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By the time the votes to convict him reached 14, the small crowd of partisans assembled in the lobby of the Supreme Court in support of Chief Justice Renato Corona had trickled, like sand that inexorably counted down his fate, to a handful. The subject of the impeachment, though, was not to be seen either in person or onscreen, choosing to sequester himself in a hospital room rather than squarely facing the judgment of 20 senators who found him to have culpably violated the Constitution by making material omissions in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth.
Corona's absence robbed his conviction of the drama that by rights should have attended such a historic occasion, but the impeached Chief Justice now belongs not to history, but to the past. And if there were no reaction shots to be had of the despondent, the demeanor of his defense team said it all.
To be fair to the defense, even they could not salvage an unwinnable case, yet somehow, somewhere, Corona must be fuming at his lawyers' blunder in subpoenaing Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, no lover of the former Chief Justice, as a witness.
Everyone agrees that it was Morales' testimony that did material damage to the defense, with her gasp-inducing revelation of a report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council regarding movements in Corona's dollar accounts, which until that time went untouched because of a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court and bank secrecy laws.
Until that time, there was no compulsion on the part of Corona to testify on the basis of the non-incrimination clause in the Bill of Rights, but Morales’ disclosure shattered all that. There was no other person left, not a Supreme Court spokesman, not various bank officials, not his lawyers, with any standing to contradict the Ombudsman except Corona himself. So from a position of strength, Corona now found himself maneuvering at a distinct disadvantage.
It did not help that during a three-hour long opening statement, a courtesy extended to him by the Senate in acknowledgment of his office, Corona made declarations against interest one after another.
No, he did not have $10-$12 million dollars secreted in 82 bank accounts but, yes, he does have $2.4 million in four accounts, and, oh yes, another P80.7 million, apart from choice real estate that he never declared as assets. Oh, and also, he did not disclose these because he honestly believed that even though these properties were in his name, they need not be mentioned because (1) Republic Act No. 6426 promises the absolute confidentiality of foreign currency deposits; (2) the peso deposits are commingled funds; (3) he doesn't know much about accounts and debits since he isn't an accountant; and finally, (4) he honestly believed that he was under no obligation to mention them.
We need not argue with him on these honest beliefs because everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but whatever credibility he had left was shredded by his abrupt and peevish dismissal of himself - "And now, the Chief Justice wishes to be excused" - from the witness stand. It was that single act of arrogance that sealed his fate.
Right after the voting, TV stations cut to the exterior of the Supreme Court building where a solitary black tarpaulin hung listlessly on the façade proclaiming "Uphold Judicial Independence." Of course that was never the point, but the mood conveyed by the image was one of sadness and alienation. Corona's conviction was no cause for jubilation, and there was little cause for the prosecution to bring out the piñata because to have done so would have been morbid, akin to dancing over a corpse, which is what Corona’s judicial career is now.
And what a dishonorable way to go. Everyone is aware of the toll that the impeachment exacted on the public: it was an expensive, tedious and maddening affair whose long-term benefits are still to be determined. We have no way of knowing if, henceforth, all government officials and employees will be as forthcoming with the truth in their SALNs post-Corona.
With the trial over, the decent thing to do would be to lay off the deposed Chief Justice for a while; it isn't sporting to continue to kick a man when he’s on the ground bleeding. But how he will be treated depends as much on Corona himself.
If he goes forward and elevates his conviction to his colleagues in the High Court, citing the expanded jurisdiction clause in the Constitution, then he should expect no mercy from the administration.
Personally, I do not share the legalists' claim that the matter can be reviewed via a petition for certiorari on the ground of grave abuse of discretion. An elementary principle in procedure is that the special civil action for certiorari cannot be availed of in place of a lost appeal. What more, then, in a case, where no less than the Constitution itself withholds the remedy of appeal. Quando aliquid prohibetur ex directo, prohibetur et per obliquum.
What cannot be done directly cannot be done indirectly.