Oral argument of the prosecution during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona, May 28, 2012 (Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.)

Oral argument of the prosecution during the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona delivered by Representative Niel C. Tupas Jr.

[Delivered at the Session Hall of the Senate, Pasay City, on May 28, 2012] 

Mr. Senate President, honorable members of this Senate Tribunal, Mr. Speaker of the House and Majority Leader, fellow members of the House, counsels for the defense and prosecution, my fellow Filipinos, good afternoon.

Like all defining moments in our nation’s history, we are once again called upon to make a choice between right and wrong. The day of reckoning is here. Everyone has said his piece. It is now time for us to make sense of all the pain that this impeachment trial has caused. Let it be clear that we meant not to destroy a man, but to destroy the evils that plague our system. We do not rejoice over the fact that in the process, deep wounds were inflicted. But sometimes, great pain must be endured so that genuine healing may begin.  Today, we lay down before the Filipino people and this Impeachment Tribunal the truths that have come out of these proceedings.

Tungkol saan po ba talaga ang impeachment trial na ito? More than anything else, this impeachment trial is about our people’s aspiration to regain the greatness that was once ours. For how can we inspire greatness in our people if it is not greatness that sits on the thrones of power? We Filipinos come from a long line of maharlikas and heroes with rich and proud heritage. Our history is lined with honorable men and women who suffered so much in the name of country. Seventy years ago, this month, Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos died in the hands of the Japanese rather than betray his country. Fifty years ago, former Chief Justice Manuel V. Moran, who was offered a chance to return to the Supreme Court, refused a midnight appointment rather than dishonor himself. Today, we have a chief justice who has been impeached and now faces judgment before this Honorable Tribunal. Obviously, we took a wrong turn somewhere that led us to stray from the path of greatness.

That is why on December 12, 2011, an overwhelming majority of the members of the House of Representatives—188 in all—heeded the people’s call for truth and impeached Chief Justice Corona for culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, a new ground for impeachment under the 1987 Constitution. On January 16, 2012, the prosecution commenced the presentation of evidence that cast serious doubt on respondent Corona’s moral fitness to remain as chief justice. Chief Justice Renato Corona must answer to the people for his wrongs. Sa walong articles of impeachment na inihain ng Kamara dito sa Senado, hindi na po namin kinailangan pang i-present ang lima. Dahil sa tatlong articles pa po lamang, kumbinsido na kami, at alam naming kumbinsido na ang taumbayan: hindi na karapat-dapat manatili sa puwesto si Chief Justice Renato Corona bilang mahistrado ng ating bansa.

Our quest for truth has led us to many truths about the Chief Justice. It has led us to the truth that the chief justice failed to disclose to the public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth as required under the 1987 Constitution. It has led us to the truth that he lied about his assets in his SALN to conceal his enormous wealth. It has led us to the truth that he peddled his position of power in exchange for material gain. It has led us to the truth that his loyalty does not lie with the Filipino people. On the whole, it has led us to the truth that he is in public service not to serve his country but to serve his own ends.

Article XI, Section 17 of the Constitution requires all public officers and employees to submit a declaration under oath of assets, liabilities, and net worth, with an additional requirement for the highest officials, including the chief justice, that the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law. A prime objective of the framers of the Constitution in requiring a SALN was to strengthen the accountability of all public servants and to root out the perennial problem of corruption and abuse of power in government. To be meaningful and effective, the SALN requirement must be complied with truthfully, completely, and accurately. It must be complied with in good faith.

No amount of denial, no lame excuse whatsoever can stand against the best evidence itself—the SALNs of the chief justice from 2002 to 2010, executed by him under oath year after year after year. Respondent Corona has repeatedly failed to truthfully and accurately disclose in his SALNs numerous assets and real properties which he and his wife own—luxurious condominium units and huge parcels of prime property in Taguig City, Makati City, and Quezon City. Instead of declaring the acquisition cost of the real property, the Chief Justice declared only the fair market value for taxation purposes, which does not serve the purpose of, and has nothing to do with, the computation of the net worth in the SALN. The Supreme Court declared in the case of Republic vs. Sandiganbayan that it is the acquisition cost of the property that must be charged against respondent’s lawful income and funds.[1]

And what about the chief justice’s treasure trove of cash deposits that, as evidence has shown, could put a king’s fortune to shame?

Your Honor, Mr. President, siya na po mismo ang umamin. The chief justice himself admits that he owns three peso accounts with an aggregate deposit of P80.7 million and four dollar accounts with a total of $2.4 million, none of which he declared in his SALN.   He says that the family members comingled their funds in the same peso bank accounts, along with the funds of Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc., to earn higher interest. But oddly enough, the highest magistrate, who is presumed to be trained in the law and the rules of evidence, presents no documentary proof or any evidence whatsoever to support his claim other than his self-serving statements. There is a legal presumption whoever posseses the rights of ownership over a thing is presumed to be the owner thereof. His dollar deposits, he says, are the result of his foresight in dollar hedging since the late 1960s. Again, he shows nothing to prove this, other than his testimony. The chief justice has woven a fantastic tale in his desperation to explain his incredible wealth. A legal presumption of unexplained wealth arises when a public official acquires an amount of property or cash during his incumbency that is manifestly out of proportion to his salary and to his other lawful income.

In fact, your honor, the Chief Justice Renato Corona, as ponente in the case of Republic vs. Sandiganbayan and Ferdinand E. Marcos, wrote that when an official’s assets are grossly disproportionate to their income, then the excess is prima facie ill-gotten. The burden is therefore placed on the official to prove that it is not.

