Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cuevas harassed by BIR agents poking into his properties; Gatdula fired after INK refused to force Cuevas to abandon defense. Honasan says mouthful about honor and good name. More desperate moves of prosecution, including 100 witnesses. Wanted: 'schools of fishes' for successful fishing expedition

There are disturbing reports that a Cabinet member met with members of the Black and White movement in a high-end condo last Jan. 28 afternoon to finalize plans for a People Power effort. Their idea, according to the reports, is to occupy the Supreme Court and forcibly oust Chief Justice Renato Corona and create a disturbance at EDSA well before the conclusion of the Senate trial, with participants recruited from Central and Northern Luzon. Reports claim that the people hatching this plan believe at this point that with all the incredible bungling of the prosecution, CJ will surely be acquitted.  And so, IN DESPERATION, reports claim, this group will stage People Power at SC and EDSA as a pre-emptive move.  


Frankly, I don’t think this Cabinet member and the B/W Movement people are so dumb as to try to fake an artificial People Power. For as Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of Lipa, who apparently also has heard of these reports, was quoted as opining, “On this planned ‘People Power’ to force CJ Corona to resign, it won’t succeed. Call it another thing. True People Power is not man-made. True People Power is never planned nor organized. It is spontaneous.”
How true. Let’s hope and pray that the supposed plotters won’t resort to moves that would jeopardize the peace and stability of this country, for there are also those who would not tolerate unjust and unruly actions. The nation is intensely glued to the Senate trial which is a daily joust of legal and psychological abilities between the prosecution and defense, based on evidence and the rules of court. And except for one senator-judge who is being asked to inhibit because of his acting as lead prosecutor-judge, the senators appear to be trying their best to be fair and impartial in this trial.
Thus, if there are any moves by outside pressure groups perceived contrary to court rules and elementary fair play, it could be the last straw among a people who have fairly tolerated the trial by publicity to which CJ has unjustly been subjected by what former Sen. Kit Tatad calls the “conscript media.” 


For days since the summary firing of NBI Director Magtanggol Gatdula, reports have also buzzed that this happened because the Iglesia ni Kristo (INK) refused to succumb to Malacanang’s pressure to stop former Justice Serafin Cuevas from appearing as lead defense counsel of CJ Corona. Now Cuevas himself affirms this rumor, as reported by a newspaper today, attesting that some Palace emissaries have suggested that the criminal case against Gatdula (also an INK member like himself) would be dropped if Cuevas abandons the defense panel. Cuevas was also quoted as revealing that he’s being harassed by BIR agents now poking into his properties.
I don’t know Justice Cuevas beyond occasionally shaking hands with him, but the Palace would be committing a grave blunder if it continues harassing him. With his stature in the legal community and as a "rock star" with the public, it’s easy to see that he took on the defense of CJ because he believes in the man’s integrity. Pressuring him thus would be considered a supreme act of desperation on the Palace's part. 


At this point it’s material to recall the point raised by Senators Joker Arroyo and Gregorio Honasan last week. Following the testimony of BIR Commissioner Kim Jacinto Henares on Corona's ITR, Arroyo got her to admit that the BIR is now investigating the discrepancies between the income declaration of the spouses Corona and their property acquisitions.  Arroyo then expressed deep concern that with the Senate on-going trial and the BIR’s continuing investigation on the Coronas, the public impression would be that ALL THE FORCES OF GOVERNMENT ARE NOW BEING THROWN  at the CJ. In other words, full-blown persecution and AN OVERKILL.  But that’s a perception the public has long held---that P-Noy is out to reduce Corona to a pulp, durugin siya.


Sen. Gringo Honasan followed Arroyo’s  point with his own observation about how CJ's trial in the media is “going faster than that inside the Senate” especially since apparently some prosecution members have had no qualms about leaking documents that were marked but not yet entered as evidence in the court (one prosecutor even argued that media cameras inside the Senate are so powerful that they can pick up minute details in documents! That, of course, is insulting the public’s intelligence; we all know they were leaked out---BOC). 
Honasan, obvious bothered by the way CJ and his family have been mercilessly raked over the media in these leaked documents, then queried: “What has happened to the concern for one’s good name and that of family honor and other similar values?” Good question, Gringo. 


The big question, however, is, would Malacanang accept a verdict of acquittal that a growing number of political pundits already foresee even at this stage, two weeks into the trial? 
We media constantly exchange views and opinions about the current high drama and at a recent social gathering in Makati I queried a prominent columnist about his fearless forecast. He replied that at the rate the prosecution is bungling things CJ might just be acquitted. His opinion is now shared by a growing number of people who opine that the impeachment complaint submitted by the House to the Senate was so hurriedly done as to be so poor in structure (as infirmed as the signatures of the 188!). In fact, some senators themselves suggested that the prosecutors re-structure their complaint so that they could introduce evidence not otherwise allowed under the present complaint. But defense counsel Cuevas was also quick to point out that this would entail new House deliberations; and of course, a repaired complaint could raise anew the need for personal verification by the 188 signatories, which the prosecutors wouldn’t want.
This growing opinion about the weakness of the prosecution, I submit, is tied with circulating rumors about a People Power being planned to get CJ out of the SC. 


