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Senate convicts Corona 20-3

Members of the Health Alliance for Democracy rally on Tuesday bearing signs of the verdict the Senate would eventually hand down on Chief Justice Renato Corona. (photo by Bernard Testa,
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 7:40 p.m.) The Senate sitting as an impeachment court made history on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, convicting Chief Justice Renato Corona of betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution by failing to fully declare his wealth in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

Twenty senators, including Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, found Corona guilty, making him the first Chief Justice to be removed from office.

His trial is also the first impeachment process to reach completion.

“The conviction is executory immediately. There is no appeal,” Enrile said in an interview after the trial.

The senators who voted to convict him were: Edgardo Angara, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Franklin Drilon, Francis Escudero, Teofisto Guingona III, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel Lapid, Loren Legarda, Sergio Osmena III, Francis Pangilinan, Aquilino Pimentel III, Ralph Recto, Ramon Revilla Jr., Vicente Sotto III, Antonio Trillanes IV, Manuel Villar and Enrile.

Only Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. voted to acquit him.

Enrile said he respects the opinion of Corona's lead counsel, retired Justice Serafin Cuevas, that they might appeal the decision before the Supreme Court but stressed that the Constitution says otherwise.

Bahala sila, umakyat sila sa Supreme Court, basta alinsunod sa ating Saligang Batas, final ang decision ng Senado (It's up to them, they can elevate it to the Supreme Court, but the Constitution says the decision of the Senate is final),” Enrile said. 

Corona was impeached on December 11 last year by 188 members of the House of Representatives, sending his case to the Senate for trial.

His conviction capped a 44-day trial that stretched over almost five months from when it began on January 16.

Corona was convicted on the second of eight articles of impeachment, which had been reduced to only three articles midway into the trial.

Of the original eight, he was tried only on Articles of Impeachment 2 (failure to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth), 3 (his alleged lack of competence, integrity, probity and independence as required by the Constitution), and 7 (his alleged partiality in the granting of a temporary restraining order against the inclusion of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband on the government travel watch list, with the intent of allowing her to escape prosecution for various cases filed against her).

Corona only needed to be convicted on one of the articles of impeachment by a vote of 16, or two-thirds of the senator-judges. That minimum number was reached by 5 p.m, when Sen. Ramon Revilla Jr. cast his "guilty" vote. 

Following Senate rules, the senators were asked to explain their votes first on Article II. Since the 16 votes for conviction were mustered, the impeachment court did not have to proceed to Articles III and VIII.

Corona as witness

Taking the witness stand, Corona himself admitted that he did not disclose some $2.4 million and P80 million from his dollar and peso accounts, respectively.

Corona cited the Foreign Currency Deposit Act for his non-disclosure of the dollar accounts and said the P80 million consisted of co-mingled funds, including money of his children.

Corona's lawyers earlier stressed the chief magistrate should not be faulted for his interpretation of the law.

"The Chief Justice cannot be made answerable for his interpretation of the law prior to a Supreme Court ruling or legislative amendment declaring his interpretation as erroneous," Eduardo de los Angeles said during Monday's closing arguments.

Corona's lawyers also said the Chief Justice's non-disclosure does not amount to an impeachable offense, particularly betrayal of public trust.

But in casting the last, or 20th vote of "guilty," Enrile said he disagreed with the chief justice's interprertation  of the law with respect to the Foreign Currency Deposits Act on the secrecy of his dollar deposits.

After the 20-3 vote was officially announced, Enrile instructed Senate officers to immediately send certified copies of the judgment to the Chief Justice, House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, the Supreme Court en Banc, the Judicial and Bar Council and President Benigno Aquino III.

'Time to go'

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares, one of the prosecutors, said it was time for the chief magistrate to go.

“His assets of at least 200 million pesos is nearly eight times his admitted income of P31 million so he is presumed to have intentionally hidden his assets on the lame excuse of confidentiality and that's not good faith. Hindi tayo dapat magkaroon ng Chief Justice na mahilig sa palusot (We cannot have a Chief Justice fond of excuses),” he said.

His fellow Bayan Muna representative, Teddy Casino, said the conviction should send the following message to all public officials:

- that they should properly accomplish and disclose their SALN to the public;

- that dollar accounts should be included in the SALN, and that any discrepancy will be considered a violation of the law; and,

- that the Ombudsman may investigate complaints based on the automatic waiver already in the SALN, and government officials should at the same time issue an unconditional waiver on their dollar accounts.

“It should not be business as usual after conviction.  The same standards of transparency and accountability imposed on Corona should now apply to all public officials,” Casino said. (Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, Abigail Kwok, Joseph Holandes, Ubalde, Karl John C. Reyes,