CJ should ‘not get less in law than anybody else’

Rappler.com
Corona's defense lawyers present a closing argument that relies heavily on the law

MANILA, Philippines – Reiterating what the defense has consistently argued throughout the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, defense counsels presented on Monday, May 28, a closing argument that relied heavily on the law and existing jurisprudence.

Defense lawyer Eduardo de los Angeles, seconded by lawyer Dennis Manalo and lead counsel Serafin Cuevas cited the following:

1. Corona cannot be held liable for believing in the absolute confidentiality of foreign deposits

This is because of an existing bank secrecy law which provides that all foreign currency deposits – without any qualification as to whether they are owned by public or private individuals – are absolutely confidential, except upon waiver by the depositor. “Any exception to the rule of confidentiality must be legislated,” De los Angeles argued.

He acknowledged that a lacuna or gap exists in the law – between the confidentiality of dollar deposits (RA 6426) and the duty of public officials to disclose their assets, liabilities and net worth in their SALN (RA  6413). The Constitution, under the Bill of Rights, upholds the right to privacy and the right to information. Any exception to the rule of absolute confidentiality must be legislated.

Citing an opinion by Supreme Court Justice Arturo Brion in Republic versus Eugenio, De los Angeles said RA 6413 did not repeal RA  6426. Thus, bank accounts are not covered by the constitutional provision on the right to information – unless the bank secrecy law is amended or repealed.

The Chief Justice, he said, cannot be held liable for believing in good faith in the absolute confidentiality of foreign currency deposits. Non-inclusion of his dollar deposits in his SALN was not tainted with malice.

All these years, De los Angeles pointed out, BIR director Estrella Martinez did not find any public officer who disclosed his or her dollar deposits. This indicates that all public officials interpreted RA 6426 and 6713 in the same way as the Chief Justice, De los Angeles explained.

Corona, he argued, should “not get less in law than anybody else.”

2. Nondisclosure in the SALN does not amount to an impeachable offense

Impeachment and conviction, De los Angeles said, should be based on “nothing less than high crimes.” These include treason, bribery, graft and corruption. A high government official like the chief justice should not be impeached for a “minor breach of the law” such as not being able to disclose everything in his SALN.

De los Angeles reiterated what they have been saying all along – that the real properties not listed in Corona’s SALN are not actually his, and that unlisted peso and dollar accounts are commingled with his children, his mother and the corporation of his wife Cristina. He therefore cannot be held liable for culpable violation of the Constitution. His failure to disclose dollar accounts does not amount to a breach of trust or even treason.

A corrective measure could be calling the attention of the public officer, and not punishment, much less removal from office, De los Angeles said.

3. Presumption of innocence

In the absence of damning evidence, Corona must be presumed to be innocent. He had, in fact, set the standards of transparency in public service by fighting the impeachment and the “horrid propaganda” hurled against him.

De los Angeles ended by making a call for judicial independence. Referring to acts by a “conductor,” implying interference by Malacañang in the impeachment process and trial, checks and balances will be effectively weakened, he said.

Under the pretext of the Supreme Court being an impediment to reforms sought by the President, he actually makes the High Court “subservient to his whims.”

De los Angeles said, “Let not the guillotine fall on judicial independence.”

Credibility


Defense counsel Dennis Manalo also added that what is at issue is the credibility of the Chief Justice. The burden of proof, Manalo stressed, rests very clearly upon the prosecution.

 

If the defense fails to satisfactorily prove its case, the Chief Justice is entitled to an acquittal, Manalo argued.

He pointed out that when Corona dared everyone to open their accounts and SALNs to public scrutiny to prove the point that they all had the same interpretation of the laws, “nobody, nobody, nobody” took up the challenge.

Manalo also pointed out that when a law is found to be unconstitutional, the new law cannot be applied retroactively but only “prospectively.”

Cuevas for his part, stressed that impeachment must be treated with caution, “circumspectively,” and “not haphazardly done.” – Rappler.com

Click on the links below for more of Rappler’s special coverage of the Corona trial. 


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