Star columnist Alex Magno recently cited the opinion of his colleague, former Sen.  Ernesto Maceda, that the “turning point” in the Senate trial came on the fifth day, when lead prosecutor Neil Tupas challenged Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile to “liberalize” the Senate proceedings by not entertaining too many technicalities. Enrile, obviously piqued by this challenge, pressed Tupas with the now-famous series of queries: “If you want me to relax the rules, then tell me how I must do it and to what extent. Are you suggesting that we should allow misleading questions? Are you suggesting we should allow hearsay evidence? Are you suggesting that we allow argumentative questions?”
JPE's series of queries stumped Tupas and he retreated. Afterwards I spoke to some of  his prosecution colleagues and they opined that “Neil should have shut up after Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago gave us a break by batting for a less technical approach, so that the truth could come out. Pero nagdadada pa rin si Neil.” Morale is quite low in the prosecution as it takes beating after beating. One of its expected star performers, bar-topnotcher  Rudy Farinas, walked out after private prosecutor Arthur Lim (who likes to thunder into the microphone, giving Miriam migraines) took over Farinas' assigned role in interrogating Kim Henares; but he has since been mollified.
 Last Thursday the prosecution withdrew an earlier motion to subpoena all the bank accounts of CJ Corona and the reason given was “so as not to saddle the Court with these matters." But I surmise that liberalizing access to bank accounts would also sow panic even in the business community, just like what Kim Henares is doing with ITRs. Finally, just before session ended last Thursday, JPE criticized the prosecution move to subpoena all the records of condos allegedly involved in transactions with the Coronas. As JPE said, if this were to be the case, the Court would have to subpoena even construction and engineering records! 


Over the weekend the public was regaled with more desperate moves by the prosecution, which declared that it intends to summon more than 100 witnesses,  including  14 justices of the SC and media members. The staggering number that it wanted subpoenaed (vs. only 15 witnesses by the defense) elicited an incredulous “Oh my God” from JPE, while  Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III exclaimed, “I wonder who’s delaying the impeachment trial now.”  Sen. Bongbong Marcos quickly calculated that the Senate needs an entire year to finish hearing all the 100 testimonies!
Let’s give the last word on the prosecution’s plan to subpoena 100 witnesses to this pundit who texted, “Of course prosecution is right in summoning 100 witnesses. It needs schools of fishes for a fishing expedition to succeed.”

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Follow the chronology of events in this article by “Ang Panday,” as reprinted below

Hacienda Luisita

Many political pundits, including this blogger, have asserted---and continue to assert---that Hacienda Luisita was the trigger for the impeachment of CJ Corona that the House of Representatives railroaded in less than two hours last December 12, 2011. 188 members of the House signed the impeachment complaint, even as majority of them were not able to personally verify the contents of this complaint, as per the requisite of the Constitution.

I urge you readers to go through the following article and analyze for yourselves if you can share the same conclusion as various political analysts---that it was, as CJ Corona himself asserted after he was impeached, the Nov. 22, 2011 unanimous decision of the Supreme Court to order the decades-delayed distribution of Hacienda Lusita’s lands to the long-suffering farmer-tillers, that pushed President Aquino to order the impeachment of the Highest Magistrate of the SC.

Now the whole country is torn up over this impeachment case, and is facing possible civil and political turmoil not seen in decades. Was it simply because of Luisita? 


 “On May 7, 1980, the Marcos government filed a complaint before the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) to compel the surrender of Hacienda Luisita to the Ministry of Agrarian Reform for distribution of the land to the farmers at cost. The case stemmed from the refusal of the Cojuangcos to abide by their agreement with government to distribute the land to the farmers, in consideration of the financial assistance granted them by the government in their acquisition of the azucarera and the hacienda. During the campaign for the 1986 snap elections, while the case was pending, candidate Cory Cojuangco-Aquino promised the distribution of the hacienda to the farmers, if she won the elections.

“Shortly after the snap elections, where there were widespread allegations of cheating, the Edsa Revolution toppled the Marcos government and installed Cory in power.

“On July 22, 1987, in the exercise of her revolutionary powers, President Cory issued Executive Order No. 229 establishing her agrarian reform program, and providing for a stock distribution option (SDO) instead of actual land distribution. “On May 18, 1988, upon the motion of Cory's Solicitor-General Frank Chavez, the Court Appeals dismissed the complaint filed by Marcos for the surrender of the hacienda, which the government previously won before the RTC.

