It all boils down to Article 2 of the impeachment complaint—failure of the Chief Justice to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
From the original eight articles of impeachment the 188 members of the House of Representatives transmitted to the Senate for trial last December 12, the question now before the 23 senator-judges is: Did Chief Justice Renato Corona comply honestly with the SALN law?
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer, has in the last stages of the trial that began on January 16 repeatedly distilled the issue in Article 2 to whether Corona had assets that he did not disclose in his SALN.
Corona said on Friday he had accumulated $2.4 million since the 1960s before he joined government service and did not declare this in his SALN because the law on foreign currency deposits guaranteed their absolute confidentiality.
He also revealed he had P80 million in commingled funds, including savings from his wife and children. The funds were commingled so they could earn higher interest. He said he was not a thief.
The other issues against Corona—Article 3 on Corona’s alleged failure to observe stringent standards of competence, integrity, probity and independence, and Article 7 on his purported partiality in granting a temporary restraining order to allow former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to seek medical treatment abroad—generated little interest among the senator-judges. They would nonetheless be rendered moot on conviction on Article 2.
The five other articles of impeachment in support of the charges of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust have earlier been scratched.
Corona remained at The Medical City in Pasig City Sunday, on the eve of the final oral arguments between his lawyers and the prosecution panel. The 63-year-old Chief Justice was rushed there after suffering a spell of dizziness during his three-hour appearance on Tuesday, but returned on Friday to complete his testimony.
A vote of 16 senators—likely to be announced on Tuesday—would convict Corona.
Rico Paolo Quicho, one of the defense panel’s spokespersons, said the Chief Justice joined the meeting of the defense panel on Saturday in his hospital room where he was “still recovering” from the hypoglycemic episode on Tuesday.
Corona was transferred to a regular room after three days in the intensive care unit, he said.
Quicho said there was “nothing extraordinary or unusual” during their noontime meeting which lasted for almost one and a half hours. “He was very calm. He was quiet while he was listening to what we were discussing. The Chief Justice was his usual self,” Quicho said.
‘Keep on praying’
Asked if Corona gave them any last-minute orders, he said: “None. Just to keep on praying.”
“He has complete trust in the defense team. As to the senator-judges, he has submitted himself to the process,” he added. He said the defense lawyers, headed by former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, were “in high spirits” when they met on Saturday to decide how they would approach their closing arguments.
“We are all ready. We’ve done our part and did everything possible. Whatever the outcome would be, we will hold our heads up high. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We waged an honorable fight,” Quicho said.
“The noninclusion of alleged properties in the SALN will be the focus of the oral arguments and threshold issue and if the evidence presented are enough for conviction,” he added.
“What did the prosecution establish? They said the Chief Justice had 45 properties, but he only owned five. They said he did not declare his dollar accounts, but that is covered by a law on the confidentiality of foreign bank accounts,” Cuevas said on Friday.
“The Chief Justice has surrendered to God’s will,” said Midas Marquez, Supreme Court spokesperson. “We continue to pray for his acquittal.”
All about evidence
“We have been saying always ‘res ipsa loquitor’ or ‘the thing speaks for itself.’… The pieces of evidence do speak for themselves,” Palace deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte told state radio dzRB when asked if the Aquino administration was confident of a Corona conviction.
“If you look at the pieces of evidence again, you go back to the basic charge. What was the basic charge? What were the admissions in the trial? That is something that you have to consider,” Valte said.
On Sunday, on the Feast of the Pentecost—the 50th day after Easter Sunday when the Holy Spirit descended to enlighten the apostles—some members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said that they prayed the senator-judges would decide the impeachment on the basis of evidence and their conscience and not on political considerations.
“This has been a very expensive court case and in a very poor country at that. God help us,” said Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, a former CBCP president.