MANILA, Philippines – Sen Juan Ponce Enrile, presiding officer of the impeachment court, declared that no law punishes a public official for disclosing dollar deposits in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
“There is no secrecy law in this country that prohibits the depositor from revealing his own deposits,” Enrile told lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas at the close of the final arguments of both sides in the Corona impeachment trial. “What is prohibited is third-party disclosure, but the depositor is not [prohibited],” Enrile added.
In effect, Enrile was saying that Chief Justice Renato Corona could simply have chosen to declare his dollar accounts in his SALN – a key point earlier pushed and taken by the prosecution.
On the last day of oral arguments, Enrile sought to ask the defense panel two questions.
He asked Cuevas if a public official who declares his dollar accounts in his SALN may incur any penalty under the foreign currency deposits law. Cuevas said he’s unsure.
Enrile said, “We are forgetting that the law allows exposure of foreign currency deposits if the depositor himself would do it.”
The presiding officer’s second question delved on constitutional issues. He asked Cuevas if he deemed as a “sovereign command” a constitutional provision compelling public officials and employees to disclose all their assets.
“If it is a sovereign command, will disobedience of that command constitute a culpable of violation of the Constituton?…Do you consider that as a command or something that can be disregarded?”
Cuevas answered vaguely, saying the crafting of laws was “beyond my comprehension” as it was a legislative function.
Enrile then proceeded to ask Cuevas if he knew what the Latin word culpa meant, referring to one of the grounds of impeachment, Corona’s alleged culpable violation of the Constitution. The veteran lawyer struggled with his answers, saying in jest, “maybe I was absent when those lessons were being given.”
Enrile shot back: “Well that is your bad luck.”
Prosecutor Rodolfo Fariñas came to the rescue and defined “culpa” as “willful…not honest mistake…a deliberate mistake.”
The Chief Justice was impeached in December on grounds that he betrayed public trust and committed culpable violation of the Constitution.
But the defense team has argued that his failure to disclose his P183-M dollar and peso deposits was not an impeachable offense. His omissions were done in good faith, they argued.
Earlier in the trial, Enrile already put Cuevas in the hot seat when he asked him about media reports quoting him as saying that they planned to go to the Supreme Court in case Corona is convicted by the senators.
Cuevas did not deny the interview. Enrile said that while he respected his opinion, the impeachment court believes that it is the sole trier of cases involving impeachable officials.
The 23 senator-judges are scheduled to hand down their verdict on Tuesday, May 29. – Rappler.com
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