AND/OR BETRAYED THE PUBLIC TRUST WHEN HE FAILED TO DISCLOSE TO THE PUBLIC HIS STATEMENT OF ASSETS, LIABILITIES, AND NET WORTH AS REQUIRED UNDER SEC. 17, ART. XI OF THE 1987 CONSTITUTION.
“2.1. It is provided for in Art. XI, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution that “a public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth. In the case of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.”
“2.2. Respondent failed to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth as required by the Constitution.
“2.3. It is also reported that some of the properties of Respondent are not included in his declaration of his assets, liabilities and net worth, in violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act.
“2.4. Respondent is likewise suspected and accused of having accumulated ill-gotten wealth, acquiring assets of high values and keeping bank accounts with huge deposits. It has been reported that Respondent has, among others, a 300-sq. meter apartment in a posh Megaworld Property development at the Fort in Taguig. Has he reported this, as he is constitutionally-required under Art. XI, Sec. 17 of the Constitution in his Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN)? Is this acquisition sustained and duly supported by his income as a public official? Since his assumption as Associate and subsequently, Chief Justice, has he complied with this duty of public disclosure?”
After 10 days of hearings, it appears that: (1) Corona did submit his SALNs; that they were not disclosed is more the fault of the Supreme Court’s policy than it is his. (2) Non-declaration of assets may not be a violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act or is at least excusable under certain circumstances; the title of Art. II is silent on graft and corruption. (3) Corona cannot be charged with ill-gotten wealth on the basis of a “suspicion”; he did declare the Megaworld condo in his SALN; the issue of a “discount” is disputable; some liberality is allowed in asset valuation, i.e. zonal, fair market, cost. And (4) The prosecution had egg all over its face several times, e.g., the discount and lately the “Corona 45 properties” claim which they now deny they made.
Round One, methinks, must go to the defense. Wake up, prosecution.