#TalkThursday: The defense in retrospect

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What else could the defense have done for the acquittal of the Chief Justice?

MARIA RESSA: Hello and welcome. I’m Maria Ressa. Welcome to Talk Thursday. It has been a historic week and with us today is a member of the defense counsel, Atty. Dennis Manalo. He gave part of the closing argument on this historic… the summation of the impeachment trial. Let’s go back over the 44 days. Did you expect the vote?  

DENNIS MANALO: First of all, good afternoon to you and your viewers. Alright, the vote. Well, we did not expect it really to be that way. But actually the vote expectation kept on changing from day to day. I think prior to the testimony of the Chief Justice– the former Chief Justice– we were really hopeful that the votes would be in our favor. And during the testimony we were getting information that things were doing well. And then this incident, where he had his hypoglycemic episode, that was when things went against us. And then I think, Friday, when the ex-CJ Corona gave the unconditional waiver, we had a different pulse again for the vote– turning towards the day for closing. But prior to closing, we don’t know why the pulse started to change. That was even prior to closing. We were getting feedback that our numbers were dwindling, and dwindling fast.

RESSA: Analysts have said though that, in many ways, the defense provided the prosecution the evidence it needed to convict him by calling both the Ombudsman and Corona himself to testify. Whose decision was it to ask the Ombudsman to testify?

MANALO: Well, I think, in the first place, the perception that the move was a mistake I think is not exactly accurate. The move was… that decision was made by the Chief himself. That was a call that he made. He wanted us to call the Ombudsman and reveal what her basis is for saying that he has $12M– $10M in the letter.

RESSA:Did you know before she testified that she had the documents?

MANALO:We knew that she had something. And actually if it was an AMLC report, we wanted to know because the point there is that if she has an AMLC report that is not supported by a court order, then there is clearly a violation of the law and that violation of the law has penal consequences to it. And what actually surprised us was how brazen the disclosure was. Like, ‘we don’t really care even if there was no court order. We don’t care whether there was an illegal search done here, here’s the report. That was what was surprising to me as a lawyer. 

RESSA:So you still stand that what she did was not legal in terms of introducing this evidence?

MANALO:What she did definitely does not pass the test for admissibility of evidence. It would be hearsay–

RESSA: –in a criminal court.

MANALO: Yes. Now if there really is no court order to support the release of that report, then the accounts of the CJ was examined without a court order– now that is the one that has a violation of law.  

RESSA:But is that a mistake in looking at it as criminal court procedures when the impeachment court has much wider latitude? It isn’t a criminal court procedure.

MANALO:Well, even if it’s not a criminal court, it still has to comply with the laws of disclosure of information of that sort.  

RESSA:How much of what the Chief Justice, the former CJ, how much of what we had did you know? How much did he tell his lawyers?

MANALO:From the very start, he already informed us about his dollar savings. He told us about it. What we were not aware of is the exact figure. We didn’t know how much, how many accounts. But he told us that there were dollar accounts and he told us clearly that these were not reported in the SALN. And his reason for not reporting it. 

RESSA:Did you, as a lawyer, feel that his reason for not reporting it was valid?


RESSA:So you also believe the FCDA?

MANALO:Let me just be clear about this. I abide by the decision of the Senate Impeachment Court. It went through the process. I respect that decision. But of course, like any decision, it’s open to criticism. And I’d be the first one to say that the application of the Foreign Currency Deposits Act vis-a-vis the law on public officers was erroneous. 

RESSA:But as a layman, and as some of the senators pointed out, if the court had accepted this decision, it would have set a standard that essentially, officials could hide their assets or could turn their assets into dollars and not have to declare it in the SALN. Doesn’t that avoid the spirit of the law?

MANALO: Yeah, but you have to understand that before we actually say that the spirit of the law is actually full disclosure including dollars, you have to look at the letter of the law. Does the letter of the law express the spirit that they’re trying to say? Or is it absolutely outside the scope of the wordings? Remember the FCDA used the word absolute. And I don’t know how to understand that word ‘absolute’ in any other way except that. There is no way that an examination of a dollar account can be had without the voluntary waiver of the depositor. Of course they were saying that the law was a restriction upon the bank to disclose and not a restriction upon the depositor. But it does make sense to me. If you’re going to say that you can compel the depositor to disclose his accounts, then what’s the point of restricting the bank? I wouldn’t ask the bank anymore, I’d just ask the depositor. It doesn’t make sense! That’s exactly why the depositor placed his account in the bank. Because he wants to keep it secret. And just because you want to keep it secret, does it mean you are already committing a crime? Just because you have money in the bank does it mean that a public official is corrupt? It doesn’t follow.

