PCIJ to Corona: ‘Everybody does it’ is no excuse

Journalists from the PCIJ refuse to take the witness stand for the Chief Justice

NOT PARTISAN. Malou Mangahas of PCIJ says her group is recognized for probity and independence. Photo by GMA News TV

MANILA, Philippines – “Everybody does it anyway.”

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) rejected this argument of Chief Justice Renato Corona as it opposed his lawyer’s request to summon journalists to the witness stand.

Malou Mangahas, Karol Anne Ilagan and Ed Lingao of the PCIJ asked the impeachment court to deny the defense panel’s request to have them subpoenaed. They believe their testimony will be irrelevant.

In their opposition filed by their counsels on Monday, March 21, the three shot down Corona’s reasoning that omissions in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) were made in good faith because inaccuracies in the form are rampant among government officials. 

“In this instant case, …. only Respondent’s actions and state of mind are material to his guilt. The fact that there may have been others who benefited from their improper conduct would do nothing to excuse the Respondent.”

In its reports and investigation, the PCIJ found that some members of the prosecution and cabinet members did not diligently disclose and fill out their SALNs.

The PCIJ said that granting for the sake of argument that Corona’s “everybody does it” defense is relevant, its investigation will not be sufficient to conclude that all government officials were remiss in filing their SALNs.

“It is doubtful whether a cursory examination of only 1,500 SALNs over 14 years is sufficient to establish that ‘Everybody Does it’ among the estimated 1.3 million personnel currently in government.”

The defense panel has requested a subpoena for the PCIJ staff members to show that errors in the SALN were a “prevailing, institutional practice.” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said though that the issue is irrelevant because it is Corona who is on trial.

No free ride for Corona

Instead of having journalists testify, the PCIJ recommended that Corona and his lawyers conduct their own investigation and analysis by going to official custodians, requesting for the SALNs, and paying the fees.

“The Respondent, or any other party for that matter, should not be allowed to free ride on the efforts, work, and journalistic portfolio of the PCIJ, and in so doing, make it that party’s private investigator, especially when such can be avoided through a little foresight and some hard work.”

The PCIJ added that its journalists are not official custodians of the SALNs and cannot authenticate these.

Journalists not partisan

The PCIJ also cited as grounds for its opposition the need to protect its reputation, and the credibility of the media as a whole.

The journalists said the PCIJ has earned a reputation for probity and independence and garnered local and international awards for its body of work.

“Considering the highly political circumstances that attend impeachment cases such as this one, and the adversarial nature of the proceedings, there is reasonable expectation of exposing the PCIJ and the Oppositors to unfounded conclusions of partisanship if presented as a witness by either party.”

“The possibility of reputational damage not only affects the PCIJ and the Oppositors in their private capacities, but also the press as a whole to which the PCIJ belongs.”

‘Media not the story’

This is not the first time that journalists were asked to testify before the impeachment court.

During the prosecution’s presentation of witnesses, ABS-CBN cameramen Edmond Losalla and Danny Piedad, and ABS-CBN librarian Rochelle Mendez testified to authenticate footage of a press conference of Supreme Court Spokesman Midas Marquez and the attempted flight of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

These were in relation to Article 7, which accuses Corona of irregularities in issuing a temporary restraining order that would have allowed the Arroyos to escape prosecution.

The prosecution also requested the Senate to subpoena journalists Rappler editor-at-large Marites Dañguilan-Vitug, Criselda Yabes and Raissa Robles, among others, but the three declined

In a letter to the prosecution, Vitug said, “Journalists are NOT the story. We tell the story. We merely chronicle our country’s comings and goings in the best way we can. This is how we serve the country.” – Rappler.com