Articles of Impeachment against Chief Justice Renato Corona

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On December 12, 2011, 188 of the 285 members of the House of Representatives of the Philippines voted to transmit the 56-page Articles of Impeachment against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Of the six exclusive grounds laid down in Section 2, Article XI of the Constitution, the three grounds of (1) betrayal of public trust, (2) graft and corruption, and (3) culpable violation of the Constitution were distributed among the eight Articles of Impeachment tried by the Senate starting January 16, 2012.

On May 29, 2012, the Senate, voting 20–3, convicted Corona under Article II of the Articles of Impeachment filed against him pertaining to his failure to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth.[1]

Below are the eight Articles and the respective arguments presented by the prosecution and defense panels in support of their allegations.

Article I[edit]

Respondent betrayed the public trust through his track record marked by partiality and subservience in cases involving the Arroyo administration from the time of his appointment as Supreme Court Justice which continued to his dubious appointment as a midnight Chief Justice and up to the present.

Corona’s partiality[edit]

Prosecution: The First Article of Impeachment alleges that Corona betrayed public trust by his “track record marked by partiality and subservience in cases involving the Arroyo Administration,” which is traced to his history as President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s chief of staff, spokesman, and acting Executive Secretary.

In relation to this, a press release by Senator Franklin Drilon enumerated some 19 cases where Corona allegedly voted in favor of the Arroyo Administration.[2]

Defense: Refuting the ground of partiality, Corona stressed in his Answer that by mentioning decisions and actions of the Supreme Court in the impeachment complaint, the prosecutors “demonstrate their lack of understanding of the concept of a collegial body like the Supreme Court, where each member has a single vote,” and that “whether he be the Chief Justice or the most junior associate, his vote is of equal weight with that of the others.”

Corona also emphasized that he “cannot be held accountable for the outcome of cases before the Supreme Court which acts as a collegial tribunal.”

As to the allegation that his previous association with the Arroyo Administration was the cause of his alleged partiality, Corona highlighted the fact that it is “not uncommon for Justices to have previously worked as professionals in close association with the President.”

The Chief Justice also observed how the complaint in effect asks the Senate “to review certain decisions of the Supreme Court.” This, according to him, cannot be done in line with the “essential feature of checks and balances in a republican form of government that no other department may pass upon judgments of the Supreme Court.”

Corona’s Answer cites the 1990 case of Maglasang vs. People, where the Court declared that “the Supreme Court is supreme—the third great department of government entrusted exclusively with the judicial power to adjudicate with finality all justiciable disputes, public and private.”

In that landmark case, the High Court stressed that “No other department or agency may pass upon its judgments or declare them unjust. Consequently, and owing to the foregoing, not even the President of the Philippines as Chief Executive may pass judgment on any of the Court's acts.”

Midnight appointment[edit]

Prosecution: Despite the overwhelming majority decision of the Supreme Court in De Castro vs. Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the complainants also insist that Corona is a midnight appointee under a persistent belief that his appointment violated section 15, Article VII of the Constitution.

The oft-quoted provision reads, “Two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety.”

Defense: Corona points out that the Court already categorically held in De Castro that section 15 “confined the prohibition to appointments made in the Executive Department,” which means that the bar on midnight appointments applies only to executive positions.

The decision penned by Justice Lucas Bersamin reasoned that “The framers [of the Constitution] did not need to extend the prohibition to appointments in the Judiciary, because their establishment of the JBC and their subjecting the nomination and screening of candidates for judicial positions to the unhurried and deliberate prior process of the JBC ensured that there would no longer be midnight appointments to the Judiciary.”

The insistence of the complainants that Corona is a midnight appointee contrary to the abovementioned ruling leads to the conclusion that the First Article is also an attack on the Supreme Court’s ruling in the De Castro case. This is, of course, beyond the Senate’s power as an impeachment court.

Article II.[edit]

Respondent committed culpable violation of the Constitution and/or betrayed the public trust when he failed to disclose to the public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net worth as required under Sec. 17, Art. XI of the 1987 Constitution.

