Friday, June 1, 2012

SALNs of judges, justices released

MANILA, Philippines - A day after Renato Corona was ousted as chief justice for inaccuracies in his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth, the Supreme Court (SC) approved yesterday the release of the full SALNs of all justices and judges. Speaking to reporters, acting SC spokesperson Ma. Victoria Gleoresty Guerra said the justices agreed in a special full-court session yesterday to set aside the May 2, 1989 resolution prohibiting public disclosure of SALNs of members of the judiciary. “It was a collective decision of the justices,” she said. “The net effect is that the earlier resolution has just been set aside.” However, Guerra said the justices still have to meet in special session on June 13 to come up with the guidelines on the issuance of their SALNs for 2011. Guerra said it is best to wait for the release of the resolution and guidelines where the SC would explain the grounds for the ruling. “Let’s not forget CJ Corona set a precedent in issuing the waiver (on bank deposits),” she said. In the 1989 full-court resolution, the SC laid down guidelines on requests for copies of the SALNs of the chief justice and associate justices. The ruling, reiterated in 1992, stated that it is unlawful for any person to obtain or use any statement filed under Republic Act 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, for any purpose contrary to morals or public policy, or any commercial purpose other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public. The SC expressed willingness to have the clerk of court furnish copies of the SALNs of justices to any person upon request, provided the request has a legitimate reason. But even requests of journalists for copies of the SALNs of SC justices were denied. “The independence of the judiciary is constitutionally as important as the right to information, which is subject to the limitations provided by law,” read the ruling. “Under specific circumstances, the need for the fair and just adjudication of litigations may require a court to be wary of deceptive requests for information, which shall otherwise be freely available.” In 1992, the SC denied the requests of a graft investigation officer of the Office of the Ombudsman and a military captain for certified true copies of the SALNs of two judges. Carpio is acting chief justice SC justices discussed yesterday in full-court session the Senate verdict removing chief justice Renato Corona and its accompanying consequences, particularly the administrative reorganization in the court. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio was designated acting chief justice in accordance with SC rules. He will serve temporarily until President Aquino names a new chief justice within 90 days from the vacancy. Carpio called the full-court session at 2 p.m. Senate clerk of court Jessie Tamondong delivered the notice of the decision finding Corona guilty to the office of the SC clerk of court before 10 a.m. The Senate ruled that the decision is immediately executory. Twelve of the 14 remaining justices attended the special session. Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta were attending a prior commitment in Baguio City. With Carpio’s designation, the justices in effect have accepted the Senate’s interpretation that the verdict on Corona is immediately executory, according to Guerra, who was designated acting chief of the SC public information office. “We have an acting chief justice,” she said. “You can draw the necessary implication from that.” Guerra said Carpio took over the top SC post “since he is the most senior of the justices.” Carpio had extended the stay in office of their staff in the PIO as well as the staff of Corona for 30 days, she added. Guerra takes the place of Midas Marquez, who was coterminous with Corona as SC spokesman and chief of the SC PIO. The SC also approved several other administrative issuances, which were not immediately released to the media, Guerra said. ‘Judicial independence gone’ Judge Franklin Demonteverde of the Bacolod Regional Trial Court believes judicial independence has passed away with the conviction of Corona. “The men and women in judicial robes are grieving as they cower in fear while the sword of Damocles hovers over their heads,” he said. “These honorable men and women will be walking on dangerous grounds lest they step on the toes of the powers that be. While we abide by the decision of the impeachment court, we can only pray – God help the judiciary!” Bacolod Councilor Caesar Distrito said the senators had voted on the basis of political survival, not on the basis of evidence. “I admire Senators (Joker) Arroyo, (Miriam Defensor-) Santiago, and (Ferdinand) Marcos (Jr.) for standing with the rule of law,” he said. “Although I disagree with the decision of the Senate convicting CJ Corona, as it was shown that evidence were taken illegally and still they considered it, we have no choice but to respect it. “But if Corona was made accountable for such failure to disclose all his assets, then I think the same standards should be applied to all, from the President down to the barangay officials.” On the other hand, Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. believes Corona’s conviction has upheld the nation’s democracy. “This should serve as a lesson to everybody, especially the public officials, that the government will catch the corrupt because even the chief justice is convicted,” he said. “A strong message was handed out that the justice system is fair and high officials of government can be convicted,” Marañon said. Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez, one of 188 lawmakers who signed the impeachment complaint, said the conviction of Corona “just raised the bar of standards for public officials.” Mayor David Albert Lacson of E.B. Magalona town, Association of Chief Executive (Mayors) of Negros Occidental president, said Corona was given his day in court. “He went through due process,” he said. “(But) the hammer came down, a decision was made. We have to abide by the law.” Negros Occidental Rep. Jeffrey Ferrer said the senator-judges made the right decision based on evidence presented. Negros Occidental Rep. Mercedez Alvarez said the conviction of Corona proved that no one is above the law. “Even the highest officials of the land should comply with our constitutional duties as public officers,” she said. “After today, I hope we can all move on now as we have a lot of work to be done and a lot of bills to be passed in Congress.” Lawyer Andy Hagad, convenor of Negrenses for Corona’s Removal, said the conviction of Corona has given teeth to the SALN as a means to check the corrupt in government. “It is no longer just a piece of paper that they play around with and pay little attention to,” he said. “The SALN has become our sword against the corrupt. Mabuhay ang Pilipino.” Former Bacolod vice mayor Renecito Novero, a lawyer, said he sympathized with Corona on his sad fate, but that it should be as it is. “Interpreting the law according to his (Corona) fashion will indiscriminately provide sanctuary to crooks and thieves in government,” he said. “The Senate’s overwhelming decision is a clarion triumph of truth and rectitude. Daang matuwid. The Filipino people are ultimately the victor.” Bacolod Councilor Em Ang said: “We might disagree with the position of some senator-judges but the legal process must be respected. I just hope that lessons have been learned from this political-legal exercise. “Now this case is behind us, our senators must quickly go back to serious work, as there are a lot of significant bills that have been languishing in the Senate because of the impeachment trial.” Alex Ozoa of the Negrense 4 Noy Movement congratulated the senator-judges and the 188 lawmakers, as well as Rep. Rudy Fariñas, one of the prosecutors who delivered a closing argument. “A big nail was removed from the matuwid na daan of President P-Noy,” he said. –WithDanny Dangcalan - By Edu Punay