The Nation On Trial

By Fransico S. Tatad
Opinion, Manila Standard Today

Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona came to the Senate impeachment court yesterday to speak in his own defense, but he unexpectedly turned the tables on Malacañang and his accusers by asking them what evil he has done to deserve not only the present trial but also the sustained vilification against him and his family the past five months.

The senator-judges listened in reverential silence as the chief justice gave his statement to the court.  The crowd, which had melted away after the first few days of the trial, had returned, filling the gallery to the rafters.  All eyes were on the chief justice.  As far as they could see, Corona was the only one who stood accused. But after listening to him, it became clear he had shifted the burden on the Aquino government.
Corona gave three reasons for Malacañang’s determined campaign to convict and destroy him.   He said President Benigno Aquino III could not forgive him for the Supreme Court decision awarding Hacienda Luisita to the farmers whose ancestors had owned it from the very beginning.  Second, the President wanted to gain full control of the three branches of government.  Third, Mr. Aquino appears to have fallen captive to the communist Left, whose designs on the government could only be facilitated if the Judiciary were destroyed.

Corona’s appearance brought the trial to its highest, or next highest point. But it was not yet “the moment of truth,” contrary to what one banner headline said.  The moment of truth is when the bullfighter and the bull face each other inside the bullring for the kill.  That will come when the senator judges finally decide: Guilty, or Not Guilty, or—in the words of Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter at the Clinton trial—“Not Proven.”  However, it may have turned the tide of public opinion, and that of the court.

Until yesterday, Corona seemed to be facing a terribly uphill fight.  That was partly because matters that had nothing to do with the Articles of Impeachment had been permitted to enter the domain of the court.  Malacañang has exerted no effort to make its intervention in the case discreet; the big stories attacking Corona were coming not necessarily from the prosecution but many times from Malacañang spokesmen, and from the President himself.  Corona could not even get legal relief from the Supreme Court.

After Corona was impeached by 188 congressmen who signed the impeachment complaint at Malacañang’s bidding without reading the eight Articles of Impeachment, five petitions were filed with the Supreme Court seeking to restrain the Senate from hearing the complaint for lack of jurisdiction.  This became six when Corona’s lawyers added their own petition.
But led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile,  the Senate said it was not answerable to the Supreme Court for its decisions, and warned the High Court against intervening. And the court apparently took the Senate’s word for it.

But hardly any trial day passed without the senator-judges lecturing the prosecution.  After 26  trial days, the prosecution rested its case after dropping five of the eight articles.  Of the remaining three, Article II appeared to be the strongest; it alleged Corona’s failure to disclose all his assets in his Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.  But the court could not say if violation of the SALN law  was an impeachable crime.   Article II also  failed to allege “ill-gotten wealth” or graft and corruption, so the  court enjoined the panel not to try to raise that charge or to dig into Corona’s alleged dollar bank accounts, whose secrecy is  absolute.

Still, on February 17, some party-list and civil society politicians asked the Ombudsman to investigate Corona for his alleged failure to include certain bank deposits in his SALN.  The Ombudsman readily obliged, even though the same charge was already being heard at the trial. Then on April 20, while the trial was on recess, the Ombudsman ordered Corona to explain “within 72 hours” alleged bank accounts in his name and dollar deposits purportedly amounting to $10 million.

Corona challenged his accusers and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to substantiate their accusations. Thereafter  he would take the stand himself, he said.  Thus, on May 7,  Morales astounded the trial with a Powerpoint presentation of Corona’s alleged dollar banking transactions from 82 accounts, admittedly obtained illegally from the Anti-Money Laundering Council, without a court order, as required by law, and without  verifying the information herself.

Yesterday was Corona’s turn to make his own Powerpoint presentation and to expose Morales’ presentation as deceptive and false.

Having heard both sides,  the senator-judges must now decide whether the charges against Corona are impeachable, and have been proven, and whether he is  to be judged on the basis of those charges, or on the basis of something else. Should he be acquitted because he has done no manifest harm to the nation, or should he be convicted because he has offended and continues to offend the President?

It is said that the mind is like a parachute, it only functions when it is open. But being open-minded still doesn't always guarantee fairness in how one sees things because the mind is also like a camera. And like a camera, the mind's appreciation is always limited only to what perspective it chooses to focus on. And just as buttons and controls on the camera are used to adjust the photo to desired result, similarly, personal biases tend to affect how things are appreciated to suit preference -- be it for or against the object or subject.