By Raïssa Robles
Chief Justice Renato Corona’s lawyers would like the public to believe that the under declarations and omissions in his SALNs (Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth) are all “not intentional”.
What the lawyers aren’t saying is that CJ Corona was a tax and corporate lawyer who once worked for two banks and for SGV & Company, the country’s largest auditing firm.
And that one of his areas of specialization when he took up a Master of Laws degree in Harvard University was the regulation of corporate and financial institutions.
To us, it’s our humble opinion your honor that if there may have been discrepancies, inaccuracies, incompleteness…(in his SALNs) these can be remedied after a review of the SALN is made. If it’s not intentional your honor, no criminal liability nor administrative liability is incurred by the filing official. The law of the matter is very clear.
Cuevas unwittingly provides the key to convicting Corona when he said – “If it’s not intentional…”
Using Cuevas’ arguments, this means that if CJ Corona intentionally made omissions and misdeclarations in his SALN, then he has both criminal and administrative liability.
Cuevas would like the public to believe that in financial matters, CJ Corona is somewhat bumbling. What does he know about filling up SALNs accurately.
However, CJ Corona himself has bragged about his knowledge on such matters.
Shortly after being sworn in by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as Chief Justice two years ago, CJ Corona gave a much-applauded speech before the Manila Overseas Press Club. In that speech, which is downloadable from the Supreme Court website, he said -
I used to write on tax and commercial law issues in my column “Tax Corner” in the Manila Chronicle many years back.
On the Supreme Court website, you can also read a short profile of CJ Corona. It discloses that he has an MBA from Ateneo de Manila University and a Master of Laws from Harvard.
And that he worked in the finance sector: First as a lawyer for the Development Bank of the Philippines. Second as senior vice-president and general counsel of the Commercial Bank of Manila. Then as a senior officer of the Tax and Corporate Counseling Group of the Tax Division of Sycip Gorres and Velayo (SGV & Co).
From this kind of background, one can safely assume that CJ Corona knows what the word “cash advance” means. He knows all about and can distinguish the assessed value, fair market value and the acquisition cost of real properties. He knows all about the life and death of corporations.
In fact, the proof of his knowledge on these subjects stare us right in the face. He was the ponente or the magistrate who penned that very thorough ruling on why the Marcos wealth was both ill-gotten and unexplained.
That particular ruling demonstrated CJ Corona’s absolute mastery of the SALN and income tax returns (ITRs).
In the same speech before the MOPC, CJ Corona elaborated on the significance of ponencias like his ruling on the Marcoses’ stolen billions. He said:
The written ponencias of justices, who are described by Dean Eugene Rostrow as “inevitable teachers in a vital national seminar,” breathe life into the principles behind our legal system. The Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the meaning and intent of the Constitution. As a great educational institution, it explains the bases in law, and in fact, of its decisions.
Likewise in the same speech – which I have noted before and which I will note again for emphasis – CJ Corona underscored the importance of maintaining the people’s trust in the judiciary and ensuring it’s not tainted by corruption “whether real or perceived.”
The fact remains that at the heart of our sovereign mandate is the people’s trust in the courts. The people’s trust, however, is not confined to physical infrastructure. Improving human infrastructure is essential in maintaining integrity which in the final analysis gives us the right to judge. Hence, corruption in the judiciary, whether real or perceived, is particularly insidious and reprehensible. A corrupt judiciary is totally unacceptable as it severely handicaps the legal and institutional mechanism designed to curb abuses in government. As such we shall continuously cleanse the court’s ranks by strengthening the integrity of the judiciary and raising it to the highest level possible. I believe that a member of the judiciary who is found guilty of dishonesty should not only be dismissed from the service but also disbarred. No ifs, no buts.
Below is the entire speech of CJ Corona before the Manila Overseas Press Club:
The Role of the Press in Advancing Judicial Reform
[Speech delivered by Chief Justice Renato C. Corona at the MOPC Judiciary Night, 7:00 p.m., 24 June 2010, Intercontinental Hotel.]
MOPC Board of Governors, led by Chairman Emeritus Emil Jurado, Chairman of the Board Antonio (Tony) Lopez, President Jose Manuel (Babes) Romualdez, MOPC officers and members, including Agence France Presse (AFP) Manila Bureau Chief Karl Robert Wilson (who, I understand, is celebrating his birthday this Saturday, so advanced Happy Birthday), distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good evening.
A free and dynamic press is critical in building a great nation and strengthening a healthy democracy. The mere reference to it as the Fourth Estate underscores the vital role it plays not only as an instrument of information but also as an agent of change to the country’s political, economic, social and moral order. Joseph Pulitzer said, “Our republic and its press will rise and fall together.” The struggles of our nation are interwoven with work of the press.
