Higher standards for the Chief Justice?

Judges and justices are not elected, but they can stay in office until they are 70

MANILA, Philippines – On Day 31 of the impeachment trial, the defense panel raised concerns about the prosecution using a higher standard for Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador cited the weekend statement of prosecution spokesperson Lorenzo Tañada III, who said, “Corona’s lawyers cannot compare the Chief Justice with other people in government. Being the country’s chief magistrate, he must be whiter than white.”

The defense said that some government officials—the allies of the administration—had similarly committed errors in filling out their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN). It maintained that this is not an impeachable offense because the SALN law even allows for corrections.

“We are worried….They (prosecution) are no longer concentrating on the charges. They are now going to a different ballgame. They are laying a different standard—the damaged goods theory,” said Salvador.

The damaged goods theory, Salvador explained, goes this way: the Chief Justice may eventually be acquitted but because his reputation has been blemished they are saying he is no longer fit to stay in office.

Judges cannot be removed

Earlier in the trial, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile took the position that the standards for Supreme Court magistrates and government officials are the same. The Court debated on this after Senator Francis Pangilinan posed the question.

The prosecution maintains the 1987 Constitution expressly requires higher standards for judges compared to government officials, whether elected or appointed.

“The requirement for an elected official is that you can read and write, you are of age, you are a Filipino citizen and you are a resident of the place where you are elected. Those are the only requirements,” said Quimbo.

“But for the judges and justices, over and above those requirements, you must be of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence. You do not see that anywhere else,” Quimbo added.

The higher standards are reasonable, he said. “Unlike elected officials who submit themselves to a validation process to the electorate every 3 years, they (judges and justices) stay in power and, in fact, cannot be removed unless impeached, until they are 70,” he said.

Defense recycles prosecution witnesses

The prosecution also hit the defense panel for recycling witnesses they presented previously in the trial, only to have them testify on the same properties the prosecution also presented.

But Salvador said it’s important to recall them. “There are entries [in the documents] that need to be seen, which the prosecution did not mark,” he said.

Defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno added, “The prosecution chose to present details that support its claim. It is not necessarily the complete story. That’s why we’ve always been asking the public to wait for our presentation of evidence.”

Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas was absent on Day 31 of the trial. His colleagues said he was indisposed. – Rappler.com