Saan man po nanggaling ang kanyang salapi, ilan man ang kanyang magagarang condo units o lupain, gaano man karaming bank accounts, at gaano man kalaki ang laman ng ito, hindi na po iyan ang pinag-uusapan natin ngayon. Ang tanong: nasa SALN ba niya ang mga ito? At the core of Article 2 is the question: Did respondent Corona declare his peso and dollar deposits in his SALN as required of him by the Constitution and the law?  He did not.

While the Chief Justice admits his non-declaration of all of his cash assets in his SALN, he stubbornly insists that his failure to do so is justified. According to the chief justice, he did not declare his dollar deposits because he believed that it is covered by the absolute confidentiality of foreign currency accounts under the Foreign Currency Deposits Act. This interpretation of the law is very disturbing. We beg to disagree based on the law itself and the principles of public accountability. Your honor, the prosecution submits that there is no conflict between the Constitutional requirement of SALN and Republic Act No. 6426 or the law on the secrecy of foreign currency deposits. The SALN requirement is addressed to government officials and employees to implement the constitutional provision on public accountability. It requires them to declare all their assets and net worth, and makes no distinction between peso and foreign currency cash assets, in the spirit of transparency and good governance. On the other hand, the law on secrecy of foreign currency deposits applies to banking institutions and its prohibition is addressed to the banks, not to the depositors. It penalizes bank employees who disclose details about foreign currency deposits of their depositors but allows the depositors themselves to waive the protection. To adopt the chief justice’s interpretation of the law would be to encourage dishonesty in government and would lead to the absurd situation where the law itself protects ill-acquired wealth hidden in foreign currency accounts. This is how the chief justice, the highest magistrate of the land, who is expected to possess superior legal wisdom, interprets the law to protect his own interest.

Your Honor, given all the things that we now know after four and a half months of trial, we go back to the question that we asked at the beginning of these proceedings:  By what standards should Chief Justice Renato Corona be judged? We had answered, “By the highest standards.”  Standards that are fair to demand of a chief justice and any member of the judiciary for that matter. Article VIII, Section 7 (3) of the Constitution provides, “A member of the judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.” A nation of heroes and honorable people demands that the Chief Justice Corona be judged by the conduct and character displayed by an Abad Santos and a Moran.

Against such standards, we then ask: Does respondent Corona’s failure “to completely, truthfully and faithfully declare his assets, liabilities and net worth” constitute an impeachable offense? Our answer is yes, because it is both a “betrayal of public trust” and a “culpable violation of the Constitution.” It is lying, it is dishonesty, it is deception of the highest order. As explained by Constitutional Commissioner Rustico de los Reyes, betrayal of public trust is “a catchall phrase,” which “includes all acts which are not punishable by statutes as penal offenses but, nonetheless, render the officer unfit to continue in office. It includes betrayal of public interest, inexcusable negligence of duty, tyrannical abuse of power, breach of official duty by malfeasance or misfeasance, cronyism, favoritism, etc. to the prejudice of public interest and which tend to bring the office into disrepute.”

As shown by the evidence, Chief Justice Corona’s violation is culpable for it is willful and intentional, judging by the habituality and sheer magnitude of the falsities, inaccuracies, and omissions in his SALNs.  His lies in his SALN ran into the hundreds of millions and cannot be ignored. All these belie defense of good faith. In the case of Ombudsman vs. Racho, the Supreme Court said: “Dishonesty begins when an individual intentionally makes a false statement in any material fact… It is understood to imply the disposition to lie, cheat, deceive, or defraud; unworthiness; lack of integrity; lack of honesty, probity, or integrity in principle; lack of fairness and straightforwardness; disposition to defraud, deceive or betray…. Indeed, an honest public servant will have no difficulty in gathering, collating, and presenting evidence that will prove his credibility, but a dishonest one will only provide shallow excuses in his explanation.”

Ginoong Pangulo, sa paghahain po namin ng aming ebidensya sa Tribunal na ito, sana po matandaan lang po natin: Nang si Delsa Flores, isang simpleng empleyado ng hudikatura, ay hindi nag-deklara ng maliit na sari-sari store sa kanyang SALN, tinanggalan po siya ng trabaho. Ang sabi ng Korte Suprema: “Although every office in the government service is a public trust, no position exacts greater demand for moral righteousness and uprightness from an individual than in the Judiciary.”[2]

Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, we come now to the very heart of these impeachment proceedings. Is Chief Justice Renato Corona morally fit to remain as chief justice of the Supreme Court?  The damning revelations that came out of this impeachment trial go into the very core of the man’s character. Tulad po ng sinabi namin sa umpisa, pagkatao po ang pinag-uusapan natin dito. Can we trust a man who has repeatedly thwarted the people’s will by lying under oath in his SALN to conceal wealth that he could not explain? Can we trust a magistrate who was very much willing to receive discounts, favors, and other benefits from parties with pending cases before the Supreme Court?  And can we trust a man who took advantage of his position and abused his power to commit grave injustice and oppress his relatives in the name of greed?

Mr. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, ladies and gentlemen of the Senate, the House of Representatives, in impeaching the chief justice, took the first step towards the fulfillment of our oath as the keepers of our people’s trust. We have done our part as prosecutors in this impeachment trial despite the odds. No matter what the outcome will be, we know in our hearts that we have contributed to the betterment of our nation. This impeachment is not so much about Renato Coronado Corona but is more about setting aright that which is wrong. It is now up to the honorable members of the Senate, the senator-judges to take the final step to restore the greatness that we have lost. The people are hopeful. Let us end this right. Let us decide in favor of truth and greatness. Let us be done with Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Thank you very much and good afternoon.

[1] G.R. No. 102508, January 30, 2002

[2] Narita Rabe vs. Delsa M. Flores