Prosecution: The Second Article alleges that Corona “failed to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities, and net worth” in violation of section 17, Article XI of the Constitution as well as the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (R.A. 3019).

Section 17, Article XI provides that, “A public officer or employee shall, upon assumption of office and as often thereafter as may be required by law, submit a declaration under oath of his assets, liabilities, and net worth. In the case of the President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Commissions and other constitutional offices, and officers of the armed forces with general or flag rank, the declaration shall be disclosed to the public in the manner provided by law.”

The complaint also alleges that Corona and his wife acquired a 300-sq.m. apartment in the Fort, Taguig worth beyond his income as a public official and this was not reported this in his SALN.[3]

Defense: Corona notes that what the Constitution requires from every public official is the submission of their SALNs. Disclosure to the public, on the other hand, shall be “in the manner provided by law.”

The implementing law is section 8 of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees (R.A. 6713) which, while recognizing the public's right to know the SALNs of public officials, prohibits any person to obtain or use SALNs “for (1) any purpose contrary to morals or public policy; or (2) any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public.”

After an official submits his SALN, the disclosure is no longer up to him. While failure to file his SALN can render Corona liable, failure to disclose such SALN would not.

Corona has stated in his Answer that he “has faithfully complied with this requirement every year,” and that this “may be verified upon a proper request with the Office of the Clerk of Court.”

The Answer also states that Corona “has not prevented the public disclosure of his declarations of assets, liabilities, and net worth. Firstly, it is not for the Chief Justice to unilaterally decide whether to disclose or not to disclose them. Secondly, the release of the SALNs of Justices is regulated by law and the Court's various Resolutions cited above. Thirdly, CJ Corona never issued an order that forbids the public disclosure of his above declarations.”

As to the Taguig property, Corona admitted in the Answer that he and his wife indeed purchased the apartment on installment and declared it in his SALN. Again, this “may be verified upon a proper request with the Office of the Clerk of Court.”

Additional points: Attention was brought to Supreme Court circular A.M. No. 92-9-851-RTC which regulates the public’s access to the SALNs of justices and judges to protect them from “circumstances which may endanger, diminish or destroy their independence and objectivity in the performance of their judicial functions or expose them to revenge for adverse decisions, kidnapping, extortion, blackmail, or other untoward consequences.”

In a way, this circular may be considered as a prohibition on the disclosure of the SALNs of justices. But this circular, a collegial action of the Court, was issued in 1992; Corona was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2001.

Article III.[edit]

Respondent committed culpable violations of the Constitution and betrayed the public trust by failing to meet and observe the stringent standards under Art. VIII, section 7 (3) of the Constitution that provides that [a] member of the judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence in allowing the Supreme Court to act on mere letters filed by a counsel which caused the issuance of flip-flopping decisions in final and executory cases; in creating an excessive entanglement with Mrs. Arroyo through her appointment of his wife to office; and in discussing with litigants regarding cases pending before the Supreme Court.

The Third Article alleges that Corona betrayed public trust in three specific instances. The first involves a labor case against Philippine Airlines; the second concerns the Vizconde Massacre case; and lastly, the appointment of Corona’s wife in government.

Recall of the flight attendants’ case[edit]

Prosecution: The impeachment complaint alleges that Corona allowed the Supreme Court to act on mere letters from counsel in Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP) vs. Philippine Airlines (PAL), which resulted in flip-flopping decisions in that case.

It was also alleged that “the Court did not even require FASAP to comment on those letters of PAL’s counsel, Atty. Estelito Mendoza, betraying Corona’s lack of ethical principles and disdain for fairness.”

What happened: In FASAP vs. PAL, a Special Division of the Supreme Court found PAL guilty of illegal dismissal and ordered the reinstatement of 1,423 employees. Later on, in a September 7 resolution, the Court’s Second Division denied with finality PAL’s motion for reconsideration and ordered that no further pleadings will be entertained.

