Guilty verdict based on a case of dismissal 15 years ago

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02:36 AM May 31st, 2012

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SACKED COURT INTERPRETER Delsa Flores, now 63, interviewed inside her laundry shop in Panabo City, Davao del Norte, on Wednesday. Frinston Lim/Inquirer Mindanao

PANABO CITY, Davao del Norte—Seven senator-judges cited her dismissal in their decision to convict and remove Renato Corona as Chief Justice.

Delsa Flores, a former court interpreter here, who lost her job 15 years ago partly because she did not declare that she owned a market stall, is  elated that the ruling of the Senate impeachment court on Tuesday led to the dismissal of Corona.

“I was very happy that even a rich and powerful person like the former Chief Justice could still be punished for committing a wrongdoing. Not just the poor and common people like me,” Flores said Wednesday.

She said she was “proud of the 20 senator-judges who convicted Corona.”

“I lost my job for not declaring a business interest worth just several thousand pesos. It would be just as fair that he be removed from office for hiding millions of pesos worth of property,” Flores said.

By a vote of 20-3, the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, found Corona guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution for failing to declare in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) $2.4 million in bank deposits and P80 million in commingled funds.

Administrative complaint

The amount involved in the Flores case was small compared with that of Corona, but the question boiled down to the question of honesty.

Flores, who first worked as an assessor for the Panabo municipal treasurer’s office and later as court interpreter of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 4, was found to have violated the law when a stall owner filed an administrative complaint against her.

Narita Rabe accused Flores of taking “advantage of her position as a court employee by claiming a stall” at Panabo public market.

Flores denied illegally claiming ownership of the stall.

Double compensation

In an en banc decision, the Supreme Court required Flores to explain why she had failed to declare the market stall in her SALN.

She was also asked to explain why, although she was already working at the RTC from May 16 to June 17, 1991, she continued to receive her salary from the local government of Panabo up to June 3 of that year.

The salary in question was only P1,000.80, for May 16 to June 3, 1991, but the court had pointed out that it amounted to “dishonesty” while holding a public trust, hence, punishable by dismissal from service.

Flores, who, like Corona, is 63 years old, admitted her  wrongdoing.

“It was really my fault that I did not disclose my ownership of a stall at Panabo public market. I regretted it,” she said.

She said the circumstances behind her dismissal from service were somehow comparable to but not really the same as Corona’s “offenses.”

“I was found guilty of being dishonest for having received double compensation from the municipal assessor’s office and at the same time from the RTC. My nondeclaration in my SALN of our stall at the market further aggravated it.”

No permanent job

Flores said life was very difficult for her family following her conviction and subsequent sacking as court interpreter in 1997. For 15 years, she had no permanent job. Although her children are now all professionals, she has a heavy responsibility as a widow.

Flores lost her husband several years after her dismissal from government service and is now taking care of her ailing 88-year old mother.

Laundry shop

She now manages a laundry shop next to her house in downtown Panabo.

Flores refused to talk about the market stall that led to her dismissal saying “it was sold a long time ago.”

Flores followed the more than 40 days of the impeachment proceedings on television. She said she listened intently to the arguments, and even listed the points and questions raised by the senator-judges.

“I was even expecting an acquittal as what I understood with the flow of reasoning from a number of senator-judges,” Flores said of the verdict. “Thankfully, Corona was convicted.”

As to her case, the former court interpreter maintained she did not intend to defraud the government.

Asked what lessons one could draw from her case and Corona’s, Flores said: “If one wishes to work in government, he or she should be honest at all times.”

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