Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fidelity to the Law

Renato Corona and his supporters and defenders flaunt the rule of law and fidelity to the Constitution as their rallying cry. They accuse the government of doing a demolition job on the Supreme Court and the entire judicial system when it impeached the Chief Justice primarily because of betrayal of public trust. They cry harassment over the exposition of the Corona family’s vast financial holdings, including real properties and peso and dollar deposits. They would like us to believe that far from being guilty, Renato Corona is being unjustly vilified, wrongly accused and deprived of his right to due process. They insist that far from being a personal battle of Mr Corona, the impeachment is a direct affront to the independence of the Supreme Court and the viability of our judicial system.

As a non-lawyer, I am amazed at the extent of legal contortions that the Corona camp resorts to in their attempt to save the skin of their embattled Chief. I believe that our Constitution was not written for lawyers, just as the Bible was not written just for the priests. It was written for the people, so that they will know and understand that governmental power and authority emanate from them and that it exists because of and for them. Thus, in these times when many lawyers, foremost of them Serafin Cuevas and Renato Corona himself, are confusing us with their convoluted arguments, we need to go back to our Constitution as our bedrock of stability. What does our Constitution tell us in these confusing times?

Article II – Declaration of Principles and State Policies, Section 27. “The State shall maintain honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption.” Honesty and Integrity are not just moral issues subject to relativity. They are the very foundation of public service.

Article VIII – The Judicial Department, Section 7.3. “A Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.” For the Judiciary, the standards of public service are understandably higher. As the vanguards of justice and equality, much is expected from those who wield the power to determine what is right and what is wrong. Competence, integrity, probity and independence must not only be claimed, it must be proven.

Section 11 of the same Article states, “The Members of the Supreme Court and judges of lower courts shall hold office during good behaviour until they reach the age of seventy years or become incapacitated to discharge the duties of their office.” There is no distinction between a justice of the Supreme Court and a judge of the lower courts. The requirements for public service apply to all and do not end after the appointment – it must be maintained throughout his or her tenure. The actions of Corona, inciting court employees, law school graduates and the people in general with his claims of budding dictatorship, oppression of the judiciary and damaged democracy is anything but good behaviour as required by the Constitution itself.

Article XI – Accountability of Public Officials, Section 1. “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.” Public trust. Must, at all times. To the people. Modest lives - these are admonitions that are plain and simple as they are important and compelling. Corona had been caught weaving lies upon lies, declaring contradictions one after another while making us believe that he is the best thing that ever happened to our country.

Section 2 of the same Article further states, “The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.”

These first two sections of Article XI did not come one after the other by mere coincidence. They both deal with the essence of public service – public trust. It is interesting to note that all other grounds for impeachment had to be proven by hard evidence as they are also crimes for which the impeached official can also be charged in courts of law. However, betrayal of public trust is a class on its own as it is the violation of the very source of the power vested on the official – the trust bestowed by the sovereign will of the people.

Take for example the situation in all companies. When rank and file employees violate rules and regulations, they can be dismissed only after due process. However, high officials of the company such as executives and managers can be dismissed outright due to loss of confidence. The stockholders and owners will do what is required to save the company and will replace an erring official with someone more capable and trustworthy. What “loss of confidence” is to the corporate world, “betrayal of public trust” is to the government.

I wish I could say that Ranato Corona still doesn't get it, that this impeachment is not about the Supreme Court or the Judiciary as a whole; that it is all about him and no one else - not P-Noy, not the Senator/Judges, not the Congressmen/Prosecutors. But saying that assumes a tinge of innocence, and of naiveté on his part - which he does not have, being an accomplished lawyer as he claims.

Renato Corona had it all planned out - from the moment he accepted his midnight appointment, to his deft juggling of his peso and dollar accounts, to his legal maneuvers to gain control of BGEI, to the acquisition of various properties through his children. As he said many times, he is not stupid and he knows his law. This latest caper on a property that he said they do not own, but then were forced to admit that they bought at the same time another pricey property in McKinley Hills was bought to fore the intellectual and moral dishonesty of this man.

So what gives? It only means that all these were accomplished with a clear intent to circumvent the law, to take advantage of legal loopholes and to use the power and privileges of his office. Speaking to fresh law graduates of Philippine Law School, Corona said, "It would then be our duty as members of this noble profession to wield the law not as an instrument of deceit and oppression, but as a social apparatus for the common good.”

Those were great words of advice to young idealistic future lawyers. But can he honestly say the same to the Basa-Guidote family who found themselves deprived of their rightful inheritance? To the lower government officials convicted by the courts and penalized for similar or lesser offenses? To the millions of ordinary employees whose miniscule monthly salaries are automatically taxed while he enjoys tax-free perks and bonuses? To millions of poor Filipinos still struggling to find decent roofs over their heads while he and his family buy high-end properties one after the other both here and abroad with no clear source of funds for the acquisitions?