Administrations come and go but the role of the press in keeping the powers of government in check and to inform and educate people, remains. History has shown that once the press is threatened, muzzled or bought, the demise of democracy becomes imminent.
However, one can neither kill an idea nor sit on a throne of bayonets. People yearn for the truth and this need can never be suppressed. Against the supposed picture of development and progress of the martial law era, the alternative press, or the so-called ‘mosquito press,’ brought out a string of news reports detailing the abuses and atrocities of the Marcos regime. Members of the press led a dangerous life as they treaded the grey area between what the dictatorship called “subversion” and what you pledged as your professional duty to ferret out the truth.
The words of U. S. President Abraham Lincoln, “Let the people know the truth, and the country will be safe,” still resonate to this day. For it is through the press that our citizens can make the right choices, given the proper information about events and circumstances in their environment.
Knowledge, as they say, is power; and an empowered mind leads to a more effective people’s participation in the daily acts of decision-making. I learned about this as a young student and editor-in-chief of The Guidon, the university student newspaper of the Ateneo and as Secretary-General of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP).
I likewise had this in mind when I used to write on tax and commercial law issues in my column “Tax Corner” in the Manila Chronicle many years back.
Truth is, and remains, the capstone of justice. It is the “Holy Grail” for both the judiciary and the press alike. While it may prove elusive or slippery at times, our quest for truth should remain singular and focused. Let us therefore be ever mindful of our primary duty to tell the truth and at the same time exercise fairness, objectivity and impartiality in reporting.
On my part, when I assumed office as the 23rd Chief Justice, I was only too keenly aware that so much more than the usual is expected of me — although I know everyone is fair game for the Philippine press, especially for those of us in government.
Allow me to take this opportunity to thank the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) for organizing this Judiciary Night. I welcome this occasion as a timely and auspicious opportunity to articulate to our people my plans and programs for the judiciary as we steer the High Court to greater heights to achieve our goal of building a just and humane society.
Traditionally, the Supreme Court performs four functions. First, it is the guardian of the rule of law and protector of our people’s rights, where rights and rules triumph over power and influence.
People’s rights include human rights. Human rights are people’s rights and one subject that is of special interest to you is the issue of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, in which members of the press are victims.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) puts the number of journalists killed at 140. It is lamentable that the Philippines placed third, after Iraq and Somalia, in the Global Impunity Index of the international media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
On our part, the Supreme Court initially designated 99 Regional Trial Courts (RTCs) to resolve cases involving extrajudicial killings. The Court likewise spearheaded the National Consultative Summit on Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances. One tangible fruit of this Summit has been the passage of one of the most powerful weapons in our judicial arsenal— the Rule on the Writ of Amparo. Authorities can no longer give the easy defense of simple denial once they are sued to produce before the courts the bodies of victims of involuntary disappearances. From the original 99 RTCs, all RTCs, together with the Sandiganbayan, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, are now authorized to hear petitions for writ of amparo. This was closely followed by the promulgation of the Rule of the Writ of Habeas Data which compels officials in government and the military to allow victims of enforced disappearances access to official documents by invoking “the right to truth.”
Second, the Supreme Court performs the so-called power of judicial review, where it checks abuses of discretion of the other branches of government. The framers of the 1987 Constitution expanded the Court’s judicial power to inquire into political questions. As the so-called last bulwark of democracy, the Court has not shied away from striking down, on constitutional grounds, both executive and legislative action. This is by no means not only a checking function but a legitimizing one, too. Included here are actual controversies which involve rights said to be legally demandable and enforceable. Many of these become news fodder, whose stories some of you may have by-lined like the petition for a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution, the constitutionality of the Memorandum of Agreement on the Ancestral Domain, among others.
Lastly, the Supreme Court is the educator and the spokesperson of our democratic and republican way of life. “We are under a
Constitution, but the Constitution is what the Court says,” Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes of the U.S. Supreme Court once said. The written ponencias of justices, who are described by Dean Eugene Rostrow as “inevitable teachers in a vital national seminar,” breathe life into the principles behind our legal system. The Supreme Court is the final interpreter of the meaning and intent of the Constitution. As a great educational institution, it explains the bases in law, and in fact, of its decisions.
We shall continue the judicial reforms we have instituted and build on the momentum of these reforms to improve the judiciary and strengthen the great institution of the Supreme Court.
We shall not have a dormant judiciary in my watch. As I said on Day One, we shall be undaunted by man or circumstance. Neither can we be swayed by praise or criticism. Right will find a sanctuary and wrong will find no refuge in the Corona Court.
