Defensor-Santiago, Miriam: ‘Not guilty’

Rappler.com
Sen Miriam Defensor-Santiago says omission in the SALN is not an impeachable offense

MANILA, Philippines – Sen Miriam Defensor-Santiago found Chief Justice Renato Corona “not guilty” of the impeachment complaint filed against him.

Saying an impeachment spelled the “ruin of a life,” Santiago insisted that Corona’s failure to disclose the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) does not constitute an impeachable offense.

“Does omission in the SALN belong to the same class as treason?” Santiago asked. She said no.

Santiago said Corona did not make a “confession” but only “admission” that he failed to disclose his bank deposits in his SALN.

Corona could have chosen to use another name in his bank accounts if he really meant to conceal his wealth, according to Santiago.

Santiago’s vote on Tuesday, May 29, was expected. Santiago has consistently questioned the prosecution’s evidence against Corona. She took the position that the Anti-Money Laundering Council’s fact-finding investigation needed a court order before it could reach the Ombudsman.

The prosecutors had always dreaded Senator Miriam Santiago’s lectures. She berated the prosecutors many times for what she said was their sloppy work and presentation in the impeachment court.

Santiago was the 5th to vote on judgment day. So far, 3 have voted to convict Corona: Senators Edgardo Angra, Alan Peter Cayetano and his sister Pia Cayetano.

Sen Joker Arroyo has voted to acquit the Chief Justice.

Santiago previously told the Inquirer that the Foreign Currency Deposits Act, being a special law, prevails over the law that created the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).

She said: “It’s the duty of Congress to amend either the SALN law or the [FCDA] so these doubts could be raised but the ambiguity of the law should not be held against any person affected by it. It’s only natural that a person will choose an interpretation most favorable to him,” Santiago said.

From Day One, Santiago has opposed the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona. He told the media: “The executive and legislative branches are political in nature but the judicial branch is nonpolitical. If the chief justice is removed for political reasons, then that would be a signal that even the judicial branch has also become political. That would be the end of our democracy as we know it today.”
 
Santiago also supported the Supreme Court decision upholding the appointment of Renato Corona as chief justice. She said in a statement, “The problem with the critics is that they mistake the law as it is …. A line has to be drawn between the rule of law and the dystopian concept of freewheeling ethics.”

She also criticized the government for defying the SC, likening the airport standoff to a “very bad” movie about authoritarianism. She was quoted in the Inquirer as saying, “I feel grief-stricken. I feel like slashing my wrist. I feel like slitting my throat. That is what we were taught in law school. We simply have to obey the law no matter how we feel about it.”

Santiago has been chosen a judge of the International Criminal Court. – Rappler.com

(Below is the full text of Santiago’s explanation of her vote during the trial’s judgment day on May 29)

The Constitution provides that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall be presumed innocent, until the contrary is proved. The burden of proof is on the prosecution.  How much proof is necessary? In other words, what is the standard of proof? I have adopted the very high standard of “overwhelming preponderance of evidence.” My standard is very high, because removal by conviction on impeachment is a stunning penalty, the ruin of a life.

The defendant admitted that he did not declare his dollar accounts and certain commingled peso accounts in his SALN. Did this omission amount to an impeachable offense? No.

Under the rule of ejusdem generis, when a general word occurs after a number of specific words, the meaning of the general word should be limited to the kind or class of thing within which the specific words fall. The Constitution provides that the impeachable offenses are: “culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.” An omission in good faith in the SALN carries a light penalty, and is even allowed to be corrected. Thus, it is not impeachable.

The Constitution simply provides that a public officer shall submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth. That is all. There are no details. The Constitution is a brief declaration of fundamental principles. Many constitutional provisions are only commands to the Congress to enact laws to carry out the purpose of the charter.  

As a general rule, constitutional provisions are not self-executory. The usual exceptions are the Bill of Rights, and constitutional prohibitions. All other constitutional provisions, such as the SALN provision, need implementing laws to provide the details. Hence, Congress, to implement this constitutional provision, has passed a number of laws, including the Foreign Currency Act, which confers absolute confidentiality on dollar deposits.

There is no conflict between the Constitution and the Foreign Currency Act. The perceived conflict is so simplistic that it is seriously laughable. If there is any conflict, it is between the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards, which provides for a waiver of confidentiality; and the Foreign Currency Act, which provides for absolute confidentiality.  

It is for Congress to balance on the one hand, the need for public accountability from public officers; with, on the other hand, the desperate need for foreign investment, which entails confidentiality, on pain of driving away investors from our country.  The argument that a dollar deposit protected from inquiry would nullify the principle of transparency is for Congress to resolve. We could retain the absolute confidentiality clause, with the amendment that Filipino public officers are not protected.

The prosecution mistakes admission for confession. In a confession, the defendant admits guilt. In an admission, the defendant merely states facts, which might tend to prove his guilt. In the instant case, the defendant did not make a confession, but merely an admission, with a legal defense.

As a former RTC judge, I find it reprehensible that the AMLA document was introduced in evidence, without authentication, as required by the Rules of Evidence. I am deeply disappointed that on at least three occasions, the prosecution claimed that its documents came from an anonymous source. Are you for real?  Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. False in one thing, false in all things.

The defendant used his own name in all his questioned transactions. He could have done otherwise, if his purpose was invisibility. Why would a suspected criminal leave his calling cards at the scene of the crime?

Assuming for the sake of argument that there is a preponderance of evidence for the prosecution, the preponderance is not overwhelming.

Click on the links below for more Rappler stories on the senator-judges’ verdict.