Fariñas’ ‘Palusot, most compelling in closing arguments
Fariñas: Several ‘palusots’ in CJ defense
ABS-CBN News Online
House prosecutor Rodolfo Fariñas on Monday described as “palusot” (excuse) Chief Justice Renato Corona’s explanations on why he did not declare some of his assets, including multimillion peso and multimillion dollar accounts, in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).
Fariñas said Corona made several excuses in his impeachment trial: that he was being persecuted because of President Aquino’s loss of Hacienda Luisita, that he had been collecting dollars since the late 60s, that he need not declare his dollar deposits and peso deposits because it would violate Republic Act 6426 and because they are commingled funds.
The lawmaker said congressmen would not allow themselves to be used – to gather evidence, interview witness, and study on their jurisprudence – for the political vendetta of 1 man.
He said if Corona’s claim was correct – that he started collecting dollars when the exchange rate was just $1:P2 — then he would already be collecting dollars between 1948-1959 when he was still in grade school.
He described as “palusot” Corona’s defense that he need not declare his dollar deposits because of RA 6426.
He said he does not believe that Corona’s P80 million in cash are commingled funds because they are all in his name.
He said Corona’s behavior was inconsistent. He said that while Corona had dollar accounts, he was also converting his daughter’s dollars into pesos.
He also described as “kalokohan” the chief magistrate’s claim that he was paying back Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc. yearly for an P11 million “cash advance” he got in 2003.
He said that it was illogical that he would pay back the loan when the Basa Guidote funds were also in his bank account.
He said that for lying under oath, “Renato Corona should not only be given his wish to be excused, he should be removed.”
“It would be the greatest disservice to our nation and people to allow him to stay any minute longer as the head of the judicial department,’ he added.
Culpa, dolus? JPE gives hint of vote?
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile may have shown a glimpse of his vote when he pressed lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas for the meanings of the words, “culpa” and “dolus.”
Before the close of the last impeachment hearing on Monday, Enrile asked Cuevas if there was a law that would impose a penalty on a government official if he or she opts to disclose his foreign-denominated assets in his or her Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN).
Cuevas was not able to completely answer when Enrile interjected and said that the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA) only prohibits third parties, and not the depositor himself or herself, from revealing a depositor’s foreign-denominated assets.
Enrile, whose vote and those of his allies are seen by some analysts to be the swing votes, then proceeded to quote a Constitutional provision that says “a public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office, and as often thereafter as may be provided by law, submit a declaration under oath his assets, liabilities and net worth.”
He then asked Cuevas, “Do you consider this a command or something that can be disregarded?”
Cuevas said it is not something that should be disregarded, but “if there are rights that can arise from a different law, I don’t see a reason why it can’t be availed of.”
The defense has insisted that the FCDA provides absolute confidentiality of a person’s dollar deposits.
Early in his extemporaneous speech, Cuevas said: “As of date, I am not aware of any law or any case that even merely challenges the constitutionality of RA [Repulic Act] 6426 [Foreign Currency Deposit Act]. What does that imply? It is certainly valid, effective and subsisting. Therefore, any and all repositories of foreign currency may avail thereof with no fear that they have lost the confidentiality enshrined in the said law.”
Enrile then asked Cuevas whether disobeying the command to declare all assets constitutes “culpable” violation of the Constitution.
Cuevas said circumstances would be different for each case, adding it would thus be hard to give an answer.
Enrile then asked Cuevas for the meanings of the Latin terms “culpa” and “dolus”.
Cuevas, who wasn’t sure about the answers, joked he could not recall what the terms mean, “maybe because I was absent when it was discussed.”
Enrile then said, “That’s your bad luck…It’s material in the consideration of the provision in the Constitution.”
Culpa, according to University of Sto. Tomas Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina, means “mere fault.” Dolus, on the other hand, means there is “intention.”
Asked what he thought of Enrile’s queries, Divina told ANC the presiding judge’s line of questioning is not good for Corona’s case.
“I’m afraid for CJ, the presiding judge basically wants the defense to say that failure to disclose dollar assets need not be intentional,” Divina said.
The Constitution provides that a person can be removed from office if there is “culpable” violation or “mere fault” of its [constitution] provisions.
Cuevas’ extemporaneous speech
Cuevas, in his closing speech, said the FCDA has never been interpreted as violative of the Constitution.
“I do not know of any case whatsoever nor any proceedings before the Supreme Court questioning the legality and the constitutionality of that law and simply because a senator or a justice says that the law is unconstitutional is no dictum to the effect that it is really unconstitutional unless there is a pronouncement on the unconstitutionality of the law, it remains valid, it is effective and it is enforceable against everybody within the Philippines,” he said.