Renato Corona, by his actions past and present, by his willful and deliberate maneuverings of the law to suit his own benefit, by his futile attempt to hide the fruits of his poisoned connections with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and by his dubious mis-declaration to mislead the public about his financial interests, have irrevocably betrayed the public trust. Can Corona still stand proud before the Filipino people and declare that "Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must, at all times, be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives." as enshrined in our Constitution?

If he has any respect and concern left for the Judiciary and his country as he claims to have in abundance, the noblest thing to do is to step down and defend himself outside of the influence of his position. That may not be the easiest thing to do, but it is the only right thing to do.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Crown of Seven Sins

The defense is trying to justify Renato Corona's offenses and omissions by pointing accusing fingers to other government officials. In everyday life parlance, this is called "bakit ako lang, eh pati naman sila yun din ang ginagawa!" Mr Corona seems to have conveniently forgotten that the position he coveted and got in the dead of the night demands the highest standards of ethical conduct. The Chief Justice is the highest official of the Judiciary, our country's keeper of the law, dispenser of equal justice and vanguard of freedom.

His SALN is just but an external manifestation of the real issue here, which is his flawed character. It is a powerful symbol of that flaw because many other officials of lower stature have been charged and convicted for filing incomplete or erroneous SALN. If these lower officials were convicted and removed from office with their benefits and retirement pay forfeited, with some even going to jail, and then the Impeachment Court lets Corona off the hook for the same if not graver offense, it will only reinforce the long held suspicion that in this country there is a law for the rich and powerful and another for the poor and powerless.

More than the numbers in the SALN that are being debated by the protagonists of the Impeachment Court, the trial has brought to light the serious character flaws of the impeached Chief Justice. Consider:

1. Even if he claims to belong to a family of no ordinary means, and has the money to buy not just one but several high-end properties, he also openly acknowledged his gratitude to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for footing his hospital bills for an operation on his bad back when he was already in the Supreme Court. If you have the means and yet asks someone else or the government to pay for your expenses, that is called “panggugulang”. Not content with the perks of the SC and against all ethical considerations, he allowed his wife to accept a government appointment by then President GMA.

2. In the last few days of the GMA presidency, he accepted his nomination as Chief Justice. While the legality of the appointment may be subject to debate, the propriety and ethical aspects are certainly very plain and simple. We can blame outgoing CJ Puno for not doing anything to stop the farce, we can blame the JBC for side-stepping the issue, we can blame GMA for laying booby traps on her way out, we can blame his fellow Arroyo appointees in the Court for legitimizing his questionable appointment, but most certainly the buck stops at Corona's table as he alone has the power to right that wrong - by being a true statesman and saying NO to the midnight appointment.

3. Mr Corona has been using an embellished Curriculum Vitae that stated honors and recognition that he received from schools he attended. Until just recently before the SC website was updated, these spurious claims were all reflected in his profile. However, public documents from these schools show that while he may indeed have received honors and medals, these were of lower rank and significance than what he declared. If he had undervalued properties in his SALN, it now appears that he has over-valued his achievements in his CV. This clearly shows a pattern of dishonesty and deceit.

4. While he claims to be a gentle person who unabashedly cries at the sight of his supporters waving placards of support and who would not hurt or threaten anyone much less an old man as his wife’s relatives claim, PNP records show more than 30 firearms registered under his name, including high-powered automatic weapons. Not only is he quick with his hands, he is also quick with his tongue. In not a few public occasions, he did not hesitate calling President Aquino a dictator, accusing Justice Carpio of plotting his ouster and calling the 90-year old Franciscan nun who is also an aunt of his wife a liar. The Supreme Court has not been as politicised as it is now under Corona’s watch.

5. While he rues the use of the "awesome powers of the presidency" against him, he finds nothing wrong with court employees skipping case hearings to march to the supreme court to hear him lambast his detractors, see him cry and raise his hands to heaven. Instead of admonishing judges and justices to remain neutral and be loyal only to the country, the constitution and the Judiciary as an institution, he chose to drag the entire judicial system into a battle that questions only his personal fitness to remain as Chief Justice. If he gets convicted, how will the court employees react to the new Chief Justice? He has put the entire Judiciary between the devil and the deep blue sea.

6. It was bewildering enough that he should seek relief from the Supreme Court while he still sits as its Chief; it was downright repulsive that he should ask justices Carpio and Sereno to inhibit themselves in the cases he filed in the Supreme Court regarding his impeachment when he himself has not taken a leave of absence. He continues to benefit from his position, exerting persuasive influence on the Arroyo-appointed associate justices. He mocks the independence of the Impeachment Court by asking the SC to intervene in its proceedings.

