Top judge guilty of hiding wealth
Senators vote to oust Chief Justice Corona
Chief Justice Renato Corona takes the witness stand on May 22 (Photo courtesy of the Senate of the Philippines)
The Philippine Senate found Chief Justice Renato Corona guilty of failing to disclose his assets and ruled Tuesday in a 20 to 3 vote that he be removed from office. Corona cheated in his statement of assets liabilities and net worth, and by doing so proved that he was not fit to sit as the highest judge in the land, said the senators, sitting as an impeachment court. “If we acquit Chief Justice Corona, we will open the floodgates of public mistrust. We will lower the bar of public accountability of government officials,” Sen. Loren Legarda said. Corona admitted in testimony last week that he did not report 80 million pesos (US$1.86 million) in bank deposits or US$2.4 million in four other accounts. His explanation that the funds in the peso accounts were co-mingled with relatives’ assets failed to convince the senators, and his excuse that the law on bank secrecy allows him to not declare his dollar accounts was rejected. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, one of the three who voted to acquit, delivered a lengthy speech and berated her colleagues for misinterpreting the constitution. “I am insulted. As a former law professor and future judge of the International Crime Tribunal, I am insulted by the way your minds run,” Santiago said. Corona’s defense lawyers said they did not accept the verdict and would wait until they receive a hard copy of the ruling. Defense counsel Serafin Cuevas hinted that they may bring the case to the Supreme Court if Corona agrees. “It’s an option provided for by law,” he said. “But I’m glad [the trial] is over. I can sleep tightly now." For four and a half months, the trial has riveted the Filipino public. Corona was absent for the ruling, as he is currently in the hospital recuperating from an illness. Corona’s troubles started when former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo appointed him chief justice on May 12, 2010, two days after current president Benigno Aquino won election. Arroyo defended criticisms of Corona’s “midnight” appointment, saying the post was not included in the positions prohibited by the constitution to be filled by the president during an election period, and the Supreme Court ruled to honor Corona’s appointment. But Aquino refused to recognize Corona and reportedly considered him an obstacle in his election promise to have Arroyo pay for alleged crimes against the people. Aquino accused Corona of trying to allow Arroyo to flee the country by issuing a temporary restraining order against a hold departure order by the justice department in November last year. The Corona camp accused President Benigno Aquino of conspiring with the House of Representatives to destroy the independence of the judiciary though the impeachment. Corona also said Aquino wanted to get back at him for ruling against Hacienda Luisita, which Aquino’s maternal side of the family owns. “It still remains to be seen if the end of this process will even lead to the accountability of [former] president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other officials guilty of plunder and gross human rights violations,” said party chairman for the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Renato Reyes.