MANALO: But it does make sense to me if you’re going to say that you can compel the depositor to disclose his account. What is the point of restricting the bank, I wouldn’t ask the bank anymore. I will just ask the depositor. It doesn’t make sense that is exactly why the depositor placed his account in the bank because he wants to keep it secret and just because you want to keep it secret does it mean you are already committing a crime. Just because you have money in the bank does it mean that a public official is corrupt? It doesn’t follow.

RESSA: But if you go to… not believe your point. But if you go, actually to the scope of the SALN, you are supposed to declare your assets and now after the decision…

MANALO: That is really the contentious portion of the constitutional requirement because the constitutional requirement says that all public officials must report their assets. But there is a key phrase – in the manner provided by law – and part of the law is the foreign deposits act. They are saying that the law is the law on public officials, public officers and that is not just the law. When you talk about the law you talk about the entire gamut of laws in the Philippines and somehow you need to blend all these laws together for you to come up with a harmonious interpretation of the all these conflicting provisions and the only harmonious that I could think of at that point in time is that while the law requires a public officer to report all his assets there is this one exception in the law. 

RESSA: Isn’t that more of a loophole rather than the normal interpretation of the law? We could see it from the arguments.

MANALO: If there is actually a loophole, what actually Dean Delos Angeles a lacuna in the law, then the remedy here is to amend and there is another remedy here, another is to instruct the public official to report your dollar.

RESSA: Given the decision now, does this change your perspective?

MANALO: Of course that is the decision of Senate Impeachment Court, whether the decision of the Senate Impeachment Court is part of jurisprudence. I think there is no clear cut ruling on that yet. As far as our laws are concerned it is only the final decision of the Supreme Court that forms part of the law of the land

RESSA: You also said you didn’t have the option to bring the decision to the Supreme Court? Is that correct?

MANALO: I think that is quite clear that whatever the decision of the Senate Impeachment Court would, it is not appealable.

RESSA: Could you give us an idea what happened inside the defense team afterwards? Because today, this morning, it was announced that you will not go to the Supreme Court. But there was a divided position. Can you give us an idea what that was like?

MANILA: Just to put it this way, the Constitution says that the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to determine if there was a grave abuse of discretion on the part of any of the branches in government and it is our position that that includes the Senate Impeachment Court so if the Senate Impeachment Court commits a grave abuse of discretion then there can be a review of  the action it took and remember when we say grave abuse of discretion that goes to the jurisdiction of the court and if there was a jurisdiction and error then everything that has happened there could be reversed and that is the constitutional provision and actually there is a  Supreme Court decision that inclined … stored that interpretation and that the case of Francisco versus the House of Representatives. But  of course after going into this process then the defense team put all the pro’s and con’s and present it to the Chief Justice and there was a discussion and from my understanding is that there would be not appeal.

MANALO: The chief would not appeal this and his message to us then was that the decision rendered last Tuesday will actually be a matter for history to decide whether it is wrong or right. You know sometimes, because of the euphoria, people think that what most of us are doing is right but as time goes by they realize the error… probably, probably, not as much people are as sympathetic as they were when the so-called EDSA 2 happened… and look how people judge it now. A lot of people, even our late President C. Aquino, apologized to former Pres. Joseph Estrada for her participation in EDSA dos.

RESSA: So, Atty. Manalo, you come out of this process believing even stronger – correct me if I’m wrong – believing even more in the case that you put forward?

MANALO: I truly believe that the Chief Justice is an innocent man and there is, really here as I’ve said, no evidence at all that the CJ accepted the bribe, stole money from the government coffers. There’s just no evidence about it. The only evidence that is on record is that he did not report his dollars. The only evidence on record is that he did not report his peso deposits under his name, but which are beneficially owned by other people – not necessarily distant third persons but actual family members and that is a common practice among Filipinos. 

RESSA: But again, the senators addressed this issue basically saying that if he did… that even if it was commingled funds, as long as it was under his name, it needed to be declared. Do you still believe that he did the right thing?

MANALO: Yes, was there a guideline from the civil service that properties held in trust should be recorded.

