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The sole pleasure that can be derived from being proven wrong lies in the knowledge that the process will uncover truths, and so it is that next Tuesday, Chief Justice Renato Corona will take the stand to testify in his own behalf.
Due time has come for the Chief Justice who, from the time details of his foreign currency deposits began to leak to the public, promised that he would come clean at the proper opportunity; it could be that the opportunity came sooner rather than never after Corona’s defense summoned Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales as a hostile witness.
The Ombudsman’s revelations regarding Corona’s alleged $12 million in five different banks forced Corona’s hand: no longer could he bluff and hem and haw about his reputed undisclosed wealth; he must now take the stand, swear to tell the truth and deny categorically the accusations hurled at him by the prosecution.
The only honorable way for him to do this, if the point needs to be belabored, is to give his permission for the competent officials to delve into his foreign currency accounts.
If the evidence presented by the prosecution is credible, not much store can be placed on Corona’s swearing an oath.
In every Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth he signed as a government official, he swore therein that the entries are true and correct to his own knowledge, but the seriousness with which the oath was made is belied by the dirty linen washed in public by the prosecutors, so Corona’s capacity for truth-telling has been called into question.
Despite all the preparation he will undergo at the hands of his lawyers, the risks of testifying remain unchanged for Corona, and it is important for him to understand that he must not only tell the truth, he must give the appearance that he is telling the truth.
He must not fidget; he must not be shifty-eyed; he must answer directly and unequivocally; he must not debate with opposing counsel; he must master his emotions yet not appear to be too controlled; he must not patronize the proceedings or its participants -- he must, in other words, be the perfect witness.
The Bill of Rights provides that no person may be compelled to be a witness against himself.
Before his lawyers committed to presenting him next Tuesday, Corona could rely for protection on no less than the Constitution: the prosecution could not force him to testify, and his silence could not be taken against him. The burden, therefore, fell on the prosecution to establish an unimpeachable case against him which, in a political process, they have been able to discharge.
Silence on the part of the Chief Justice was no longer an option, especially after the Ombudsman’s testimony. It is not correct to say that Carpio-Morales’ disclosures are a “game-ender” as many columnists claim; it is, rather, a “game-changer” because it forced the defense to revise its tactics.
Whereas before, former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas adamantly invoked the Bill of Rights to justify the non-presentation of his client, he must now do what he initially was loath to.
This is what we can reasonably expect next week: when the prosecutors try to propound questions to the Chief Justice about his dollar accounts, it is highly likely that the magistrate will invoke, first, the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court, and also, the confidentiality provision of Republic Act No. 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposits Act.
Do not be surprised, too, if some of the senator-judges will themselves raise these points during Corona’s testimony.
We can also expect that on every occasion that the prosecutors attempt to delve into Corona’s dollar accounts, they will be barraged by objections from the defense. At the faintest whiff of self-incrimination, we can also expect that, from time to time, the Chief Justice will pause during his testimony to consult with his attorneys before committing to an answer.
Over all, we can expect that Corona’s testimony will be riddled with technicalities, perorations, verbal sparring and egos flaring one after the next.
Do not expect that Corona’s testimony will conclude within the day.
To succeed in his defense, Corona must tell all and not be selective in his truth telling.
Even if he takes the stand yet refuses to answer when asked about his alleged wealth, he will never shake off the impression that he is disclosing his assets and hiding them, too.
Better than testifying, he must waive the privilege of absolute confidentiality in order to reveal the truth and not merely tell it as he sees fit.