His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At Pulong Bayan ng Pangulo, and the anniversary of the People’s Victory Rally (Tagumpay ng Bayan) 1986
[Translation of the speech delivered at La Consolacion College, Manila, on February 16, 2012]
Good morning. Let us all take our seats.
Honorable Vice President Jejomar Binay; Secretaries Sonny Coloma, Leila de Lima, Linda Baldoz, Mar Roxas, Edwin Lacierda, Ed de Mesa, Manuel Mamba, Joel Villanueva; members of the EDSA People Power Commission; Mister Cesar Sariño; Mister Ogie Alcasid; Miss Millie Kilayko; Chairman Francis Tolentino; Governor Boy Umali of the League of Provinces of the Philippines; of course, our very generous Sister Imelda Mora; youth leaders from Pilipinas Natin member schools; fellow workers in government; honored guests; beloved countrymen:
It has been twenty-six years since more than a million Filipinos gathered at Luneta to celebrate the nation’s triumph. There, they declared the victory of my late mother over Mr. Marcos in the Snap Elections. They launched a civil disobedience campaign, involving a boycott against companies that fawned over the dictatorship in the hopes of gaining its favor. They made it known that true power lies in the hands of the common citizen. It was there that the Filipino people took their first steps towards the EDSA revolution.
Today we are here, looking back on the events of the past, facing the challenges of the present, and called upon to fight for our future. Are we ready to shape this future, or are we content to leave ourselves to the whims of destiny?
The impeachment trial of Mr. Corona in the Senate began on the 16th of January. I chose to observe the proceedings and to keep my silence; my faith in due process remains steadfast. But what has been happening now? Speculation and commentary have muddled the true issues; it is as if we are purposely being confused and misled so our interest in the proceedings would fade. Will Juan and Juana de la Cruz allow themselves to be shut out of this process? Will we allow a select few to decide the fate of all?
This is why I am here today: to shed light on matters that have intentionally been obscured, and to set straight the issues that have been distorted by a few, so that the common Filipino will be enlightened and will be able to take part in the discussion. After all, the question that this trial seeks to answer is simple: can we still trust Mr. Corona? We can answer this question by looking at the truths that have so far been revealed in the trial.
Let us talk about the SALN. This is not mere scratch paper: every public official swears an oath and stakes his honor on this document. Article 11, Section 17 of our Constitution says: 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, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions 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.
Just how did Mr. Corona obey this law? The testimony of his Clerk of Court, Ms. Vidal, speaks for itself: from a Ms. Acia, his SALN was given to Ms. Vidal, who would in turn pass it on to a certain Ms. Albano. The document would then be placed inside a locked filing cabinet, and its final resting place would be inside a vault.
Since when has a locked filing cabinet been part of the general public? How are we to scrutinize the contents of this SALN if it is locked in a vault? As the truth is coming out, the reason behind Mr. Corona’s desire to keep his SALNs hidden has become clear. Let me give you one example: in 2010, he declared cash in the amount of 3.5 million pesos. According to the testimonies of the President of PS Bank and the bank manager of BPI Ayala, in the three accounts alone that have been uncovered, Mr. Corona has concealed 31.5 million pesos, which he did not declare.
Oh, come on. It is clearer than the light of day: Mr. Corona, the account you have sworn to be true does not correspond to the assets that have been discovered. In any school in the world, 3.5 million does not equal 31.5 million. Which is the truth, Mr. Corona?
Before you were appointed to the Supreme Court, in 1997, a case called Rabe v. Flores came about. A court interpreter from the Davao RTC failed to declare the stall she owned in a wet market, from which she received rent payments. Because she violated RA 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, the Office of the Court Administrator recommended that Delsa Flores be fired. She lost her source of livelihood, the position from which she received salaries and benefits.