RESSA: But back to the spirit of the law…

MANALO: Because you have to understand that when it was explained, the ruling said that you have to report it as an asset, and then you report a corresponding liability that an accountant would easily understand that – but a non accountant?

RESSA: But he is, he worked for SGV.

MANALO: Doesn’t make him an accountant. Doesn’t make him an accountant. Of course you have to understand these things. To him he was relying on the law on trusts. The law on trusts says that if you are not the beneficial owner, then the property is not yours. That was his frame of mind. He may be wrong. I keep on saying – I keep on pounding on this – you know what, he may be wrong. But he has put forward enough evidence to at least say that he was in good faith.

RESSA: Let me throw some question to you from social media because a lot have come in, starting with, some interesting one – I hope you’ll take this – a personal one may girlfriend/asawa na ba si Atty. Manalo?

MANALO: Married with two kids.

RESSA: Married with 2 kids, gang. That was from (athilagapedro). From (atljsulit), when Corona walked out of the impeachment court, what was the immediate reaction of the defense?

MANALO: I don’t know about the defense. I know about Justice Cuevas because Justice Cuevas yelled at me.

RESSA: Yelled at you?

MANALO: He yelled at me. Sabi niya, “Dennis, pabalikin mo dito yan, habulin mo”… I’m not kidding! I saw him. You know, whenever Justice Cuevas turns his head from the podium, I always expect that he would be looking at me. (He said, “Dennis, run after him. Get him back here.”)And true enough, he said “Dennis, habulin mo, he has to come back.” So I rushed out. I actually got locked out of the Senate because people told me that he left na so I rushed to the car park of the senate and waited for his car to come out. And they allowed me to go out, but when they locked it, I couldn’t get in anymore. And then I was watching it on TV, and the son-in-law said that his dad had a hypoglycemic episode.

RESSA: Many people didn’t believe that…

DM: Initially, yeah, that was true. But I think the fact that he had to be confined in the ICU of medical city just confirmed that. And really, after going through that kind of testimony, and prior to that 5 months of media – intense media scrutiny and I’m being kind…

RESSA: Looking at me with a smile…

MANALO: Yeah, of course, yeah, you’re one of the toughest, I believe.

RESSA: Just after the facts…

MANALO: Yeah. Anyway. He had reasons to be ill. It was a tough situation for him.

RESSA: Question from @joowanawana, do you think everything would be different if Corona did not take the witness stand?

MANALO: Oh, I think we would not even get a single vote

RESSA: So he had to, that was the calculation of the defense.

MANALO: Yeah, I think everybody was telling us… you know, but just to bring this thing into the proper perspective. To put things into proper perspective, we were working on two fronts. The judicial side of the case and the political side of the case. There are a lot of legal decisions that were dictated by political considerations. Things that I would not have done as a lawyer. I was forced to agree to because the political pressure that we go this way.  

RESSA: But wasn’t it given in an impeachment trial that politics mainly took precedent over? Did you respect that?

MANALO: The fact that you let senators decide, then it becomes a political process. You know, interestingly, Senator Lapid said, “I’m a highschool graduate. I do not know anything about the law.’’ I’m going to decide on the fate of the Chief Justice. That is what the political process mean.  

RESSA: Was that factored in? Cause what we’ve seen on the 44 days, the defense took a very legal perspective until what is your explanation today? Was that factored in the defense strategy? 

MANALO: Oh yes, especially at the tail end. We made a lot of decisions there that have to be adjusted to the political climate. Looking back, I don’t know if I should have given as a lawyer 

RESSA: What do you mean?

MANALO: A lot of things. Like the Chief testify. Normally, I would want my client to back up. To shy away from the case. and let the other party prove your guilt.It would take a lot for me to actually let my client to take the witness stand. But you know, these things, we just have to adjust as we went along. 

RESSA: A question from @nathan_andrada, why didn’t the defense call witness to dispute the veracity of the AMLC report when they have the chance? 

MANALO: First of all, the AMLC report was not part of our evidence. It was the evidence of the prosecution.  

RESSA: But introduced as a part of the defense, the testimony of the Ombudsman 

MANALO: Yes, there is a lot of misunderstanding in so far as the presentation of a hostile witness is concerned. When you present a hostile witness, and the Court declares the witness to be hostile, the witness no longer becomes the witness of the party calling. It becomes the witness of the other side. 