However, on October 4, 2011, the Court en banc issued A.M. No. 11-10-1-SC recalling the September 7 resolution. This was in response to a letter sent by PAL lawyer Estelito Mendoza pointing out a procedural lapse because the September 7 resolution was issued by the Second Division, when it should have been resolved by the Special Division that rendered the original decision.

The recall of the resolution caught media attention and was portrayed to be a reversal of the original ruling in favor of the employees.

Defense: According to Corona’s Answer, “Lawyers and litigants often write the Supreme Court or the Chief Justice regarding their cases. The Supreme Court uniformly treats all such letters as official communications that it must act on when warranted.”

It also pointed out that “the practice is that all letters are endorsed to the proper division or the Supreme Court en banc in which their subject matters are pending. No letter to the Supreme Court is treated in secret.”

The Answer also explained that A.M. 11-10-1, in response to such letter, did not reverse the ruling to favor PAL. Instead, it merely recalled the original decision so that it can be heard by the proper division of the Court. That proper division has yet to decide the case, so there really is no decision yet reversing anything.

Additional points: Whether Corona can be held liable for this collegial act of the Court is for the Senate to determine. One thing is certain though: That Corona had never participated in this FASAP vs. PAL case, having inhibited since 2008.

Discussing the Vizconde Massacre Case with Lauro Vizconde[edit]

Prosecution: The second instance of betrayal of public trust involves the Vizconde massacre case. In Lejano vs. People, Corona voted to affirm the conviction of Hubert Webb et al., but lost by a slim majority to his colleagues who went on to acquit the accused.

Corona was said to have accused Senior Justice Antonio Carpio of lobbying with the other Justices to secure Webb’s acquittal. This was allegedly discussed by Corona with complainant Lauro Vizconde while Webb’s appeal was pending in the Supreme Court.

It should be recalled that before Carpio was appointed to the Supreme Court, he was one of the witnesses who claimed to have seen Webb in the United States at the time the crime was committed.

Defense: Corona does not deny the meeting with Vizconde. However, he stressed that “only Dante Jimenez, as head of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) was cleared to make a courtesy call on the newly appointed Chief Justice,” and that he “was thus surprised to see Lauro Vizconde come into his chambers with Jimenez.”

While the Answer admits that Vizconde remained during that meeting as “a result of etiquette and manners,” Corona denied having told Vizconde that Carpio lobbied with the other Justices for Webb’s acquittal.[4]

Appointment of Corona’s wife in John Hay Corp.[edit]

Prosecution: The third instance under Article III involves Corona’s wife Cristina. The complainants attack the Chief Justice for having “compromised his independence when his wife accepted an appointment from Mrs. Arroyo to the Board of John Hay Management Corporation (JHMC).”

They also claim that “complaints have been filed against Mrs. Corona by disgruntled members of the Board of JHMC and certain officers and employees.”

Defense: Pointing out that “No law prohibits the wife of a Chief Justice from pursuing her own career in the government,” Corona’s Answer stressed that Mrs. Corona was already part of JHMC even before her husband was appointed to the Supreme Court.[5]

Regarding the alleged complaints against Mrs. Corona, the Answer simply shrugged them aside because “Corona is not being impeached for alleged offenses of his wife.”

Article IV.[edit]

Respondent betrayed the public trust and/or committed culpable violation of the Constitution when it blatantly disregarded the principle of separation of powers by issuing a status quo ante order against the House of Representatives in the case concerning the impeachment of then Ombudsman Merceditas Navarro-Gutierrez.

Prosecution: The Fourth Article alleges that the Court’s issuance of the status quo ante order against the House of Representatives was a blatant disregard of the principle of separation of powers in order to protect then Ombudsman Gutierrez.

What happened: On July 22, 2010, an impeachment complaint was filed against Gutierrez. On August 10 that same year, another impeachment complaint was filed against her.

Considering that the Constitution prohibits two impeachment proceedings against one official within one year, the Supreme Court issued a status quo ante order until it could decide the case filed by Gutierrez questioning the validity of the second complaint.

Being a collegial act, it was majority of the Court that issued the order, not Corona.