This was the basis for firing a court interpreter. How much is a stall in the wet market anyway? Are we supposed to treat our Chief Justice any differently? If Mrs. Flores was fired for what she did, then what is a rightful verdict for Mr. Corona? Is there still any question if his actions constitute impeachable offenses?
Those who have done no wrong have nothing to hide. If I may pose a question to all of you: Is this how a person who has nothing to fear acts? Getting him to reveal his SALN was a long, arduous affair; and until now, he has insisted on keeping his dollar accounts secret. Mr. Corona has said that he will reveal these documents in due time. With due respect, Mr. Corona, you have been submitting questionable SALNs for a number of years now. When exactly is this “due time” you speak of? That time is long overdue.
But I suppose I have Mr. Corona and Justice Cuevas to thank for being the keys to further uncovering the truth. The discrepancies in Mr. Corona’s SALN has put into focus his unexplained wealth. And when the Senate asked for the year-end balances, it was Justice Cuevas himself who asked, instead, for monthly balances. I hope these aren’t mere accidents, and that both of them continue to see the light. But judging from Mr. Corona’s statements, it will be a long time yet before he comes to his senses.
Answer this question yourselves: do you think that the Chief Justice should be exempted from the laws all of us must follow? Are those in power immune to questions, to investigations, and to criticism?
Mr. Corona, please don’t give us the runaround. We all know why Mrs. Arroyo placed you in the Supreme Court: to cover up for her corruption. Didn’t all of this start when you almost succeeded in aiding Mrs. Arroyo in her escape?
Let us remember: it was the Chief Justice who insisted on allowing Mrs. Arroyo to leave the country. The electoral sabotage case filed against Mrs. Arroyo allegedly happened in 2007. According to the law, if a case had not been filed within five years, then the prescribed period for filing would have expired. What this means is, by issuing a TRO on our watch list order, Mrs. Arroyo was given a chance to hide. If she had successfully escaped, and if she had returned no earlier than May of 2012, we wouldn’t have had a chance to hold her accountable for her alleged crimes.
Let me make it clear: this is not personal; we are fighting to preserve the integrity of our justice system. The change we are attempting to achieve is huge, and because of that, we have had to come up against very powerful people. Let us look at the Defense and the Prosecution; the prosecution team has been the focus of much criticism. But is this really a fair fight? We all know of the tremendous power judges possess in our justice system. They are the ones who decide each and every case.
If you are part of the Defense, wouldn’t corrupt judges welcome your efforts to protect their kind? Whatever happens in the trial, you can’t lose. For those in the prosecution, these same judges will view you with hostility, because you went against the Chief Justice. And because of this, you put at risk all your other cases. Will the fact that you are putting your livelihood on the line, the one from which you get money to feed your family, not occupy your mind as you articulate your arguments?
Justice is symbolized by a blindfolded woman holding a balanced scale. Justice is blind, because she must not be bedazzled by power. The scale is balanced because justice must be balanced for all. Put yourself in the shoes of Delsa Flores: What must you be feeling now, seeing someone in a higher position who has hidden a much higher amount from his SALN?
The question before us now is simple. Do we allow this system to continue? A system in which people take advantage and are taken advantage of? Do we just settle with the idea of a two-faced justice system in our country—one face for the powerful, and another for those in the margins? Are you content with a playing field that is not level? Is it not worth it to fix this transactional way of doing things? Is it not clear that our laws must be followed by all?
Our responsibility now is to replace Lady Justice’s blindfold, and to rebalance the tipped scales. Let us not wait before we’re all victimized. Let us take a stand now.
Let us remember that the majority of those in this hall are in the age bracket of Ogie Alcasid and I. What, you don’t want to consider me one of you? In my life—I am 52 years old—I have more or less 30 years left. Isn’t that right? And I’m guessing that most of you are 21 and below. You have 60 years left, in which you will either be happy with the future we are shaping today, or dissatisfied with having to endure the broken system we failed to fix. I hope that the direction we must take is clear to all. We are creating the future today. We all need to act now.
Thank you very much.