VERY HOT BELLAGIO!

VERY HOT BELLAGIO!


By BERTENI “TOTO” CATALUÑA CAUSING
Editor-in-chief, Dyaryo Magdalo


            Until this writing (when eight trial days were completed), the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona, the first of its kind in the world because not one chief justice has been impeached and tried anywhere in the world, only one of the eight articles is being tried yet the hearing has produced highly-volatile issues that when not explained will be sufficient for the senators to convict.

            Let it begin by stating the particular Constitution’s provision that was alleged to have been violated by the Chief Justice to betray the public trust.

This is Article XI, Section 17, which states: “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.”

This means that if it is proven that CJ Corona did not submit under oath a list of all his assets and liabilities, he betrayed the trust of the people by not following the command of the people for him to disclose all his assets and liabilities.

Of all the officials of the government, it is the one who occupies the position of justices of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice therein who have the most solemn obligation to comply with this command of the people.

Why?

It is because the nature of their positions is unique that it demands the most extreme compliance to this command that any appearance of impropriety is enough to say a violation or betrayal of the trust given by the people.

Through the President who appoints and the Judicial and Bar Council that recommends persons from whom the appointment shall be chosen, a public trust was given to the justices, particularly the Chief Justice, at the time they were appointed.

And when they failed to measure up the expectations of the public, then they betrayed that trust, a justification for them to be impeached and convicted in an impeachment trial.

This declaration of assets and liabilities is most significant to how a justice or the Chief Justice performs in his office.  This is because a justice or the Chief Justice is looked up to as a person who is the most fair and the most honest in his decisions on issues brought to his office for judgment.  If he is not fair and not honest, then whatever decision he would render will be suspect and will not get the trust of the public.   And one of the best proofs of a high moral standard of a person is his proof of honesty that dictates again how capable he is to be fair to all.

The Chief Justice is expected to expect all kinds of issues other than those that are political or what are reserved for the people to decide.  He is expecting all persons and all groups coming from all affiliations and colors, political or apolitical.   If the trust in him is suspect or is lost, then not one of those involved in the decisions he issues would believe in those decisions.

So that it is a must that a justice and the Chief Justice must do all acts meant to keep that faith of all persons. And all acts must reflect in all the decisions of the Supreme Court or any of its divisions that these are decisions that are the most fair and the most faithful to the laws and legal principles.

And for a justice or the Chief Justice to keep his position, he must appear in the eyes of the people as one who is the most morally upright, a man who is the most honest, one who does not steal even a centavo, and one who does not involve himself in activities that put him in even the slightest doubt.

As such, any appearance of impropriety is actually enough for a judge or a justice or the Chief Justice to be said to have betrayed the public trust.

On the second day of the trial, the most important pieces of evidence were the Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) of CJ Corona.

On the third day of the impeachment trial, the registers of deeds of various cities were presented to document the certificates of titles in the names of the Chief Justice, his wife and his children.

On the next days that followed, Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares was presented to show that the only incomes of the Chief Justice and his wife were his salaries as a justice and later as the Chief Justice for his case and her salaries as the head of Camp John Hay Corporation.  Nevertheless, those incomes of the spouses were not sufficient in either installments or cash to purchase condominium units that costs millions of pesos.

The most striking of all these titles was that for the Bellagio penthouse that is covered by Condominium Certificate of Title No. 5582 of the Registry of Deeds of Taguig in the names of the spouses.  In the records of the registry, there is that deed of absolute sale showing that the spouses bought it for P14,570,225.00 dated 2010.

A look at the SALN of the spouses for 2010 shows they listed they owned two condominium units in Taguig: one worth P2,369,980.00 and the other P6,800,000.00.  There is nothing there that states about the P14.5-million Bellagio penthouse in Taguig.

Is this enough to constitute betrayal of public trust?  In ordinary eyes of the people, yes it is.

But wait. The testimony of Mr. Giovanni Ng, the finance director of Megaworld Corporation, shows that the spouses were the ones who offered to buy that penthouse and the ones who actually paid for the installments in BPI checks of the couple.  Later, Mr. Ng said that it was purchased on behalf of their daughter.

So that we have now a situation where the registered owners in the registry are the spouses, the ones who actually paid for the acquisition costs in 27 installments were the spouses through their BPI checks, at the end there appeared a piece of evidence that says that it was purchased for the daughter, and this is not listed in the SALN of the Chief Justice.

There is still another. It appeared that the price was discounted up to 40% or in the amount of P10 million.

Because this Bellagio purchase was done through the checks, there is now a danger that the House prosecution panel will ask the Impeachment Court to subpoena the manager of the BPI branch to open in public the checking accounts against where the said checks were drawn.  Thus, there is a collateral danger that the amounts deposited thereto and withdrawn therefrom would show how much money passed through their hands and how much they have actually earned.
Do these constitute betrayal of public trust?

Let us wait until after the Chief Justice presents his evidence to explain why.  And to explain, there is a necessity for the CJ to present his daughter in whose name he attempted to place as the owner of the Bellagio penthouse.  This is necessary to prove that it was the daughter indeed who bought the property and that she sent remittances therefor.

Nevertheless, this is one of the most explosive issues that if the CJ cannot explain why it was not listed in his SALN it will be a sufficient evidence for the people to vote, through the senators, to remove him from the Supreme Court.

There are other similar issues, as well. But just the same, let the people be vigilant and watch the ongoing trial or the senators will eat them alive.
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