MANALO: That is stated in the rule. As if the witness was called by the other party. That’s important, that’s why if you remember the process, we have to establish first the hostility, and after that you moved to declare the witness to be hostile. And after the declaration, it means hindi na namin witness iyon, witness na ng other side yon, and that was not really appreciated. They say, ‘’E kayo ang tumawag, you’re the one who presented, you’re bound by it,” That’s not exactly true. We’re not bound by the testimony of a hostile witness. 

RESSA: But was it introduced  as basis of the…

MANALO: It was introduced because of the presentation of the Ombudsman. But here’s my take there. Even if the evidence was presented by the Ombudsman, it doesn’t mean it should be admitted.

MANALO: Not every document you bring on court, let’s say you bring this piece of paper on court and you bring it, and say ‘’I want to present this’’  the Court wouldn’t say ‘’ Give it to me, I’ll accept it’’. The court would say “”First of all, you authenticate it” It means you prove first that you wrote that document. That you confirm that everything in it is a product of your work. That’s when the Court will admit it. Is there anyone said that the AMLC report came from Aquino?  

RESSA: But was it actually admitted as evidence?

MANALO: It was admitted as evidence. Again, people may say that, you know, this would be the rigid requirements of the rules of evidence, this is a political process, but I always maintain that th only thing that is political in this process is the decision. The entire process of ferrying out the truth is judicial. 

RESSA: Did you volunteer? Or accept to defend the CJ knowing that he has undeclared peso and dollar deposits?

MANALO: Yeah, I volunteered. 

RESSA: Do you still believe in his innocence?

MANALO: Actually what happened here is that. when the complaint was transferred to the Senate, I was one of those lawyers who are invited to a meeting with the Chief Justice,  so that we can look at the complaint. And when I saw the complaint, I immediately saw how weak it was. You know, you couldn’t just oust the Chief Justice with a complaint like this. So I said, I’ll take it on,  and I asked permission to my law firm and they said, Alright, go ahead. 

RESSA: Even the prosecution admits that the complaint was….

MANALO: Really. If this were a real case, that complaint would have been dismissed.  As early as January. That complaint would not have moved forward.

RESSA: But again, let’s look at the spirit of it. In the end, what came out that Corona has 10 million dollars – 2.4 million dollars, and 80 million pesos..

MANALO: Yes, and roughly about 80 million pesos

RESSA: What did you make of lacson saying that he had more than what he declared in his testimony? 

MANALO: Again to me, that is an unfair conclusion because it was not borne from the evidence. If he derives it from the AMLC report, the source of that conclusion, the premise from which the conclusion arrived at,  will be faulty.

RESSA: What will happen next? What does this mean for the justice system? Implications of the last 44 days and the decision to oust Corona?

MANALO: Well you know, let’s wait and see. It’s hard to tell. People are saying that it would affect the checks and balance, but laws are only as good as the people who run it. Let’s wait for the one will be put as the next Chief Justice. I think our laws will survive but I don’t think we are able to put people who would work things for us. I think that’s the key. 

RESSA: Do you think it could lead to better transparency?

MANALO: You know, like any great moment in our history, it always has the potential to lead us to greener pasture, to a better life. But whether we actually sees that opportunity or not, it’s quite discomforting that we are, you know, we let it pass.You know, the only successful change that is so apparent for me, from the time of 1986 revolution up to now, is the freedom of the press.  That to me has really grown leaps and bounds. I remember before when people would be afraid to talk freely on media. Back in ‘86, prior to ‘86, but now, it’s free to all. And in fact, sometimes I think there has to be some regulation. But as a whole, I really think it’s a good for our society. But on the other aspects, graft and corruption, sense of community, these things, I think we’re still not yet there. And now, public accountability, and transparency, is the issue that is before us. Let’s see if the people who are saying that they accept the challenge posed by the Corona trial standard of public transparency, that they’re willing to take the challenge. You know, willingness is one thing, doing it is another.  

RESSA: Last question, there is a possibility that the Ombudsman can file criminal charges against Corona. Would you stay in the defense team? Would this defense team stay intact?

MANALO: There is no instruction yet for us on how we will proceed as a team. My understanding is that this impeachment team is made for the impeachment process. And I don’t know, I can’t speak for the others. As for myself, I’m back at work and my clients are happy that I’m starting to read their cases again. I really can’t tell right now how things will unfold for all of post-conviction. 

RESSA: Thank you. Atty. Dennis Manalo, thank you so much for speaking with us and taking the questions from social media. 


MANALO: My pleasure.

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