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Sowing the wind

/ 06:25 AM May 12, 2012

Oppression can only survive through silence.” Who’d gag the Ombudsman from testifying before the impeachment court on sealed dollar accounts of Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona?

“I will obey the Senate,” said Ombudsman Conchita Carprio-Morales, subpoenaed to appear Monday. She’d respond to questions by 23 senator judges. That includes her order to Corona: Explain within 72 hours, charges of stashing $10-million.

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No, interjected Supreme Court spokesman Midas Marquez. Senator judges and citizens may have to cool their heels. Suppose someone “questioned Morales’ order before the SC on the ground of grave abuse of discretion?” Midas asked. The High Court may rule on legality of the Ombudsman’s order.

Is Midas speculating? Or is he soliciting?

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It is not illegal for citizens to hallucinate. But should a tribunal spokesman hyperventilate publicly on petitions in some murky future? Or is this “hope fathering thought”?

Midas assumes the Court would stitch the Ombudsman’s lips shut, if and when, such a petition is filed. Crystal bowling is not included in his “Terms of Reference.” Or does he know something we’re not privy to?

Spokespersons are not hawkers who peddle wares in red-light districts. They’re supposed to work by a fine-tuned sense of delicadeza. That’d rule out trolling for petitioners.

World Bank rapped Midas’ knuckles for shoddy oversight of the US$21.9 million Judicial Reform Support Project. Midas announced the court granted Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo permission to scram. He didn’t clarify adequately conditions on bail and counsel. These sparked a standoff between the Justice Department and court—at Manila International Airport’s departure lounge . . .

Does Midas clamber on the first available limb to defend the embattled chief justice? Ask Harry Roque of UP Law Center. He skewered Midas “blatantly blurring” his role as court spokesman with that of Corona apologist.

Will the impeachment court roll over and play dead if the high tribunal decides, as Midas hopes, to stifle Ombudsman Carpio-Morales come Monday?

“We’re happy to note you are now cooperating,” an often-testy Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told Corona’s lawyers before he issued subpoenas for the Ombudsman, Rep. Walden Bello and NGO officials. “We may ask (Corona) to tell the bank to release his foreign currency bank accounts . . .”

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Over 36 grueling trial days, Corona has been nagged to voluntarily disclose his foreign exchange accounts. Later, later, he’d dismiss such requests. Is “later” here— finally?

Before Enrile signed the subpoenas, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel lofted another significant signal—in the direction of the Supreme Court. “Koko” yanked back his earlier support for a Senate decision to comply with a Feb. 9 Supreme Court “temporary restraining order” to bolt Corona’s dollar accounts. By a vote of 8-5, the High Court stopped PSBank from disclosing foreign exchange accounts.”

“It’s not a crime to have a dollar account,” the defense bristled. “Of course, not,” replied Sen. Serge Osmeña, chairman of the Senate committee on banks. The question is where did the dollars, if any, come from?

We hoped that “Senate statesmanship would be reciprocated by judicial wisdom,” Pimentel said. Almost three months have lapsed. Yet the Court has not acted one way or the other. Will it rule after Senate adjourns on June 7? His hopes were now dashed. “I vote to enforce our order for PSBank and others to divulge . . . all foreign accounts of the chief justice,” Pimentel declared. His shift whittles down the original 13-10 vote to a razor-thin 12-11.

The Court seems in no hurry to rule. Is “temporary” six months? No? One year, maybe two? Or is temporary perpetual? For Arroyo justices, “final” does not mean definitive, decisive, conclusive, unchangeable or unappealable,” noted Viewpoint (Aug. 31, 2010, PDI). It also means “changeable, inconclusive or revocable.”

The Court flip-flopped repeatedly on “final” decisions like the 14-year-old Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (Fasap). It cartwheeled four times, in three years, on 16 towns elbowing to become cities. It upheld gerrymandering of Camarines Sur to accommodate Rep. Diosdado “Dato” Arroyo. The court agreed to Eduardo Cojuangco pocketing P16.2 million San Miguel Corp. shares, by dipping into coco levies wrung by martial law bayonets.

Will the Corona dollar account TRO wither into “moot and academic” status? The Senate will end the trial May 30. Meanwhile, six out of 10 believe “Corona has hidden wealth based on the undeclared money and assets in his SALN,” Social Weather Station surveys found.

Ombudsman Carpio-Morales’ track record shows a jurist who does not suffer fools gladly. Recall her dissent from majority of justices who approved Corona’s midnight appointment as chief justice: It was jerry-rigged “on drafting trivialities that has the weight of helium.”

She acted on the pro-forma waiver that Corona, like other filers of SALNs, signed. It authorized the Ombudsman to look into all his financial records in connection with SALN. Now, the impeachment court asked a constitutionally independent Ombudsman to share its findings.

Caprio-Morales won’t be silenced. She’ll display the “burnished steel” of previous decisions. That’s our take. Whoever tries to gag this Ombudsman will sow the wind—and reap the whirlwind.

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