[Editor’s Note: This is the full text of the opening statement delivered by lawyer Eduardo delos Angeles in behalf of the defense panel during the first session of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona on January 16, 2012.]
Your Honors, My Countrymen:
During the past few days, Prosecutors happily displayed pictures of the Bellagio and a list of some 45 properties, supposedly owned by the Chief Justice, to create the impression that he accumulated ill-gotten wealth. In fact, the Chief Justice owns only five (5) real properties.
Yet, the Complaint, which contains eight (8) grounds for impeachment, does not accuse the Chief Justice of acquiring ill-gotten wealth.
He is accused of graft and corruption only for refusing to account for the Judiciary Development Fund or JDF. Even with regard to his statements of assets, liabilities and networth or SALN, the issue is whether or not the alleged failure to disclose violates the principle of accountability.
The pictures of the Bellagio and the bloated list of titles are, therefore, irrelevant to this trial.
This impeachment finds its roots in President Aquino’s fight against corruption and his perception that the Supreme Court is a hindrance to his quest. He believes that the Supreme Court protects former President Gloria Arroyo. On the other hand, the defense believes that President Aquino is antagonistic to the Court because of its ruling in the Hacienda Luisita case.
The nobility of President Aquino’s fight against corruption cannot be questioned. It is respectfully submitted, however, that in his fight, the President and the Executive Department are duty-bound to scrupulously observe an abiding respect for the Constitutional rights of every one of us.
The eight (8) Articles of Impeachment can actually be classified into two (2) categories. First, those that involve decisions of the Supreme Court (Articles I, III, IV, V, VI, VII). And, second, those that pertain to the non-disclosure of the SAL-N of the Chief Justice, and his alleged refusal to account for the JDF. (Articles II and VIII).
Let me first address the latter. Complainants accuse the Chief Justice of allegedly refusing to account for the JDF. The documentary evidence will prove the contrary. And, with respect to his SALN, the defense will establish that in accordance with law, the Chief Justice annually files his SALN with the Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court, who has legal custody of such documents.
We shall show that the Clerk of Court is restricted from disclosing the SALNs by resolutions first issued during the term of Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan way back in 1989. In light of current developments, the Chief Justice has already caused these resolutions to be included in the agenda of the Supreme Court for re-evaluation.
With respect to the decisions, the complainants made a tally of selected cases to show that the Supreme Court was biased. This is not so. First, it is not fair to handpick decisions that supposedly favor the Arroyo Administration; all the decisions of the Supreme Court must be considered.
Second, there are several decisions against the former President and her administration. For example, in Islamic Da’wah Council of the Philippines v. Office of the Executive Secretary, the Chief Justice himself penned the decision declaring former President Arroyo’s Executive Order No. 46 null and void. Third, in any decision, the Supreme Court always bases its judgment on sound legal grounds.
Take the case of the Truth Commission. The defense will establish that the Supreme Court was not biased towards the Arroyo Administration. Aming ipapakita na tama ang desisyon dito. Nilabag ng Executive Order No. 1 ang Equal Protection Clause dahil ang pag-imbestiga kay Ginang Arroyo ang tanging layunin ng Truth Commission. Moreover, the Supreme Court even suggested a cure for the defect by not limiting the probe to the Arroyo Administration. But the Executive Department stubbornly refused to adopt such a simple amendment.
The defense will also explain that when the Supreme Court issued a TRO enjoining Secretary Leila de Lima from enforcing her Watchlist Order, the Supreme Court acted in accordance with the Constitution and jurisprudence.
Hukuman po lamang ang maaaring magbigay ng Hold Order kapag mayroon nang na-isampang criminal case. Ngunit, noong panahong iyon, wala pang na-isasampang criminal case si Secretary de Lima laban kay Ginang Arroyo kahit, bago pa dito, matagal nang naghain ng reklamo ang Akbayan for Plunder. Bakit naman po natin sisnisisi si Chief Justice? Di po ba’t malinaw na ang Executive Department ang may pagkukulang sa kaso ni Ginang Arroyo?
I remember a Secretary of Justice who aimed to rid our country of corruption. His name is Jose W. Diokno. He secured several search warrants and raided the offices and homes of Harry Stonehill, a rich American businessman who was alleged to have bribed government officials.
To set an example, Secretary Diokno sought to prosecute Mr. Stonehill. Using the search warrants, the raiding teams seized truck-loads of incriminating documents, including a “blue book” containing the names of the bribed government officials. Yet, after three (3) days, the Supreme Court issued a TRO preventing Secretary Diokno from using all the seized documents.
Tulad ng marami, nagtaka ako: paano ito nangyari? After I read the decision penned by Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion, I understood. The decision explained that the search warrants were void and the seized documents inadmissible in evidence because the warrants did not specify the things to be seized, as required by the Constitution.
The Stonehill case is strikingly similar to the crusade of President Aquino. In both, there are crusading officials who want to eliminate corruption. In both, the public overwhelmingly support these officials. In both, the officials unfortunately transgressed the Constitution. And, in both, the Supreme Court stepped in and issued adverse and unpopular decisions because its task is to always uphold the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The House also complains that the Chief Justice betrayed the public trust when the Supreme Court decided on the cityhood of sixteen (16) municipalities, the creation of a new district in Camarines Sur, and the conversion of the Dinagat Island into a province. Aba, nakakalimutan na yata nila na sila ang nag-likha nitong mga batas na ito.
Now that the Supreme Court has upheld what they did, sila pa ang nagagalit at nagmamadaling mag-sampa ng impeachment case laban kay Chief Justice. Ano bang kalokohan ‘yan?
At eto pa po. Sabi nila this impeachment is not against the Supreme Court, but aimed to make the Chief Justice accountable for his personal actions. All decisions are, however, rendered by the Supreme Court, never by the Chief Justice alone. Isa lamang ang boto ng Chief Justice at hindi niya kontrolado ang ibang mga mahistrado.
Each Justice votes according to his oown opinion. Taliwas sa sinasabi nila Congressman Tupas, wala pong voting bloc dito.
Your Honors, in performing its responsibility under the Constitution, the Supreme Court, as a co-equal branch of government, is now being assaulted and criticized.
It is our humble submission that in upholding the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice cannot be considered as obstacles to clean government, or to the President’s vision to realize his “daang matuwid”.
In upholding the Constitution and in safeguarding individual rights, the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice cannot be considered the enemies of the people. Precisely, they protect individual rights and, therefore, do not betray the public trust.
Today, the House of Representatives and the Executive Department have joined all their might, power and resources to impeach the Chief Justice.
This impeachment sends a chilling threat to the Supreme Court, to withhold the exercise of its judicial power and just let the President have his way. Unfortunately, his obsessive pursuit of his goal has, at times, resulted in the infringement of the law. It has also brought the branches of government inntto collision, and now it divides the nation.
During this crucial moment in history, we fervently pray that you, our Honorable Senators, will listen, consider the evidence and, as your solemn oath declares, do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws of the Philippines.
May God bless us all.