Defense lawyer Dennis Manalo also said the Senate would contradict itself if it says that the secrecy provision in the FCDA is unconstitutional since it was the the legislative department which approved it.
Hiding loot via dollar deposits?
Addressing the argument that absolute confidentiality would prompt corrupt officials to hide their loot via dollar deposits, Cuevas said: “That may be true although I do not subscribe entirely to the correctness of such a view.”
He said the remedy to such a problem is not judicial, but legislative. “Let us amend the law, let us remove all these exceptions.”
In the meantime, the law exists, he said.
He reminded the senators: “The legislature or Congress never envisioned a situation where, in the process of allowing foreign currency deposits and its depositors to claim confidentiality, it would result in violation of the law, for instance, smuggling, kidnapping with ransom and so on down the line.”
Questionable verified complaint
Cuevas also took a jab at the “blitzkrieg” fashion congressmen took in approving the impeachment complaint against Corona last December.
“My point is this: the number of the complainants, whether they may be more than 200 congressmen affixing their signatures, assuming their signatures were voluntary and personal, that does not nullify the provision on due process because it is a time-honored principle of our Constitution that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law,” he said.
Cuevas earlier said Corona can run to the Supreme Court if there is grave abuse on the part of the Senate.
Cuevas commends Corona
He commended Corona for facing the Senate last week, even if there was no need for him to do so.
“I would like to commend CJ Corona because notwithstanding the several advices during the conferences that we had, that it is his right not to testify because he cannot be compelled to testify in this proceedings being akin to a criminal case.”
He ended his arguments with a plea for senator-judges’s enlightenment and a just decision.
“Hinihiling po namin na kung maaari ay tanglawan po ninyo ang pag-iisip, ang puso at damdamin ng mga senador na huwes na hahatol sa kasong ito,” he prayed.
“Sana po umiral ang buong katarungan sa ikaliligaya hindi lamang ng impeachment court, hindi lamang ng nasasakdal, kundi ng buong republika ng Pilipinas at sana po ito’y maging mitsa na para magkasundo-sundo ang buong nagkakaalit at lumigaya na ang buong Pilipinas.”
By Joseph Holandes
Is there any law barring a public official from disclosing his dollar accounts in his statement of assets liabilities and networth (SALN)?
Apparently none, according to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile when he quizzed both defense and prosecution teams regarding the disclosure of foreign currency deposits, which Chief Justice Renato Corona did not include in his SALN.
According to Enrile, there is no law prohibiting a depositor from disclosing his/her dollar account in accomplishing the SALN.
“There is no monetary secrecy law that prohibits or inhibits the depositor from revealing his own deposit,” Enrile said. “What is prohibited is the third party to reveal it… the depositor is not.”
Enrile also asked Chief Defense lawyer former Justice Serafin Cuevas if there was any harm to any public official if such dollar accounts are declared. Cuevas said harm is always present especially in these troubling times.
“The probability of kidnapping, extortion may come into the picture,” Cuevas said. “There is no assurance that one may be immune to those.”
Enrile then quoted the Constitution, which stated that a public official upon assumption of office must ” submit a declaration under oath of his assets liabilities and net worth.”
“Do you consider that a command of the people or was it something that can be disregarded?” The senate leader asked Cuevas.
Cuevas said that it can’t be disregarded but that there are other laws that arise, which also protect an individual’s right to that law.
For House Speaker Sonny Belmonte, who became the prosecution’s ‘surprise’ third speaker during the closing arguments, the non-disclosure of assets, especially of foreign deposits, cannot be a mere “lapse in judgement.”
“Hindi mistake of judgment yan, that’s your call. Tinago mo talaga all the way,” he said.
Dollar account secrecy trumps public officials’ asset disclosure requirement, defense says
Abigail Kwok and Karl John Reyes, InterAksyon.com
Confidentiality of dollar deposits trumps legislation that requires public officials to fully disclose their assets.
This is according to the defense counsel of Chief Justice Renato Corona, who said that their client acted in good faith when he didn’t declare his foreign currency and peso deposits in his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth (SALN).
During his closing arguments on Day 43 of the Chief Justice’s impeachment trial, lawyer Eduardo de los Angeles pointed out that Corona could not be faulted for his interpretation of two laws—the Code of Conduct for Public Officials and Employees and the Foreign Currency Deposits Act.
The first, also known as Republic Act 6713, requires public officials to fully disclose their cash, assets, and properties while the second, Republic Act 6426, mandates absolute confidentiality of foreign currency deposits.
De los Angeles cited jurisprudence wherein in case of doubt, “confidentiality of bank deposits should be upheld.”