Defense: Corona called attention to the landmark case of Francisco vs. House of Representatives to answer the question on whether the Supreme Court disregarded separation of powers by assuming jurisdiction over an impeachment proceeding.

In this case, it was Justice Conchita Carpio Morales herself who affirmed the Supreme Court’s power to determine whether the House of Representatives committed a violation of the Constitution or gravely abused its discretion in the exercise of its power of impeachment.

Additional points: Despite the status quo ante order, the Supreme Court eventually ruled in Gutierrez vs. House Committee on Justice that the second impeachment complaint did not violate the Constitution. The Court actually allowed the House to pursue its case against the Ombudsman, which eventually led to her impeachment.[6]

Article V.[edit]

Respondent committed culpable violations of the constitution through wanton arbitrariness and partiality in consistently disregarding the principle of res judicata and in deciding in favor of gerrymandering in the cases involving the 16 newly-created cities, and the promotion of Dinagat Island into a province.

Prosecution: The Fifth Article specifically attacks the Supreme Court’s decisions in League of Cities vs. Comelec regarding 16 new cities created by R.A. 9009, and Navarro vs. Ermita involving the creation of the Province of Dinagat Island by R.A. 9355.

These gerrymandering cases both arose from acts of Congress.

Also, FASAP vs. Philippine Airlines once again takes the spotlight in Article V with the allegation that Corona disregarded the principle of res judicata by abandoning a previous ruling in that case.

Defense: Corona’s Answer quoted Justice Roberto Abad’s concurring opinion in Navarro to better explain that there really was no flip-flopping in the League of Cities case: “Of 23 Justices who voted in the case at any of its various stages, 20 Justices stood by their original positions. They never reconsidered their views. Only three did so and not on the same occasion, showing no wholesale change of votes at any time.”

It was noted that in the League of Cities case, a total of 23 Justices participated because of the seven retirements that occurred during its pendency. Of all these Justices, only three switched votes, and as Justice Abad points out, these three did not “flip-flop” because they only switched once.

As to the Navarro case, the Answer refused to dwell on it considering that it is still subject of a pending motion for reconsideration.

Regarding FASAP vs. PAL, as mentioned in our earlier discussion under the Third Article, Corona inhibited in this case, so he never had any participation in the recall of the original decision. Also, the FASAP case has not been decided by the Court yet. It was merely reassigned to the proper division—which has yet to resolve it.

Additional points: In these three cases, the impeachment complaint tries to pin down Corona for collegial actions of the Supreme Court. While Corona may be primus inter pares among the magistrates, he surely has only one vote out of 15.

Article VI.[edit]

Respondent betrayed the public trust by arrogating unto himself, and to a committee he created, the authority and jurisdiction to improperly investigate an alleged erring member of the Supreme Court for the purpose of exculpating him. Such authority and jurisdiction is properly reposed by the constitution in the House of Representatives via impeachment.

Prosecution: The Sixth Article alleges that Corona betrayed public trust when he “created” the Supreme Court’s Ethics Committee that investigated the allegation that Justice Mariano Del Castillo plagiarized material for the Court’s decision in Vinuya vs. Executive Secretary.

The Court en banc, voting 10–2, eventually adopted the Ethics Committee’s recommendation to absolve Del Castillo of the charge in a resolution titled In re Charges of Plagiarism against J. Del Castillo.

The impeachment complaint also questions the Supreme Court’s power to create the committee for encroaching upon the impeachment power of the House of Representatives.

Defense: Corona refuted the allegation by stressing that “The Committee’s power is only recommendatory. If the offense is impeachable, the Supreme Court en banc will refer the matter to the House of Representatives for investigation. On the other hand, if the offense is non-impeachable, the Supreme Court en banc may decide the case and, if warranted, impose administrative sanctions against the offender.”

As to the creation the committee, Corona traces it to the “power of the Supreme Court to discipline its own members as provided for in section 6, Article VIII of the Constitution,” granting the High Court “administrative supervision over all the courts and the personnel thereof.”

