Enrile: What does ‘culpa’ mean?By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile had the last word in the closing arguments Monday, but he left the question hanging on whether Chief Justice Renato Corona willfully and intentionally fudged his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) and should be convicted.
Before adjourning Monday, Enrile bombarded the defense lawyers with a series of questions over their contention the alleged nondeclaration and misdeclaration of certain assets and bank deposits in the Chief Justice’s SALNs did not amount to an impeachable offense.
“What injury or prejudice may arise if a depositor, who is a public officer or employee, of a foreign currency deposit would include that deposit or the amount represented by that deposit in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth?” Enrile asked.
The lead defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas, replied that he was “not very sure … insofar as damage is concerned.”
Upon a clarification by Enrile, Cuevas said: “The probability of kidnapping, extortion and so on may come into the picture because, especially with the present trend of criminality in the country today, there is no assurance that one is immune from any of these offenses. That may be one.”
Enrile then asked whether this scenario had been contemplated by the framers of Republic Act No. 6426 (Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines), as well as the presidential decrees preceding it.
“The declaration of policy is entirely different from the disastrous consequences or unwarranted circumstances that may occur thereafter,” Cuevas insisted.
Enrile then asked, “Will a public officer or a public employee who maintains a foreign currency deposit incur the punitive penalty of RA 6426 if he would reflect that deposit in his SALN?”
Cuevas said, “I don’t see that probability, but it could amount to a (forced) consent, as distinguished from a voluntary provision on the part of the depositor.”
No secrecy law
Enrile explained: “We are forgetting that the law allows the exposure of a foreign currency deposit by expressed provision of RA 6426 if the depositor himself would give (the consent). There’s no monetary secrecy law in this country that prohibits or inhibits or proscribes the depositor from revealing his own deposits. What is prohibited is for a third party to reveal it, and that’s why they are penalized, but the depositor is not.”
Enrile also pointed Cuevas to Section 17, Article 11 of the Constitution, which says: “A public officer or employee shall upon assumption of office, and as often thereafter as may be provided by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities and net worth.”
“Do you consider that sentence as mandatory that requires to be obeyed by a public officer or public employee?” asked Enrile. “Do you consider that a command of the people, or is it something that can be disregarded?”
Cuevas said the Constitution could not be disregarded by public officials.
But, he added: “When there are gripes that arise from a different law, I don’t see any reason as to why it cannot be availed of, in this particular instant, the depositor. Why the law has granted that is beyond my comprehension. It’s a legislative function … I’m not privileged neither can define or fathom the reason behind it.”
Cuevas, a former Supreme Court associate justice, was citing the confidentiality invoked by the Chief Justice in refusing to declare in his SALNs the $2.4 million in dollar deposits.
Enrile then asked if disobedience of “a sovereign command” in the Constitution would constitute a culpable violation of the Constitution, which is an impeachable offense.
“I would not be in a position to make a statement to that unless the actual facts surrounding the circumstances are known to me,” said Cuevas, who said that this “would be a matter of conjecture or surmise on my part.”
Enrile then asked Cuevas about the difference in the Roman Law doctrine of “culpa” and “dolos” from where the constitutional intent of “culpable” was derived.
According to Cuevas, “dolos is intentional,” while “culpa is negligence.” Enrile disagreed, saying that “culpa is deserving of blame.”
When Cuevas claimed that “intention” was needed to ascertain whether disobedience to the provision of Section 17 of the Constitution deserved blame, Enrile pointed out that the provision did not call for any intent.
“Where in that provision will you find intent?” Enrile asked.
Representative Rodolfo Fariñas, speaking for the prosecution, said that according to the records of the 1987 Constitutional Commission, “culpable violation of Constitution is understood to mean willful and intentional violation of the Constitution and not violation committed unintentionally, or involuntarily, or in good faith, or through an honest mistake of judgment.
“And it implies deliberate intent, perhaps even a degree of perversity for it is not easy to imagine that individuals in the category of these officials would go so far as to defy knowingly what the Constitution commands.”
Defense lawyer Eduardo de los Angeles earlier insisted that Corona’s failure to disclose his $2.4 million in bank accounts did not amount to an “impeachable breach of trust.”
He said that at best, this omission would only amount to “a fine not exceeding P5,000, or imprisonment not exceeding five years, or both.”