Senate convicts Corona 20-3

MANILA, Philippines -- The Senate sitting as impeachment court made history on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, convicting Chief Justice Renato Corona for betrayal of public trust by failing to fully declare his wealth in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.

Twenty senators, including Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, found Corona guilty, making him the first Chief Justice to be removed from office.

His trial is also the first impeachment process to reach completion.

The senators who voted to convict him were: Edgardo Angara, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Franklin Drilon, Francis Escudero, Teofisto Guingona III, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Manuel Lapid, Loren Legarda, Sergio Osmena III, Francis Pangilinan, Aquilino Pimentel III, Ralph Recto, Ramon Revilla Jr., Vicente Sotto III, Antonio Trillanes IV, Manuel Villar and Enrile.

Only Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. voted to acquit him.

Corona was impeached on December 11 last year by 188 members of the House of Representatives, sending his case to the Senate for trial.

His conviction capped a 44-day trial that stretched over almost five months from when it began on January 19.

Corona was convicted on the second of eight articles of impeachment.

Of the original eight, he was tried only on Articles of Impeachment 2 (failure to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth), 3 (his alleged lack of competence, integrity, probity and independence as required by the Constitution), and 7 (his alleged partiality in the granting of a temporary restraining order against the inclusion of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband on the government travel watch list, with the intent of allowing her to escape prosecution for various cases filed against her).

Corona only needs to be convicted on one of the articles of impeachment by a vote of 16, or two-thirds of the senator-judges.

Taking the witness stand, Corona himself admitted that he did not disclose some $2.4 million and P80 million from his dollar and peso accounts, respectively.

Corona cited the Foreign Currency Deposit Act for his non-disclosure of the dollar accounts and said the P80 million consisted of commingled funds, including money of his children.

Corona's lawyers earlier stressed the chief magistrate should not be faulted for his interpretation of the law.

"The Chief Justice cannot be made answerable for his interpretation of the law prior to a Supreme Court ruling or legislative amendment declaring his interpretation as erroneous," Eduardo de los Angeles said during Monday's closing arguments.

Corona's lawyers also said the Chief Justice's non-disclosure does not amount to an impeachable offense, particularly betrayal of public trust.

Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares, one of the prosecutors, said it was time for the chief magistrate to go.

“His assets of at least 200 million pesos is nearly eight times his admitted income of P31 million so he is presumed to have intentionally hidden his assets on the lame excuse of confidentiality and that's not good faith. Hindi tayo dapat magkaroon ng Chief Justice na mahilig sa palusot (We cannot have a Chief Justice fond of excuses),” he said.

His fellow Bayan Muna representative, Teddy Casino, said the conviction should send the following message to all public officials:

- that they should properly accomplish and disclose their SALN to the public;

- that dollar accounts should be included in the SALN, and that any discrepancy will be considered a violation of the law; and,

- that the Ombudsman may investigate complaints based on the automatic waiver already in the SALN, and government officials should at the same time issue an unconditional waiver on their dollar accounts.

“It should not be business as usual after conviction. The same standards of transparency and accountability imposed on Corona should now apply to all public officials,” Casino said.