“On June 10, 1988, Cory signed into law Rep. Act No. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, enacted by the Cory dominated Congress. The law adopted the original Cory SDO mechanism.

“On November 21, 1989, Cory's DAR Secretary Miriam Defensor-Santiago approved the SDO for Hacienda Luisita.

“So if you're a die-hard Cory fan, but could not understand why Cory herself inserted the SDO mechanism into her agrarian reform program, then think no more. Cory' real reason is clear.


“During the Edsa II Revolution in January 2001, Cory supported the civilian-military uprising which toppled the Erap administration and installed GMA in power. “During the presidential elections of 2004, Cory again supported GMA, using her vaunted yellow media to help defeat Erap protege FPJ. “Meanwhile, sometime in December 2003, the hacienda workers petitioned the revocation of the SDO for non-compliance with the promised dividends and benefits.

“About one year later on November 6, 2004, almost all of the more than 5,000 hacienda workers staged a protest against the mass retrenchment implemented by the management. "On November 16, 2004, violence erupted between the protesters, the police and military forces, where 7 people were killed and 121 injured in what became known as the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

“Soon after, 8 people who supported the farmers or had evidence supporting their case were murdered one by one. “GMA then created DAR Task Force Luisita to tackle the petition of the hacienda farmers. By July 2005, the DAR task force completed its report recommending the revocation of the SDO and distribution of the hacienda to the farmers.

“Meanwhile, on July 8, 2005, Cory turned against GMA, and led opposition protests calling for her resignation, alleging widespread cheating known as the Hello Garci scandal. “On December 22, 2005, GMA's Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) issued Resolution No. 2005-32-01, ordering the revocation of the SDO and the distribution of the land to the farmers.

“So if you're a die-hard Cory fan, but could not understand why Cory turned against her own protege GMA, alleging widespread cheating in a presidential election where Cory herself actively campaigned, then wonder no more. Cory's motivation is clear


“On February 1, 2006, Hacienda Luisita petitioned the Supreme Court to prevent the PARC from enforcing its resolution revoking the SDO and ordering the distribution of the land to the farmers. “On June 30, 2010, Noynoy Cojuangco-Aquino took over the presidency from GMA.

"On November 18, 2011, the Pasay Regional Trial Court ordered the arrest of GMA based on charges of electoral sabotage filed by PNoy's DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima and Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes. 

“Going back, GMA was the chair of PARC that ordered the revocation of the SDO of Hacienda Luisita. 

“On November 22, 2011, the Corona Supreme Court promulgated its Decision affirming the revocation of the hacienda's SDO, and directing the distribution of the land to the farmers.

“On December 12, 2011, a total of 188 Congressmen allied with PNoy impeached SC Chief Justice Corona on various charges in just one day. 13 more Congressmen later added their signatures.

“On December 19, 2011, the management filed a motion for reconsideration of the Decision. Thereafter, they asked for the inhibition of Corona in the Hacienda Luisita case.

“The last word from PNoy's Akbayan supporters is that they were actually aiming to replace 8 of the 15 SC justices and not just the chief justice.

“So if you're a die-hard PNoy fan who believes in his Daang Matuwid, but did not see the fixation against GMA coming, nor the blitzkrieg impeachment of CJ Corona, then wonder no more. PNoy's motivation is clear.


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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why the sudden firing of NBI Director Gatdula when De Lima admits that DOJ panel’s findings were “not yet conclusive?” With Senate trial underway, this move most impolitic. Recall Miriam‘s admission in October 2005 that she was kicked out of Cory’s Cabinet due to her unfavorable opinion on Luisita stock option. Where is Miriam these days, by the way?