Judicial independence does not exist to serve the judiciary, nor to serve the interests of the other two branches of government. It exists to serve and protect not the governors but the governed.
We shall uphold the Constitution and the law to ensure the rights of every man, woman and child are protected and enhanced. This is my judicial philosophy. In plain talk, we shall address with urgency three areas to increase our people’s access,especially those in the disadvantaged and marginalized sector, to effective and efficient justice.
First is the declogging of the court dockets. Justice delayed is justice denied. We need not overstress that. We inherited from the Americans the adversarial process in dispute resolution, where premium is given to due process. This has been exploited by some, since due process embraces the fundamental concept of fair trial with the opportunity to be heard. The time spent hearing all sides has considerable impact on the rendition of judgments. To the average Juan de la Cruz, this means delays. Consider the following: Our lower courts had a total of 618,649 pending cases as of last year. It disposed of 363,297 cases— 237,136 of which were decided or resolved— during the same period.
In addition, our liberal system of appeals allows appeals from all lower courts up to the highest court of the land. The average case processing time for the different courts in deciding cases is as follows: 1.43 years for the Supreme Court; 1.32 years for the Court of Appeals; 6.6 years for the Sandiganbayan; and 2.6 years for the Court of Tax Appeals.
What compounds the situation is the sad reality that our courts are saddled, overwhelmed, with cases. Based on our last official census taken, the population of the Philippines stood at 88.57 million in 2007.
During that same period, the population was served by 2,182 courts, and 21.63% of these courts were vacant. At the end of 2008, the vacancy rate for the positions for judges and justices was at 22.66%, with 519 vacancies in 2,290 positions. Studies tell us that the ideal judge to population ratio is 1 judge per 10,000 inhabitants. In this country, however, a judge has to serve around 52,077 persons. Expect this to worsen with our population projected to increase at 94.01 million in 2010.
We should therefore strengthen the mechanisms of the barangay justice system so that cases will be resolved at their level and will not reach the courts whose dockets are already heavily clogged. However, for cases that have already found their way to the lower courts, we shall promote the use of the alternative dispute resolution (ADR), specifically arbitration and mediation, to declog the dockets of the courts.
Despite operating on a shoe-string budget amounting to less than .72% of the total national budget, we shall accelerate the pace of judicial reform through the development and modernization of Philippine courts with the assistance of our partners in the international community.
First in our agenda is to improve the Halls of Justice to give our courts a sense of dignity and respect. It is disheartening that many of our Halls of Justice that I have visited are in a sorry state of disrepair. We are set to start the construction of the Manila Hall of Justice and complete the Angeles City Hall of Justice, both of which are designed as model courts.
Corollary to this, we aim to fully computerize all our courts from Bangui, Ilocos Norte to Balut Island, Davao del Sur. Hopefully, the improvements in the infrastructure will redound to a more credible judiciary. The fact remains that at the heart of our sovereign mandate is the people’s trust in the courts. The people’s trust, however, is not confined to physical infrastructure. Improving human infrastructure is essential in maintaining integrity which in the final analysis gives us the right to judge. Hence, corruption in the judiciary, whether real or perceived, is particularly insidious and reprehensible. A corrupt judiciary is totally unacceptable as it severely handicaps the legal and institutional mechanism designed to curb abuses in government. As such we shall continuously cleanse the court’s ranks by strengthening the integrity of the judiciary and raising it to the highest level possible. I believe that a member of the judiciary who is found guilty of dishonesty should not only be dismissed from the service but also disbarred. No ifs, no buts.
We shall target the nationwide implementation of our enhanced case flow management (eCFM) system, to include tracking features such as a monitoring system to check if a case is on-schedule or behind schedule. We shall pay attention to cases that have been filed and have been pending in our courts for the longest time and aim for a zero backlog.
Last but not the least, we shall expand the Enhanced Justice on Wheels (EJOW) project. We have literally brought the courts to the grassroots since we have a roving bus being utilized as a courtroom and a mediation room. We personally launched this mobile court project in Marikina a few weeks ago, and 75 inmates were released, 130 given medical and dental aid, and 50 extended legal assistance.
Four out of four cases considered were successfully mediated. This is just the beginning. We have much work ahead of us. I count on the support of the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC), whose past and former members and officers not only chronicled the most important historical moments of the Republic since its independence, but likewise witnessed and articulated the deepest aspirations of our people, and shared them with the rest of the world.
To all the present members and officers of the MOPC, carry on the responsibility of fairness, impartiality and objectivity as we all face the challenges of shaping, reforming and transforming society.
Thank you and I wish you all the best.
Mabuhay tayong lahat.