By Perry Diaz
Threatening to seek Supreme Court intervention should the Senate impeachment court convict Chief Justice Renato Corona later today or tomorrow, Corona’s lead defense counsel, retired Justice Serafin Cuevas, is sowing fear among the senator-judges hoping that it would influence at least eight of them to vote for acquittal.
In a text message to the media, Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III, one of the prosecution spokesmen, reportedly said: “With all due respect to Justice Cuevas, it would seem his statements may be considered as ‘indirectly tampering with the jury.’ By going to the SC after conviction, the defense panel would want to take the country into a constitutional crisis.” Another prosecution spokesman, Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, said that Corona knew full well that he was practically “trifling with the Constitution” because it would put the Senate and the High Court on a collision course.
Evidently, Cuevas saw Corona’s defense crumble in the aftermath of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’ damning testimony last May 14, where she presented a 17-page report generated by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), which detailed 705 transactions involving 82 dollar deposit accounts in nine branches of five banks in Metro Manila. Clearly, Carpio-Morales’ testimony has irreparably damaged Corona’s defense.
Ironically, Carpio-Morales was subpoenaed as a defense witness, which was Corona’s pre-condition to testify in his own defense. It was a gambit Corona played to debunk Carpio-Morales’ allegation that he had $10 million deposited in his dollar deposit accounts. Little did Corona – and his defense team – realize that Carpio-Morales had done her homework digging into Corona’s “secret” dollar deposit accounts. During her testimony, she used a PowerPoint presentation, which showed the movement of money in and out of his bank accounts.
During his testimony last May 22, Corona admitted to having four dollar deposit accounts and three peso deposit accounts. And on his second and last day of testimony on May 25, Corona said that his dollar deposits total $2.4 million and his peso deposits amount to P80.7 million.
The issue is why didn’t Corona declare and report these bank deposits in violation of the Constitution, which requires all public officials to declare and report all their assets in their Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and net Worth (SALN)? This is the gist of Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment. And this is where Corona would make his last stand.
Should the Senate impeachment court convict Corona, the question is: Does the Supreme Court have the authority to intervene – and rule against a conviction – after the Senate has meted out a verdict of “guilty”?
Notwithstanding the fact that Article XI, Section 1 of the Constitution clearly states: “the Senate shall have the sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment,” nothing – and nobody — could stop or prevent the Supreme Court from intervening. They are the highest tribunal of the land and they could pretty much do whatever they want to do to interpret – or even tamper with — the Constitution. However, how can the Supreme Court implement an adverse ruling vis-à-vis a “guilty” verdict against Corona?
Would the Senate abide by a Supreme Court ruling nullifying Corona’s conviction? If the Presiding Officer and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile had his way, he would ignore a Supreme Court intervention. And it would be likely that a majority of the senator-judges would agree with his him.
In such an event, would the Supreme Court cite the entire Senate for contempt? If so, would the High Court send its sheriffs to arrest all the senators and jail them for contempt?
And how about Corona? What is he going to do to keep his job?
In a few hours, the prosecution and defense teams are going to present their closing arguments. They’re given one hour each. And after that, the senator-judges will cast their votes or if time doesn’t permit, tomorrow.