Pursuant to this power, the Ethics Committee was created through A.M. 10-4-20-SC under Chief Justice Reynato Puno—way before Del Castillo allegedly plagiarized the Vinuya decision, and definitely not under or by Corona. Nonetheless, the creation of the committee was a collegial act of the Court which cannot be attributed to one person alone.

Article VII.[edit]

Respondent betrayed the public trust through his partiality in granting a temporary restraining order (TRO) in favor of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo in order to give them an opportunity to escape prosecution and to frustrate the ends of justice, and in distorting the Supreme Court decision on the effectivity of the TRO in view of a clear failure to comply with the conditions of the Supreme Court's own TRO.

Prosecution: The Seventh Article dwells on the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court against a Department of Justice Watch List Order (WLO) that prevented Arroyo from leaving the country for medical treatment.

The complaint alleges that Corona granted the TRO to provide Arroyo the “opportunity to escape prosecution” and that the Court “was coordinating with the Arroyos who made multiple flight bookings in expectation of the issuance of the TRO.”

Article VII also alleges that Corona (or the Court) violated the Court’s own Internal Rules by disregarding the ponente’s recommendation that a hearing be held before they issue the TRO.

The impeachment complaint also claims that Corona distorted the Court’s decision regarding the effectivity of the TRO in line with Justice Lourdes Sereno’s opinion that its effectivity was suspended pending Arroyo’s compliance with all the conditions laid down by the Court, one of which was the amendment of the Special Power of Attorney (SPA) given to Arroyo’s lawyer.

What happened: Pursuant to DOJ Circular 41, the Secretary of Justice issued a WLO against Arroyo after the former president expressed her desire to leave the country to seek medical treatment for a rare bone disease. Arroyo filed a petition for the issuance of a TRO against the Justice Secretary so she can leave the country.

Note that a TRO is a provisional remedy under Rule 58 of the Rules of Court which is resorted to by a litigant against acts which “would probably work injustice” or would be “in violation of the rights of the applicant.”

In applying for the TRO, Arroyo invoked her constitutional right to travel under section 6, Article III of the Constitution. She claimed that the WLO violated her right to travel considering that only those who have pending cases in court may be validly prevented by a judge to leave the country.

At the time of the issuance of the TRO, not a single case was pending in any court in the country against Arroyo. It was only after the TRO was issued that all of a sudden, a case was filed in court[7] and a warrant for her arrest issued.

Defense: Corona denied the allegations that there was coordination between the Court and Arroyo in the issuance of the TRO by pointing to the fact that “Information that the Supreme Court en banc would be taking up those TRO applications on the morning of 15 November 2011 was widely known” since “crews of all major television stations and print reporters had been camping at the gates of the Supreme Court that very morning.”

Thus, it was logically “not surprising that the Arroyos and their lawyers apparently prepared for the chance that the Supreme Court might favorably act on their applications for TRO and so, had their plans in place.”

Corona’s answer also denied the allegation that the Chief Justice (or the Court) violated the Court’s Internal Rules by disregarding the ponente’s recommendation that a hearing be held before a TRO is issued.

Attention was brought to the fact that “the Supreme Court en banc is not bound by the Member-in-Charge’s recommendation. As in any collegial body, the decision of the majority prevails.” Note also that it is not unusual for the Court to grant TROs without conducting prior hearing.

This is the reason why after the deliberations, the Court, voting 8–5, decided to grant the TRO and set oral arguments to be conducted seven days later.

As to Sereno’s claim that Corona distorted the Court’s decision on the effectivity of the TRO, the Answer pointed out that it was majority of the Court—and not Corona alone—that decided that the TRO was not suspended.

By a vote of 7–6 (the answer wrongly stated it to be 9-4), the Court ruled that the TRO was immediately executory and was not suspended by Arroyo’s failure to comply with the SPA requirement. In any case, Arroyo was able to comply with this condition within the 5-day period.

Article VIII.[edit]

Respondent betrayed the public trust and/or committed graft and corruption when he failed and refused to account for the judiciary development fund (JDF) and special allowance for the judiciary (SAJ) collections.

