It was not only Atty. Enriqueta Vidal, En Banc Clerk of Court of the Supreme Court who experienced great discomfort in trying to protect Chief Justice Renato Corona while testifying on January 18, before the Senate. The defense team also keeps turning and twirling to control the damage occasioned by the release of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALNs) of the embattled jurist.
The defense has to raise every imaginable objection to the presentation of the copies of the SALNs of the Chief Justice and later on to the marking of real estate properties in the name of CJ Corona, his wife, his daughters and son-in-law. The objections become annoying that every time the lead counsel would open up his mouth, to object, one can easily telegraph that precipitous attempt to hide the truth from the public. You can sense the muffled hush from the gallery over such clever maneuver from the defense counsel that led Senator Ping Lacson to comment that the objection of the defense was dilatory and counter-productive.
Whatever legal objection the defense has over the documentary evidence of the prosecution against CJ Corona, such is lost in the simplicity of the issue rightfully etched in the minds of the public. — Is CJ Corona a thief?
If he is not a thief, he can explain the contents of his SALNs. If The SALNs are incomplete, and he has other properties not included in the them, can the Chief explain why it was not in his SALNs? Similarly, are the properties of his daughters and son-in-law within their financial capacity to acquire, or are they simply holding the properties for the Chief Justice as dummies?
The objection that some properties are not in the name of CJ Corona but in the name of his daughters or son-in-law and therefore not relevant in the inquiry on the ill-gotten wealth of the Chief Justice, actually begs the issue. Thus the more Justice Cuevas, tries to shield the Chief Justice by his aberrant objections on the floor of the Senate, the more he clobbers his client with mud. Both of them are irretrievably sinking in the quicksand.
Every property, realty or cash or even jewelries of the Corona family are relevant in the determination of whether such were earned lawfully or “ill-gotten” . If their acquisitions were unlawful, the Chief has to answer for them under the law.
Article II of the Impeachment is broad enough to cover the issue that CJ Corona was guilty of corruption which is punishable under RA 3019, and therefore such constituted betrayal of public trust.
Assuming Article II of the impeachment complaint covers only non-disclosure of SALNs, such however, includes the issue that while the SALNS were now disclosed to the Senate, such were purposely downgraded and therefore, amounts to half-disclosure or even non-disclosure. He could not raise the issue of “harrassment and fishing” expedition” against the prosecution and for feasting on his SALNs because he is not a private citizen but a high profile public servant whose wealth is subject to public scrutiny pursuant to the constitutional provisions on accountability and transparency of public officials.
The “ultimate facts” requirement for pleadings had been complied with by the prosecution and Serafin Cuevas cannot raise this alleged flaw in the pleadings. “Ultimate facts” is a minimum procedural requirement to put respondent on notice of the nature of the breach he was being prosecuted. Anyone reading the articlee of impeachment will get the basic understanding that the Chief Justice, among others, was being put to task for corruption and hidden wealth and he was properly put on notice when the impeachment complaint was served upon him and his lawyers seasonably filed their answer thereof. Otherwise, if CJ Corona cannot make heads and tails out of the Impeachmnet Complaint, the defense should have not plead thereto, he should have asked for a bill of particulars or request for a more concise and detailed enumeration of his wrongdoings before going to trial.
At any rate, here is Sec. 8 of R.A. 3019:
“Sec. 8. Dismissal due to unexplained wealth. If in accordance with the provisions of Republic Act Numbered One thousand three hundred seventy-nine, a public official has been found to have acquired during his incumbency, whether in his name or in the of other persons, an amount of property and/or money manifestly out of proportion to his salary and to his other lawful income, that fact shall be a ground for dismissal or removal. Properties in the name of the spouse and unmarried children of such public official may be taken into consideration, when their acquisition through legitimate means cannot be satisfactorily shown. Bank deposits shall be taken into consideration in the enforcement of this section notwithstanding any provision of the law to the contrary.”
And here is Sec. 2 of RA 1379 (Presumption of Unlawfully Acquired Property By Public Official):
“Whenever any public officer or employee has acquired during his incumbency an amount of property which is manifestly out of proportion to his salary as such public officer or employee and to his other lawful income and the income from legitimately acquired property, said property shall be presumed prima facie to have been unlawfully acquired.”
CJ Corona has a lot of explaining to do about those properties in his SALNs as well as those not in his SALNs. Unlike those litigants in the Supreme Court whose case the court can railroad for lack of powerhouse lawyers to advocate for their cause, CJ Corona has a battery of lawyers and his case is being monitored by the public which makes it totally impossible to strip him of his office if innocence preponderates in his favor. But the systematic effort of his lawyers to thwart the introduction of documentary evidence against the Chief only serves to highlight that those documents must be damaging to the Chief.
The ordinary Juan de la Cruz on the street may not know the finer nuances of the law which Cuevas wanted the public to appreciate, but definitely he knows that the bottomline in this case is a simple arithmetic.