Miriam: SC can review Corona verdict
MANILA, Philippines – Can the Supreme Court undo the Senate’s guilty verdict against former Chief Justice Renato Corona?
For Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, the High Court can revisit the decision amid allegations the senator-judges were bribed by Malacañang to remove the chief magistrate.
“A petition for review on certiorari can be filed before the Supreme Court to question the validity of the ruling of the impeachment court [on grounds] that there was extrinsic fraud, the bribery of senators,” Santiago said in a press briefing at the EDSA Shangri-la hotel on Tuesday, January 21.
Watch Santiago's full speech here:
Santiago expressed the legal opinion a day after Senator Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr delivered a privilege speech accusing President Benigno Aquino III of personally appealing to senators to convict Corona during secret meetings in Malacañang.
Revilla’s speech follows the allegation of Senator Jinggoy Estrada that senators who voted to convict Corona got P50 million each after the impeachment trial. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad admitted releasing the money from the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) but denied it was a bribe.
Santiago, a constitutional law expert and former trial court judge, said that it is unusual for the Supreme Court to reopen a decision that is already final and executory.
Yet she said that former rulings of the High Court allow the tribunal to review cases if there is “extrinsic” basis or circumstances that took place outside “the narratives of the trial.”
“For example, if a boy crossed the street and a truck ran over him, there was no fraud involved. But if there is fraud from outside, like the victim was previously beaten up by the other party, the Supreme Court in these past cases make a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic [grounds],” she said.
Santiago said American scholars are divided on whether or not the Supreme Court has the power of judicial review over Congress’ impeachment and conviction judgment.
Yet Santiago said Philippine jurisprudence upholds the Court’s power to review final decisions.
“Our Supreme Court has ruled it can reverse the final decision on the ground of extrinsic fraud,” she said.
Santiago was one of only 3 senators who voted to acquit Corona in May 2012. The other two were former Senator Joker Arroyo and Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. The other 20 senators voted for conviction.
Grounds for Aquino impeachment, but…
Santiago said Revilla’s speech highlights the need for the Supreme Court to prioritize resolving petitions questioning the legality of DAP “to help settle the burning issue of bribery in an impeachment court.”
The senator said that if the Court strikes down the administration’s spending program and it is proven that the DAP was used to bribe senators, Aquino will be liable for impeachment.
Santiago said that under the Constitution, bribery and betrayal of public trust are among the grounds for impeaching the President.
Yet she said Aquino’s critics face a tough task if they will attempt to impeach him.
“The problem is that the burden of proof is on the prosecution. If anyone charges the President, the burden of proof is on the person who charges him with betrayal of public trust or bribery,” she said.
“How can Senators Estrada and Revilla prove their charges that the President tried to influence them, who will be their witness? Usually, you meet the President alone and he’s surrounded by his people. Normally, no other person is allowed to be brought in so senators will have no witnesses. The President has witnesses,” she added.
Santiago said another challenge is that in accusing the President of bribery, the senators will have to admit to their own guilt.
“The senators’ dilemma is that if they say they were bribed, they admitted to getting it.”
‘Heart attack’ over bribery allegations
As one of the senators who voted for Corona’s acquittal, Santiago said Revilla's and Estrada’s allegations of bribery stunned her.
“Sa sinabi ng dalawang senador na galit ngayon sa Malacañang, I'm not only heartbroken, but about to suffer heart attack. I will sue them for damages in case I croak.”
(With what the two senators mad at Malacañang said, I will sue them for damages in case I croak.)
Santiago recalled that during the impeachment trial, the Senate asked Corona lawyer Jose “Judd” Roy III to apologize for claiming that Malacañang was offering to bribe senators in exchange for Corona’s conviction.
“Iyon pala, totoo,” she said. (It turns out it’s true).
“DAP is another term for more pork barrel, particularly when apparently used as a bribe,” Santiago added.
The senator said it is not just Aquino and Malacañang on the spot but also the senators who accepted the DAP.
“Kung unconstitutional ang DAP, bakit nila tinanggap? Ano sila? Aba, ibalik nila! Kaagad bukas ang palad nila. Ganoon ang attitude nila.”
(If DAP is unconstitutional, why did they accept it? What are they? They should return the money! Right away, they were open to accept it. That’s their attitude.) – Rappler.com