Prosecution: The last Article deals with Corona’s failure and refusal to (1) report the status of the Judiciary Development Fund and the Special Allowance for the Judiciary; (2) remit to the Bureau of Treasury SAJ collections; (3) account for funds released and spent for unfilled positions in the Judiciary; (4) remit fiduciary funds in the amount of P5.38 Billion; and, (5) correctly state the balance of the SAJ in the amount of P559.5 Million.

Defense: To debunk the allegations in the Eighth Article, the Answer cites the following official records: (1) Statement of Allotment, Obligation and Balances for 2010 submitted to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM); (2) Reports of Collections and Disbursements on the JDF and the SAJ Fund submitted to the Commission on Audit (COA), the DBM, the House of Representatives, and the Senate; (3) Report of Collections and Disbursements on the Fiduciary Fund for 2008 and 2009 submitted to the Senate; and (4) Report on the Utilization of Savings for 2008 and 2009 submitted to the Senate.

Report on the JDF[edit]

“The Judiciary shall enjoy fiscal autonomy.” Corona’s Answer invokes this mandate of section 3, Article VIII of the Constitution. In line with this fiscal autonomy, the accounts of the Judiciary may only be examined, audited, and settled on a post-audit basis, i.e., only after disbursement.

The Answer stressed that the question on whether the disbursement vouchers for the JDF and SAJ in 2010 (the year Corona became Chief Justice) were reported to the resident COA auditor for post-audit is a matter that can easily be determined by checking with the records of the COA.

Corona then stated categorically “that all disbursement vouchers for the funds of the JDF and SAJ are submitted to the resident COA auditor.”

Remittance of SAJ collections[edit]

Corona’s Answer calls attention to R.A. 9227 to better understand whether Corona’s failure to remit the SAJ collections constitutes an impeachable offense. Note that R.A. 9227 gives the Chief Justice the power to use the SAJ surplus to grant additional allowances to other court personnel.

The Answer cites this as the reason why on January 13, 2011, the Supreme Court and the DBM executed Joint Circular No. 2004-1 providing that “collection of the Judiciary from funds enumerated under items 2.1.1 and 2.1.2 above shall no longer be remitted to the National Treasury. Instead, these shall be deposited in an authorized government depository bank as may be determined by the Supreme Court.”

Funds for unfilled positions in the judiciary[edit]

Corona highlights the power of the Chief Justice to realign savings from appropriations for the Judiciary as a constitutionally-recognized fact.

Section 25(5) of Article VI of the Constitution provides that “the President, the President of the Senate, The Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the heads of Constitutional Commissions may, by law, be authorized to augment any item in the general appropriations law for their respective offices from savings in other items of their respective appropriations.”

How Corona realigned savings from regular appropriations, including those for unfilled positions in the Judiciary, may be evaluated by looking into the Supreme Court’s Statement of Allotment, Obligation and Balances (SAOB) for 2010 submitted to the DBM. The savings for 2008 and 2009, though not accumulated under Corona’s term as Chief Justice, had also been submitted to Congress during the 2011 budget hearing.

In connection with unremitted fiduciary funds, A.M. No. 10-8-3-SC was also cited to clarify that the Chief Justice may not remit such fiduciary funds to the Bureau of Treasury without authorization from Congress. It would be illegal for Corona to remit such funds because these are private property, and a law is necessary to authorize the escheat or forfeiture of such private unclaimed funds in favor of the State.

Nonetheless, the Answer noted that these amounts accumulated way back in 2009. Corona became Chief Justice in May 2010.

Petitions on the validity of the impeachment process[edit]

Several petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court questioning the validity of the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice. The challenge is based primarily on section 4, Rule 7 of the Rules of Court which requires that a complaint be “verified by an affidavit that the affiant has read the pleading and that the allegations therein are true and correct of his knowledge and belief.”

The claim in Corona’s Answer about the impossibility of 188 congressmen-signatories having read the 56-page complaint[8] in a span of a few hours is not difficult to understand considering that some congressmen publicly admitted[9] not having been given the chance to read the Articles before they were made to sign.

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