MANILA, Philippines—Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Monday spelled out the gut issue as the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona heads for a Lenten break.
Santiago said prosecutors would win their case if they convinced senator-judges that Corona deliberately committed dishonesty and gross misconduct when he omitted several properties in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
But if Corona’s lawyers could show that he did not act in bad faith when he omitted specifically the dollar accounts being questioned in his SALN, the Chief Justice would be acquitted, she said.
“You now have your work cut out for you,” Santiago told the prosecution and defense panels on Day 31 of the trial.
“Prosecution, show the intent to commit dishonesty and you have won your case … Defense, show that your client has acted in good faith and declared in his SALN all deposits, both peso and dollar. If he did not, why not,” she said.
Santiago noted that in the Philippine Anti-Graft Commission v. Pleyto, the Supreme Court held that “failure to (properly disclose) is not dishonesty but only simple negligence.
The court had doubts that the SALN was inaccurate but went on to distinguish among gross misconduct, dishonesty and negligence.”
Santiago, a former Quezon City trial judge, said the high tribunal pointed out that reliable evidence indicating an accused intended to violate the law and showed persistent disregard of legal rules would prove gross misconduct.
“That is what you have to prove,” she told prosecutors.
Dishonesty, on the other hand, constitutes false statement of material fact while negligence is an “omission of diligence required by the nature of obligation,” Santiago explained.
“Gross misconduct and dishonesty are serious charges which warrant the removal of a public officer. This must be supported by substantial evidence. The prosecution has to show at least … that omission or misdeclaration was deliberately intended by the defendant,” she added.
The senator said another Supreme Court ruling on Office of the Ombudsman v. Racho found the accused guilty of dishonesty for nondisclosure of bank deposits in his SALN.
“A note of caution to the defense: Has your client disclosed all bank deposits (including) peso and dollars? If he did not, under this ruling, your client is guilty,” she said.
Santiago then cited a third case, Carabeo v. Court of Appeals, in which the accused, an acting treasurer of Parañaque City, was investigated for traveling out of the country 15 times and acquiring several properties.
“The defense said (Corona) can simply correct statements he made in his SALN. In the Supreme Court case, the defendant charged with violation of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and the Revised Penal Code failed to show the correction.
Sen. Joker Arroyo then asked: “Is a correctible offense an impeachable offense? Offhand, I am thinking, we don’t have precedents. We don’t have a law that allows corrections. I am raising this question for both sides to study.”