Law students’ verdicts on Corona trial

Law students want CJ Renato Corona should be convicted, but even as aspiring lawyers, they concede the impeachment trial is more about trust of a public officer than the law

MANILA, Philippines – As senator-judges decide on the fate of embattled Chief Justice Renato Corona, those who are among the most eager in watching the developments of his impeachment trial — the law students — have rendered their own verdicts.

Three of 4 students from the country’s top universities — Ateneo de Manila, University of the Philippines, University of Santo Tomas and De La Salle University — believe Corona is guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust because he did not fully disclose his assets, particularly his contentious dollar accounts.

One, however, said that Corona should be acquitted because the prosecution “failed to present satisfactory evidence to prove their allegations in each article of impeachment.”

Rappler contacted the students to get their views on the following aspects of the trial:

1. The verdict

2. The process

3. Impact on the judiciary and the nation

4. Role of the senator-judges

5. Personal experience of the trial

One of the students considers the trial a test of the safeguards of the Constitution, while one only hopes it will set a “trend of accountability” among those in power.

Most of them, meanwhile, lauded the role of the senator-judges in a process that, for them, was more about trust than the law.

Below are their insights on the over 4-month long trial:

Anna Bueno, 22, 3rd year Ateneo Law

1. I have been undecided, but now leaning for conviction. Not including all your assets and liabilities in the SALN (which he openly admitted with regard to his bank accounts) is an impeachable offense, as this statement is an important tool to ensure the integrity of our public officers.

2. I didn’t see either side put a great disadvantage because of the process, which was largely political anyway.

3. At the end of the day, the law isn’t just the law. Legally or technically, CJ Corona should have been acquitted months ago, yet that seems to limit trust in public office. As an aspiring lawyer, I am challenged to look deeper and beyond the law when faced with a conflict such as this one, and ask myself why, in the first place, do we even have these laws, what end do they serve, and for whom they are enacted. I can’t say that the trial will make a large impact on making our public officers accountable. I can only hope. I hope the trial begins a trend of accountability among officers not only of the judiciary, but of all governmental departments. I hope things change for the better.

4. Overall the senator-judges have been instrumental in moving this trial forward. Now they should go for trustworthiness. Even without the Constitution saying “a public office is a public trust,” it is common sense that anyone in public office should be trusted. The senators should ask, “Can the public still trust Corona?”

5. I have watched the trial only but try my best to read updates on the papers and online. Initially I could not make up my mind whether CJ Corona should be convicted or not, not without a trial first. But we discuss this most of the time, in class and even outside it, and even with people not affiliated with the legal community. Even taxi drivers make small talk discussing the impeachment trial.

Dino de Leon, 25, 3rd year DLSU Law

1. He must definitely be convicted. The pieces of evidence are glaring.

2. The presiding officer has been fair and decisive. Kudos to him.

3. The process is historic. It will test the safeguards in our Constitution. It is part and parcel of our democratic system. If the Chief Justice gets away from this scot-free, other officials will be encouraged to just stash their money in dollar accounts.

4. The senator-judges should decide whether he is still fit to lead the judiciary or not. In my opinion, he is not. I think Corona was unfit to be the CJ right from the start, when he accepted the midnight appointment. He occupies a position of trust, and clearly, he now longer holds the trust of the Filipino people.

5. I enjoyed following the trial. I got frustrated at times with the counsels and even the senator-judges, but it made me appreciate this crucial part of our checks and balances.

Pablo Celeridad, 22, senior year UP Law

1. I am in favor of conviction. Initially, I was leaning towards acquittal due to the sloppiness of the prosecution’s presentation of evidence in the early part of the trial, but towards the end of the defense’s turn, it was very clear that Corona, to me, had lost the public trust by his intransigence and insolence to the Impeachment Court, and his lame excuses (mga palusot as used by Rep. Fariñas) to counter the impeachment charges.

2. The process has been fair and reasonable, since Enrile is a competent one. But they should have done their marking of evidence before the clerk, so that the trial would not have dragged on for more than 40 days.

3. This trial will either make a lot of people interested in taking up law, or make a lot of people disgusted with the profession. Only the effect of the verdict will tell what the future has for the legal profession and the country.

4. Regarding the criteria of the senator-judges, it all boils down to the aura of trust. If they can honestly say they still trust him, then by all means they should acquit him. But if there is even a tinge of distrust and doubt as to his competence, then he is not deserving to remain even as a member of the Supreme Court. This is not a criminal proceeding at all. This is a trial to determine competency and trust.

5. I drafted the UP Law Student Government’s statement defending the initial submission of the impeachment complaint before the Senate, but I was ashamed at how sloppy the prosecution was at the start. Now, however, Corona himself is committing self-immolation by his braggadocio and his arrogance. He in effect sealed his own fate. He should have let his defense team do their job and not interfere with his trial backseat-driving.

Arthur Catabona, 24, senior year UST Law

1. Based on what we have seen during the impeachment trial, CJ Renato Corona should be acquitted. The prosecution failed to present satisfactory evidence that would prove their allegations in each article of impeachment against the Chief Justice. It is not the duty of the respondent to prove his innocence but the burden of the prosecution to prove its allegations which I think they lacked.

2. The process has been a long and excruciating journey. The proceeding has transformed its “sui generis” concept into a purely political proceeding. It has also been used as a platform for political interests and future political plans. 

3. The credibility of the impeachment court has been affected and may be lost in the future depending on the verdict. The impeachment process, as a powerful instrument to check and balance the other branches of government, must be protected from biased judgement. However, this only proves that even the judiciary is not immune from the hands of justice. Whatever the verdict, the judiciary may be weakened as its public trust may decline.

4. The Senate should stick to fair interpretations of fundamental laws and not base its decision on the calling of the masses who have a misguided perception of the issue. The issue has been trivialized and sensationalized by the media, influencing people who are not well versed with the proceedings. The problem is that the senators tend to consider matters that will also affect their political career in the future. It should be the last resort of every senator-judge to look into and apply moral standards which might used to justify circumvention of our laws to issues that our laws themselves have sufficiently addressed. Lastly, the evidence shall be considered and the quantum of evidence shall be applied.

5. I actually have not continuously followed the impeachment trial myself but i made sure to update myself every now and then on the issue. We always talk about this in our office and online but I reserved my opinion after the entire proceeding was finished to get me a better understanding of this issue. I remember one time, our professor also discussed this issue and how will it affect the branches of the government, especially the judiciary. –

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