7. When confronted with his alleged bias towards GMA in cases that was brought to the SC, he declared that he is just one vote in the collegial body. However, when he talks about the Hacienda Luisita case, he says he was the only one that stands in the way of Ph10 billion being paid to HLI as payment. In the course of his other public pronouncements, this is not the only instance when he contradicted himself. In the BGEI case, he said he purposely distanced himself from his wife's family feud, yet then Manila Mayor Lito Atienza confirmed that it was Corona himself who negotiated for the higher price paid by the government for the BGEI property in Sampaloc. As was recently found out, payment for that property was for many years deposited in his personal bank account until he withdrew them on the day he was impeached by the House of Representatives.

These are just but seven of the many instances where we can get a glimpse of the flawed character of Mr Corona. No amount of technicality, no amount of finger-pointing and no amount of white-washing can justify his remaining a minute longer as the Honorable Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In the classic novel "The Scarlet Letter", the adulterers wear the mark of their sins on their chests for everyone to see. For Renato Corona, he wears a crown of seven sins.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

An Open Letter to Sister Flory Basa

March 25, 2012 - I am compelled to add this note because not a few people have already called my attention to some re-posts of this open letter. Apparently, some bloggers and newspaper columnists have wrongly attributed authorship of the letter to Dennis Garcia of the Hotdog Band fame. Although the link to this page is included in the re-posts, somehow the name Dennis Garcia got linked to it as well. To set the record straight, I am much younger than him, but to be fair - he sings way too much better than I do. I really do not mind if people attribute this letter to anyone they wish. As long as it serves it purpose, then that suits me just fine. Just don't ask me to sing - I will leave that to the real Dennis Garcia.

March 10, 2012 - Last night, I posted in an online Inquirer article an open letter to Sister Flory Basa, aunt of Cristina Roco Corona. Almost as soon as I hit the Save button, comments poured in, and people started sharing and re-posting the letter in different blogs and sharing sites. I even found a Cebuano translation of the letter just today. Although there were a few negative reactions, majority of those who commented were very supportive. I guess a lot of people share the same sentiments as I have.

I am sharing the letter in its original form, and some of the links to sites where it has been re-posted so you would be able to read both the good and not so good reactions.

Dear Sister Flory,

I almost gave up on the impeachment process. I thought it was going nowhere. The defense team was succeeding in their suppression of evidences. The prosecution was fumbling all over the place. Some Senator-Judges were openly showing their dogged resolve to literally look the other way as the impeached pretender to the position of Chief Justice trampled on the very basic tenets of integrity and honesty. Like you, I had left it to the Good Lord to do justice in His own time.

But then your family, most especially you, came along. God indeed works in mysterious ways! The lawyers of Mr Corona and their misguided followers have done and will continue to do everything to discredit you, short of calling you a lying senile and disgruntled relative who wants more money. I saw your interview on TV, and you have that serenity about you. It is a peace of mind and soul that only true forgiveness can bring about. But you also have that resoluteness in your voice – firm, truthful and honest. You said charity made you forgive the Coronas, but truth and justice compels you to speak up and let the people confront the truth about Mr Renato Corona.

God has not only been good to you, He has shown even more compassion to us the Filipino people. While a lot of people your age would have been beset with illnesses of both body and mind, you have been blest with good health and a mind still so sharp and lucid. It is not so for no reason, I am sure. When the battle seemed lost, you came forth like a shining star to remind us not to lose hope. God allowed you to outlive your siblings so that the truth may be proclaimed in all its brutal glory, and not in the convoluted version being peddled to us by those who seek to block our nation’s search for justice.

Thank you for your courage in proclaiming the truth. Mr Corona might have succeeded in having his character flaws overlooked by the Judicial and Bar Council when he was planted by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in the Supreme Court. He might have pushed his luck too far when he got his minions in the SC to legitimize his midnight appointment. I do not think he will be able to shut out the flames of truth that you now so resolutely hold in your hands. While they have everything to lose and will do anything and everything to cover up their lies, you only have your faith in God and his abiding fidelity to his promise that His justice will be supreme over all human frailties.

If it is not too much to ask, we will be forever grateful if you will do us a great favour – please take the witness stand. Please tell this nation how this man who claims the exalted position of Chief Justice as his unalienable right has done injustice to his own kin for more than 30 years. Please tell our Senators, who have been vested by our sovereign will with power in order to protect our nation’s interest, how the same power when wielded by someone who do not have the probity, integrity and moral uprightness not to be drowned by it can abuse the same to inflict harm on the very people he is supposed to serve and protect. You, who are old and weak, you whose only weapon is the truth, can teach our power-tripping Senators a most valuable lesson in humility and fairness.

