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How can I describe the performance of Chief Justice Renato Corona last Tuesday?
It was emphatic, emotional, a mixture of personal, impersonal and neutral commentaries, combative and feisty. Evidentiary-wise however, it was just oral testimony without presentation of any documentary proofs ( unless the defense-lawyers will have the written-guide read by the Chief Justice marked as an exhibit and offered as evidence, but even then it is still a memorandum just to refresh memory which is therefore self-serving.).
Because of this, the acceptability of his story will depend upon how much he had contradicted the evidence of the prosecution or how much he can make further explanations during cross-examination. If people think that the performance was dismal, such conclusion might just be premature. There is still time to recover if indeed it was an average performance. His direct testimony is not yet finished and, in the cross-examination, he can still potentially perform brilliantly given the preparation time accorded the Chief Justice and his defense-lawyers.
But what struck me most was his continued invocation on the absolute confidentiality of dollar deposits under Republic Act No. 6426 as an exception to the requirements of the Constitution on the public declaration of net worth by a Chief Justice, among other officials. He is the Chief Justice and his opinion definitely should be given great respect. But great respect does not translate to correctness. Is his assertion correct?
The requirement to publicly declare a public official’s net worth is an explicit command of the Constitution. It is provided in Section 17 Article XI of the Constitution which pertinently provides that “ A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities and net worth.” Submission of a declaration has also been construed as submission of a correct and truthful declaration because allowing an inaccurate submission as compliance is a mockery of the requirement.
In Enriquez vs. Enriquez ( GR NO. 139303 August 25, 2005), the Supreme Court explained that the word “shall” must be understood in its ordinary acceptation and therefore is given a “compulsory meaning and is generally imperative and mandatory.” To highlight the significance of this disclosure- duty, it is placed in that part of the Constitution on “Accountability of Public Officers”. It is therefore a fundamental provision at the heart of public service that safeguards public office as a public trust ( Section 1 Article 7 of the Constitution).
The requirement is therefore a CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY. It is not a privilege.
The absolute confidentiality of dollar deposit is a private privilege created not by the Constitution but by a mere statute, a creation of national legislation. It is Republic Act No. 6426. This statutory privilege is a valid one, but to extend its statutory force as qualifying or making an exception to the mandate of the Constitution is a basic error. Exceptions to provisions of the Constitution can only be made also by the Constitution and not by a mere statute. Legally, national legislation that contravenes the Constitution has always been struck down as void and without effect. This is so because , as enunciated by the Supreme Court in Manila Prince Hotel vs. GSIS, 267 SCRA 408),
A constitution is a system of fundamental laws for the governance and administration of a nation. It is supreme, imperious, absolute, and unalterable except by the authority from which it emanates. It is the fundamental and paramount law of the nation….. The fundamental conception is that it is a supreme law to which all other laws must conform and in accordance with which all private rights must be determined and all public authority administered.
It is clear that a CONSTITUTIONAL DUTY of a public officer is so fundamental such that it cannot be circumscribed, qualified , superseded or rendered ineffective or nugatory by a mere STATUTORY PRIVILEGE. Anything that is protective of public interest for the paramount good must prevail over private privileges merely providing personal protections.
In this case, duty must win over privilege.