Bare assets, justices told
Widely regarded as the “gods of Padre Faura,” the justices of the Supreme Court of the land are now ready to answer the people’s call for transparency in the judiciary and other governmental offices.
A day after Renato Corona was unseated as Chief Justice by the Senate impeachment court, the Supreme Court on Wednesday directed all justices and judges to make public their statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) for 2011.
The tribunal’s decision was an apparent answer to the public’s clamor after Corona was found guilty of violating the Constitution by failing to disclose $2.4 million in foreign-currency bank deposits and more than P80 million in local-currency accounts.
Asked if the Supreme Court considered the Senate ruling immediately executory, acting Supreme Court spokesperson Ma. Gleoresty Guerra said: “We have an acting Chief Justice. So you can draw the necessary implications from that.”
It may take some time before a new Chief Justice of the Philippines is appointed.
Reading a statement over government radio and television last night, President Benigno Aquino III said he would not rush the appointment of a new Chief Justice to avoid the same mistake that happened on the watch of Corona.
“We will not rush the appointment, because we don’t want to get it wrong and return to the old situation,” Mr. Aquino said.
But even with Corona out, the fight continues against those who “threaten to remove the blindfold of justice,” Mr. Aquino said.
The President made it clear that the fight he waged against Corona was not personal, as it was Corona’s own decisions that led to his impeachment, trial and conviction.
“It was he who chose not to truthfully declare his SALN,” Mr. Aquino said. “It was he who used his family to conceal his wealth. He was the one who dragged his loved ones to cover up his own sins.”
Mr. Aquino said Corona’s conviction showed that “it was possible to achieve change.”
“Posible palang magkaroon ng justice, at hindi just-tiis ang litanya ng ating bansa,” Mr. Aquino said.
The verdict also proved that “truth prevails against those trying to hide things; honesty prevails against anomaly, and right prevails over wrong,” the President said.
“But more importantly, it also proved that I am not alone in taking on the desire of fixing our system,” Mr. Aquino said.
The Supreme Court’s Office of the Clerk of Court officially received a copy of the Senate impeachment court’s decision at around 9 a.m. Wednesday.
According to the records of the court’s security division, a certain Jessie Tabandong of the Office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms brought a copy of the decision.
Guerra said the high court issued the order after a special full-court session held on orders of acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio.
“The en banc approved in principle the release of the 2011 SALN of all judges and justices of the judiciary,” Guerra said in a hastily called news briefing.
“The guidelines for the public release of the (SALN) will be taken up in the June 13, 2012, en banc session,” she added.
Save for Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta, Guerra said all the 12 magistrates were present during the hourlong meeting.
“It was the collective decision of the court to release the SALNs in full, not (just) summaries,” she said.
Asked what prompted the high tribunal to issue the order, Guerra said the reasons would be included in the “whereas clauses” of the order.
“Let’s not forget that what Chief Justice Corona did to issue a waiver was precedent-setting,” she said.
‘By operation of law’
Guerra said Carpio took over the helm of the Supreme Court “by operation of law” as stated in the Judiciary Act of 1946.
Rule 2 under Section 2 of the Internal Rules of the Supreme Court also said that “in the absence of the Chief Justice, the most senior Associate Justice present shall chair the session of the court.”
“He (Carpio) is now the acting Chief Justice,” Guerra said. “I think it was by operation of law because he is the most senior justice.”
Ironically, Carpio was considered Corona’s fiercest rival to succeed Chief Justice Reynato Puno, who retired on May 17, 2010.
Carpio and his cousin, retired Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, now the Ombudsman, declined the nomination to replace Puno in deference to the constitutional prohibition on midnight appointments.
From The Firm
A founding partner of the influential Villaraza, Cruz, Marcelo & Angangco Law Office, also known as “The Firm,” Carpio was named by then President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as her first appointee to the Supreme Court on Oct. 26, 2001.
Arroyo later appointed Corona to the Supreme Court on April 9, 2002.
Voided 1989 resolution
Guerra said the court’s order voided the separate resolutions it released in 1989 and 1992 which barred the disclosure of the SALN of justices and judges.
“This order will take precedence (over the previous resolution). In principle, it was overruled,” she said.
The order would cover the remaining justices of the Supreme Court, the 69 justices of the Court of Appeals, the 15 justices of the Sandiganbayan and the nine-member Court of Tax Appeals.
It would also include close to 1,700 judges of first- and second-level judicial courts.
In a previous interview, former Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said the tribunal barred the disclosure of SALN of justices and judges in its Sept. 22, 1992, ruling.
“Since (1992), the SALN of lower court judges and justices of the appellate court and the Supreme Court had not been published,” Marquez said.
He said Corona’s decision not to disclose his SALN was just “pursuant” to the resolution approved by the tribunal then headed by Chief Justice Andres Narvasa.
“After Narvasa, all the Chief Justices who came after him also did not publish their SALNs. Corona was just complying with that policy,” he said.
In its 1992 resolution, the court restricted the release of the SALNs of justices and judges purportedly to shield them from acts which may “endanger, diminish or destroy their independence and objectivity in the performance of their judicial functions.”
President Aquino had challenged Corona to make public his real net worth after Corona explained that he had been religiously filing his SALN as instructed by the Narvasa court.
The issue about Corona’s SALN was included in the articles of impeachment that the House of Representatives submitted to the Senate.
Denying claims that they had been remiss in filing their SALN, Marquez said Corona and other justices had been submitting documents concerning their assets and liabilities to the Office of the Clerk of Court annually.
Citing the tribunal’s 1992 resolution, he said individuals requesting a copy of a judge’s SALN must secure a court order first.
The resolution, titled A.M. No. 92-9-851-RTC, was actually just a reiteration of a similar ruling which the high court issued on May 2, 1989.
In the 1989 resolution, which the court made based on a petition filed by one Jose Alejandrino, the 15-member tribunal unanimously voted to deny the request for SALN “directly or indirectly traced to a litigant, lawyer or interested party in a case pending before the court.”
“The independence of the judiciary is constitutionally as important as the right to information which is subject to the limitations provided by law,” the tribunal said.
It said the court must deny requests for the release of SALN which were “not made in good faith and for a legitimate purpose, but to fish for information and … to influence a decision or to warn the court of the unpleasant consequences of an adverse judgment.” With a report from Christine O. Avendaño