I know it might be too much to ask from a frail, 90 year old servant of the Lord. But the stakes are too high – our future and those of the generations to come. If we allow this travesty to pass, we would have sold our souls to the devil. What are we teaching to our children? That as long as you can justify it in the rules of court, it is okay to be to be dishonest? That it is okay to do wrong as long as you can win it in court? That it is okay to do away with morals and the sense of what is right and what is wrong as long as there are good lawyers that you can pay to twist the facts and suppress the truth? Is this what we want for our country? Please say it isn’t so Sister Flory. For your family’s and for our country’s sake, please say it isn’t so.

And before I end this rather long letter, I would like to assure you that in case you do decide to take the witness stand and if Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago dare try to scare you off with her histrionics and self-serving plaudits to her perceived superior intelligence, and God forbids that something bad happens to you, I will march on the street even if I should do it by my lonesome self, and demand that God open up the ocean and swallow the entire Senate and everyone else who have dragged this country into the dark abyss.God is with you. We are with you. All right thinking Filipinos should be with you. Let us not stay in the dark. You have the light. Lead us to our redemption as a nation. God Bless you Sister Flory.



Here are a couple of sites where the letter has been re-posted:




Monday, March 5, 2012

Thank You!

Mr Dante Zamora posted his comment on my previous post about Abnoy (Click on the link to read the post). Although he did not mention where he is based now, I assumed that he is from the US. He referred to the Philippines as PI, which I hear so many times from my relatives in California. I am glad that in my own little way, I am able to provide Mr Zamora and our other kababayans who have been away from our dear Pateros a way to reconnect with our town.

I had set out to compose a response to his comment in the article about Abnoy, but wrote a rather long response that I decided to post it as a separate entry here. I hope that he will not mind me sharing my response to him with the rest of the readers of this blog.

Dear Mr Zamora,

Thank you for your wonderful post. Comments from people like you inspire me to continue writing about our beloved town, in particular, and the Philippines in general. I have not written as often as I would want to, but I will definitely not stop doing so.

If you left in 1967, things would have been vastly different then. I grew up in the 70's, and things were so different then than now. What more in the 60's? Like you, I have many happy memories of Pateros back when people knew each other by name. And people then have strange and funny, sometimes even "bastos" names. We would always have fun remembering those aliases that people gave each other.

It is sad that a lot of the original Pateros folks have left the town. Many old houses are either empty, or are being rented out or put up for sale. Those in the commercial area, the "bayan" as we know it, have been converted into commercial spaces. An old-timer aptly called Pateros now the bedroom of Metro Manila because of the many people who flock here for its cheap lodging alternatives. In fact, we hold the distinction of being the most densely populated town/city in the Philippines. For a little town such as ours, that is not exactly good news.

When I see pictures of the Sta Marta fiesta in California, I am amazed at the number of people who attend the event year in and year out. A lot of them are even familiar faces, like the Pascual siblings from Aguho - and my own relatives. My own mother, when she was alive, would always attend the fiesta when it was held anywhere near where she was staying with my Tatay (either in the Bay or the LA/San Diego areas). Too bad there was not an opportunity for me to attend a stateside Pateros fiesta whenever I am in the US to visit my family. I would one day want to write about this interesting event.

And the food! Don’t even get me started on this. A lot of my happy memories of our town always have something to do with food. Sometimes people get so focused on balut that they overlook the other culinary gems of our town. Some of these have all but disappeared from our tables, such as those that are fished out from Laguna De bay (ayungin, biya, tulya, etc.). But some are still around to remind us that once in our lives, we revelled in the gustatory delights of these exotic dishes.

Again, thank you for the good words. And do come for a visit soon. You may not like everything that you will see and experience, but I hope that with enough people working together, we can still do something to bring back the old charm of this little town we call home.

Ipagpapatuloy ko po ang aking pagsasaliksik, at ang pagsusulat ukol sa ating bayan, kasaysayan at kaugalian upang di natin malimot na ang Pateros ay nagkanlong sa maraming masasayang ala-ala ng ating buhay. Mananatili po akong umaasa na sa pamamagitan ng munting ambag na ito, ay maaring mapukaw ang pansin ng mga kababayan at ng mga kinauukulan upang maisaayos ang lagay ng ating bayan. Hindi ako nawawalan ng pag-asa na sa pagtutulungan nating mga nagmamahal sa bayang ito, mananatiling maririnig ang masayang tugtugan ng Pandango, and masarap na amoy ng bibingkang abnoy, at ang malinamnam na lasa ng kalderetang itik sa ating bayang pinagpala.

Ang inyong Munting Tinig,