Philippines Chief Justice Renato C. Corona “Guilty of Graft and betrayal of public trust

MANILA — The chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court, Renato C. Corona, was removed from office on Tuesday after it was disclosed during an impeachment trial that he failed to declare $2.4 million in foreign currency deposits.

Corona is guilty of corruption, paving the way for him to be sacked in the biggest win of President Benigno Aquino's anti-graft crusade.

With the conviction, Chief Justice Renato C. Corona is considered removed from office, but several senators voted for disbarment and other higher punishment.  

Twenty out of 23 senators found Corona guilty of Article II of the impeachment complaint which accused him of not declaring all his assets, including his peso and dollar deposits and real estate properties.

The chief justice was put on trial in January after majority of the House of Representatives decided to elevate their impeachment complaint against Corona to the Senate.

Corona is the first high-ranking official of the Philippines to be removed from office via impeachment, a method that is allowed by the Philippine constitution.

The impeachment trial of the chief justice is the second in the history of the Philippines. But, this is the first time that an impeachment trial was completed and a verdict was handed out.

Former Philippine President Joseph E. Estrada's trial in 2001 was aborted after prosecutors walked out of the impeachment court due to allegations that his allies tried to suppress evidence against him.

In a country where high-ranking public officials are often removed through street protests, and no one had ever been successfully impeached and convicted, the verdict was seen as a victory for the political maturity of the Philippines.

Chief Justice Corona was impeached by the House of Representatives and was convicted Tuesday (May 29, 2012) by the Senate acting as an impeachment court. He was accused of biased decisions and hiding assets.

"If your client cannot explain, I cannot abstain," said Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, upon voting to convict. "If you did not disclose, we have to depose. If you are not fit, you cannot sit as the C.J. of our Supreme Court."

Chief Justice Corona's impeachment — and the prosecution of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who appointed him chief justice — have been central to the anti-corruption campaign of President Benigno S. Aquino III. The president's supporters say that if Chief Justice Corona had not been removed, he could be an obstacle to good governance efforts that are linked to the country's recent strong economic performance.

Mr. Corona's supporters say that Mr. Aquino is trying to consolidate power by attacking the judiciary. The chief justice has also alleged that the president favors the impeachment in retaliation for court rulings that mandate the breakup of an Aquino family plantation.

In testimony on Friday, Chief Justice Corona insisted that under his interpretation of the law he was not required to disclose the money. During testimony that was marked by weeping, anecdotes about his family and breaks for medical checkups by nearby doctors, the chief justice debated the legalities of reporting requirements for government officials.

In the Philippines, senior officials are required to file a statement of assets, liabilities and net worth each year to verify that they are not enriching themselves from their government positions. One of the impeachment articles against the chief justice states that he under-declared his assets.

Anti-Corona group vows to keep eye on selection of next chief justice

While they briefly rejoiced over the conviction of their foe, a group who had pushed for the ouster of Chief Justice Renato Corona vowed Tuesday to keep a close eye on the selection of his successor.

Members of the Akbayan group made the vow after holding a rally outside the Senate grounds in Pasay City Tuesday afternoon, radio dzBB's Rodil Vega reported.

The report quoted the Akbayan group as saying the Aquino administration should follow through with its verdict and make sure Corona steps down from office.

It also suggested that the Aquino administration focus next on former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is under hospital arrest facing several graft cases as well as charges of electoral sabotage.

Members of Akbayan are allied with President Benigno Aquino III, including presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas, Commission on Human Rights head Loretta Ann Rosales, and defeated senatorial bet Theresia Baraquel a.k.a. Risa Hontiveros.

During Tuesday's Senate proceedings, Akbayan members rallied outside the Senate and cheered after Corona's fate was sealed.

The group left peacefully after the trial, the report said.

Public accountability, transparency, and the rule of law won in the Senate impeachment court's decision on Tuesday to find Chief Justice Renato Corona guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust, House prosecutors said.


Prosecution team spokesperson Rep. Erin Tañada and Rep. Sonny Angara said the Senate's decision that removes Corona from office marks a new start for the judiciary and will help the Aquino administration's campaign against graft and corruption.

"This is the start of putting our republic back in order for we did not convict a man but rather we saved our institutions from grievous harm of corruption and betrayal of public trust," Tañada said in a press statement.

"We showed our determination towards transparency and good governance with this verdict."

He said the Senate's decision proves that the country is now "politically mature."

Angara said Corona's removal from office is only the beginning in efforts to ensure good governance and restore faith in the judiciary.

Other congressmen who were among the 188 who signed the impeachment complaint against Corona also welcomed the Senate's ruling.

"It is finally over. History has been made with the first-ever impeachment process completed up to its final conclusion. Now, it is time to move on and move forward as a nation, and put this impeachment trial behind us, taking with us the lessons that should be learned from this event," House Assistant Majority Leader Karlo Alexei Nograles said.

Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, in a press statement, described the Senate's decision as "a day that should be written in history as a victory for all Filipinos, a victory for equality among all citizens - no one is above the law."

"The impeachment process only demonstrated that our democracy is on solid grounds.  It is for all Filipinos, especially those who have less in life and those who are weak. The majesty of the law should always reign in all levels of society and no one could use the law at the expense of justice and the people's will," Sarmiento said.

"This day is a victory for the people.  A triumph of justice, this day will mark the true beginning of reforms in our justice system where each person is equal before the law," Iloilo City Rep. Jerry Trenas said.

"This is our watershed that should definitely strengthen our democratic system,"  Ang Kasangga partylist Rep. Teodorico Haresco said.

Sources: New Your Times, GMA, ABS-CBN, Bangkok Post

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