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.

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