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What does “in due time” mean? The term reached a new level of ambiguity when Chief Justice Renato Corona used it when he was pressed to reconcile the alleged discrepancies between his Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Net Worth and his actual wealth.
We can say with certainty that “in due time” does not fall on the 30th of April of every year, the deadline for government officials and employees for filing their SALNs.
At the Supreme Court, Court Administrator Midas Marquez announced that the justices had filed their statements on time, but due to a quirk in the implementation of the law, these statements are effectively privileged and can only be examined upon proper request and upon approval by the Court which, to my knowledge, has never given its consent.
It seems then, per Court practice, that the filing of SALNs by the individual Justices is tantamount to disclosure, or is at least substantial compliance with the constitutional command, but the flaw in this interpretation is almost too confoundingly obvious: the refusal to publish/disseminate/disclose the SALNs to the public, the media and -- even more mystifyingly -- to the other departments of government means that the truth or falsity of the contents of the statements can never be determined. Thus, the filer can put any, all or no entries therein and feel absolutely safe in doing so.
In other words, the oath that the filer signs at the end of the statement means absolutely nothing.
One oft-heard reason for the secrecy of magistrates’ SALNs is that the information contained therein could be used by unscrupulous parties to blackmail them into rendering favorable decisions.
The reasoning behind this reasoning baffles me. In the first place, publishing the SALNs constitutes a pre-emptive strike against forced disclosures by third parties, does it not?
No one can coerce a judge into doing anything he or she does not want to do on a threat that the blackmailer will divulge the judge’s personal worth IF the information is available for all to see. Second, any blackmail attempt will fizzle out if the filer has been scrupulously honest in providing the required information. In fact, the threat of being found lying should be enough incentive to every filer to be accurate and complete in answering the forms. Blackmail can only prosper if the person being blackmailed has something to hide.
If we were to collectively hold our breaths until the Chief Justice himself -- not his hired guns -- explains the supposed discrepancies in his SALNs and his actual net worth, then we will all collectively die of anoxia following the announcement of the defense panel that they have no plans and see no need to summon Renato Corona to the witness stand.
So “in due time” may never come at all.
Tactically, the defense is justified in disallowing Corona from testifying: according to the Bill of Rights, no person may be compelled to testify as a witness against himself and because no less than the Constitution commands it, a person’s failure to testify cannot be taken against him. I myself would not allow my client to testify in a case where he is a party; there are so many variables that the risks greatly outweigh the benefits.
The defense panel does not know for sure how Corona will behave on the witness stand and they do not know what the prosecution will elicit from him, even if Serafin Cuevas does his darnedest to object to each and every question that Niel Tupas and company might ask. But the defense strategy is sound and Corona’s lawyers shouldn’t be demonized because they are only doing what every seasoned lawyer would do in their place.
Recently, Miriam Defensor Santiago stated that the defense would get a strong boost if Corona himself would testify.
She says that she, for one, would wish to personally observe the Chief Justice’s demeanor on the witness stand, to see his facial expressions because, Santiago asserts, you can tell whether or not a person is dissembling by looking at his or her face. I don’t know what to make of this sudden turn-around considering that previously, the senator counseled against Corona’s testifying, but let us assume only that she has seen the wisdom of what Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and her other colleagues have been saying: the Chief Justice is the best person who can explain the discrepancies in his SALN and nobody else, not his lawyers, not the Court Administrator, only he.
And here’s the reason why this will never happen: on taking the stand, the Chief Justice will have to swear to an oath to tell the truth and nothing but, and during cross-examination, his capacity for honesty will be pried into and tested.
All the explanations in the media regarding the truth or falsity of Corona’s SALNs are unsworn statements but the public does not know that; putting out all those ostensible explanations about Corona’s alleged hidden wealth are nothing more than attempts to manage public opinion.
Whether these have been effective, I cannot say, but it seems to me that Filipinos are as curious as I am as to how Corona will account for the discrepancies.
So far, the defense strategy is a re-phrasing of a statement attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “Better to remain silent and be thought a liar than to speak out and remove all doubt.”