Even if RA 6426 were enacted earlier than RA 6713, it does not automatically mean that the SALN law has repealed the FCDA, he stressed.
“Confidentiality under RA 6426 justifies a public official from disclosing his dollar accounts in his SALN. RA 6426 provides that all foreign currency deposits, without any qualification as to whether they are owned by a private or public person, are absolutely confidential except upon written waiver of depositor,” de los Angeles said. “Even if Sec. 8, RA 6713 requires public officials to file SALN under oath, this provision does not amend the confidentiality of dollar deposits, which is a specific law.”
De los Angeles added that Corona could not be held liable for his own interpretation of the law, since there was no existing SC ruling to dispute that ruling. Further, no legislative amendment to the law has been made.
“The Chief Justice cannot be made answerable for his interpretation of the law prior to a Supreme Court ruling or legislative amendment explicitly declaring his interpretation as erroneous,” de los Angeles said.
The defense lawyer noted that a Bureau of Internal Revenue director Estrella Martines, in 32 years of SALN examination, did not find a single public officer who disclosed a dollar deposit.
“Plainly, all these public officials understood RA 6426 and RA 6713 in the same manner as the Chief Justice,” de los Angeles said. “We are all aware that the separation of powers requires us to look only to the SC decisions as definitive interpretations of the law. To this day, however, there is no ruling that squarely applies to the confidentiality provided under RA 6426 with respect to SALN. The alternative to filling this lacuna is through an expressed repeal to a mandatory legislation.”
Not an impeachable offense
Even if Corona did not disclose his dollar and peso accounts, de los Angeles said this did not constitute a high crime nor an impeachable offense.
He added that under the SALN law, corrections could be made in the SALN when an error was done in good faith.
“We have painstakingly shown that the real properties are not actually his and therefore need not be disclosed in his SALN. The remaining issue is whether the non-disclosure of his other peso or dollar deposits amount to a culpable violation of the Constitution and/or betrayal of public trust,” de los Angeles said. “Defense has also shown that peso holdings were disclosed in his SALN. The other peso accounts do not belong to him but either owned by his children or held in trust as Basa Guidote or part of common fund. The Chief Justice relies on the basic principle what he does not own cannot be declared in his SALN. His dollar accounts were not included for reasons earlier stated.”
In his oral argument, de los Angeles said that under the 1987 Constitution, impeachable offenses are enumerated as culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, and other high crime, bribery, graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust.
“Article 11 of Constitution, the President, Vice President, member of the Supreme Court and Constitutional commission and the Ombudsman are impeachable officers and can be impeached and be removed from office for culpable violation of the Constitutional, treason, bribery and other high crimes, graft and corruption and betrayal of public trust,” de los Angeles said.
Corona should be acquitted since he did not violate any one of these violations, he said.
“Certainly, Chief Justice Corona should not be impeached or removed from office by a small crime or crimes which does not fall under the violations mentioned by the Constitution,” Angeles said.
Malacanang hand assailed
De los Angeles also criticized the prosecutors for the “unusual rubber stamping” of Corona’s impeachment complaint, where the “blitzkrieg endorsement” was led by partymates of President Benigno Aquino III.
De los Angeles said government agencies such as the BIR, the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the Ombudsman, and even the Commission on Audit were involved in efforts to remove Corona from his post.
“Such undue interference by executive department is clearly intended to weaken and then control the latter department, to do away with effective checks and balances,” de los Angeles said. “The President aims to remove the Chief Justice and make the Supreme Court subservient to his whims. It is our fervent hope the Senate will not lend assistance to this plot.”
Retired Justice Serafin Cuevas also raised the question of the validity of the impeachment complaint.
“We noticed the blitzkrieg maneuver in which the impeachment case was filed,” Cuevas said in his closing arguments, adding that Corona was denied his rights under the Constitution.
Corona’s lawyers also assailed the testimony of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, saying it was hearsay since the AMLC report she presented was not properly authenticated and verified by the body.
“The Ombudsman’s testimony on the AMLC report is inadmissible, not authenticated,” Cuevas said. “We noticed and we gather upon examination of documents and it is a mere scrap of paper. The attestation required by law is not present and therefore not admissible in evidence. Totally useless, totally irrelevant,” he added.
Lawyer Dennis Manalo also criticized the prosecution for waiving cross-examination on Corona when he took the witness stand.
“Why not did they choose not to cross-examine him and pose this question when he was here? The man responded here but they chose to waive. Our rules are very clear that when cross-examination is waived, testimony of the witness is un-impeached,” Manalo said.
Defense lawyers reiterated that Corona is innocent and deserves an acquittal.