The judgment of the Senate against Chief Justice Renato Corona came with a vote of an overwhelming majority of senators – 20 to 3.
Five months after he was impeached by the House of Representatives, Corona was found guilty of committing culpable violation of the Constitution and betraying the public trust.
With this, Corona is considered immediately removed from his post as the highest magistrate in the land and banned from occupying any other government post.
The decision, arrived yesterday at after 43 days of trial, took Corona to task for his failure to include some $2.4 million in bank deposits — on top of a commingled amount worth P80.7 million — in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs) from 2002 to 2010.
Only three voted to acquit Corona , senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Ferdinan “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
One by one, each senator took the podium to explain their vote, which lasted four hours.
“The Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, having tried Renato C. Corona, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, upon three articles of impeachment charged against him by the House of Representatives, by a guilty vote of 20 senators representing at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate, has found him guilty of the charge under Article 2 of the said Articles of Impeachment,” Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile announced after explaining his own vote to convict about 6 p.m.
“Now, therefore, be it adjudged that Renato C. Corona is hereby convicted of the charge against him in Article 2,” he said continued, before banging to gavel to signal the end of the impeachment trial.
The penalty is “immediately effective”.
Under the 1987 Constitution, judgment in impeachment cases “shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualification to hold any office,” but the party convicted “shall nevertheless be liable and subject to prosecution, trial and punishment, according to law.”
President Aquino has 90 days to find Corona’s replacement. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte told reporters the short list of nominees for the top Supreme Court post would come from the Judicial and Bar Council.
President Aquino is expected to give a statement on the verdict today.
The conviction puts an abrupt end to Corona’s stint as the Chief Justice, which began in May 2010 with his disputed appointment by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Corona, 63, remained confined in the the Medical City hospital, where doctors said he was “stable” but under close watch because of his diabetic condition and possible risk of a heart attack.
House prosecutors got the crucial 16th vote to remove Corona when Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. took the floor and rendered a guilty verdict.
Four more senators—Vicente Sotto III, Antonio Trillanes IV, Manuel Villar, and Enrile—followed suit, bringing to 20 the number of senator-judges who found the Chief Justice guilty.
As presiding officer, Enrile cast the final vote with Corona’s fate already sealed. He gave an overview of the entire trial, its twists and turns and legal and “moral dilemmas” that needed to be resolved.
“I have constantly held that those who face the judgment of imperfect and fallible mortals like us have recourse to the judgment of history, and, ultimately, of God,” he said. (See excerpt of Enrile’s speech in Opinion pag 16.)
Most of the senators did not buy Corona’s position that he was precluded from declaring his dollar deposits—purportedly his family savings of nearly four decades—in his SALNs because of the “absolute” confidentiality provision of the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (RA 6426).
Enrile, in particular, rejected Corona’s reason that he did not declare some P80.7 million worth of deposits in three peso accounts because they were “co-mingled” with his family’s savings, including money from the Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI).
Enrile described as “grossly misplaced” the Chief Justice’s “reliance on the absolute confidentiality” provided under RA 6426. He cited the constitutional provision requiring all government employees to submit SALNs.
“Are we now to say that this Constitutional command is limited to a public official’s assets or deposits in local currency? If so, would we not be saying, in effect, that the Constitution allows something less than a full, honest and complete disclosure?” he asked.
Enrile said Corona could have converted his dollar deposits into peso and reflected them in his SALNs.
Since Corona was already found guilty of the second article of impeachment, the court no longer voted on the two other charges—Article 3 on the alleged flip-flopping Supreme Court decisions, and Article 7 on the Supreme Court temporary restraining order that allowed Arroyo to seek medical treatment abroad.
A recurring issue throughout the trial was the matter of “hypocrisy.”
Enrile acknowledged the question as to why Corona should be punished for an error—the failure to make full disclosure of assets in SALNs—when others in government were most likely doing it as well.
“I believe it is our duty to resolve this ‘dilemma’ in favor of upholding the law and sound public policy,” said Enrile, one of the richest members of the upper chamber.
“If we were to agree with the Respondent that he was correct in not disclosing the value of his foreign currency deposits because they are absolutely confidential, can we ever expect any SALN to be filed by public officials from here on to be more accurate and true than they are today?”
Although he voted for Corona’s conviction, Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano commended the Chief Justice for submitting a waiver allowing the government to scrutinize all his assets, not just the bank accounts.
Saying the Corona waiver “has set a new standard” among public officials, Cayetano said the President should “instruct his Cabinet to (do the same) or resign and leave government.”INQUIRER