NBI Director Magtanggol Gatdula

The summary firing of NBI Director Magtanggol Gatdula shocked many people inasmuch as it seemed like a rush job again, like many other undertakings of this administration (such as the hurriedly prepared arrest-order by speed-reader Pasay Judge Jesus Mupas vs. GMA and the rush listing of CJ Corona’s alleged ill-gotten properties by the Land Registration Authority that’s being disputed as shot through with holes). I note that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima herself admitted that the findings of the DOJ panel investigating the extortion case allegedly involving Gatdula were “not yet conclusive;” in fact, she was quoted as saying his case will still be subject to preliminary investigation. Gatdula protests that he never even got a copy of the complaint, much less was his side heard.
In view of De Lima’s disclosure, the correct thing for P-Noy to have done was to encourage Gatdula to take a longer leave of absence or even suspend him pending investigation---BUT NOT OUTRIGHT REMOVAL.  How precipitate this recent move seems, compared to the way P-Noy allowed a number of cases involving his close buddies to drag on before he moved against them--- such as that of Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez on the widespread smuggling in Customs, or DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno in the Luneta HK tourists shooting. In the case of the latter two, P-Noy’s trust certainly took a long time to wear off, whereas Gatdula just simply “lost my trust.”
The sacked NBI Director vows to fight back, and this could be costly for P-Noy, considering the following Gatdula has and more significantly, the popular perception that he's “tao ni Ping Lacson.” The timing of his firing while the Senate impeachment trial is in full swing is most impolitic, to say the least.
The Hacienda Luisita case is all over the media, especially since today is the 25th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre that resulted in the death of 13 of the farmer demonstrators who were at the Palace gates during President Cory’s time, to press for genuine land reform;  39 of them sustained gunshot wounds and 20 had minor injuries. This anniversary observance was brought into sharper focus as the farmers in Luisita called on the Supreme Court to enforce its unanimous decision of last Nov. 22, 2011 to re-distribute the remaining lands of this biggest feudal estate. CJ Renato Corona, in turn, drew that SC decision into sharper focus when he asserted that it was what triggered the President’s order to the subservient House of Representatives to impeach him.
Over the internet the 25th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre recalled another aspect of the Luisita controversy, the stock distribution option (SDO) that the Cory administration pushed the Hacienda’s farmers to accept in lieu of outright land distribution.  It will be recalled that negotiations between the Magsaysay administration and the Cojuangco family had led its successor Garcia administration to finance that family's buy-out of the Hacienda from Tabacalera with a fat loan from GSIS, plus Philippine sovereign guarantee for a huge dollar loan from Manufacturer’s Hannover Trust in 1958. 

But the government stipulation was that after 10 years (1968) the Cojuangcos were to turn over the lands to the farmer-tillers.  This, however, was frustrated by the SDO pushed by the Cory administration and legal machinations in various agencies of government over the next four decades by her family.
Recently an item that had originally been featured in Philippine  Star is being recalled under the heading, “What Miriam told Cory about Luisita.”  It goes thus:  

“On October 3, 2005, about a year after the November 16, 2004 Luisita massacre (where seven people were killed in a clash with Hacienda’s security forces), Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago told the Philippine Star that Luisita was one of the reasons why President Cory Aquino removed her as Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 1989.
‘ “I made the mistake of telling the press that I thought that President (Cory) Aquino should inhibit herself as chair of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) which would make the final decision on the stock option,” Santiago said. “She did, but as a result I got kicked out of the Cabinet, presumably for insubordination.”
“Santiago also called Luisita’s SDO unconstitutional in the October 3, 2005 report. “The general rule is for land to be taken away from the landlord and given to the farmers. Why should there be an arbitrary exception for the Cojuangco hacienda,” she said. ‘ “
Good question, Senadora Miriam. Today the SC has the option to take away that "exception" but CJ Corona is paying the ultimate price for leading it.


News reports today said that President Noynoy is asking CJ Corona to explain the discrepancies “between (Corona’s) statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) and as reflected in his declared properties.” Asserting that CJ's defense team could be resorting to “squid tactics” on this issue, P-Noy was quoted by Star as saying “What is being asked is, ‘Did you file the SALN? Did you disclose it publicly? He (CJ) can only say: ‘I filed on this date and it came out in this newspaper’ in meeting the public disclosure requirement of the Constitution.” ‘
P-Noy’s prosecutor-allies have succeeded in forcing public disclosure of CJ Corona’s SALN through a subpoena issued by the Senate trial court to the SC Clerk of Court.  All the SC justices’ SALNs have been withheld from public scrutiny for the past 23 continuous years by the High Court, through an en banc resolution issued during the term of  the late SC Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan in 1989, and followed all the way to the Corona Court.  Since last Wednesday, when the subpoena took effect, Corona’s  SALN has become open season in the internet, in gross violation of rules of the Senate trial court against UNAUTHORIZED disclosure to the public (two House prosecutors were seen taking cell-phone pictures of it and are prime suspect of this violation).


Now that Corona’s controversial SALN has been made public and P-Noy has challenged him to justify the discrepancies there, it behooves P-Noy, too, to comment on his own net worth, based on his SALN. As shown in Corona's SALNs from 2002, when he entered the SC as associate justice, the CJ's net worth increased pretty steadily in small increments until 2010, when it increased by 57.5 % over his 2009 worth. The explanation of his defense team for the increase is that CJ sold property, and the prosecutors will be on the look-out for this.

On the other hand, P-Noy should explain why his net worth maintained a small but very steady increase every year since 1998, when he became a member of the House for nine years and for three years as senator; but suddenly it registered a whopping 250% increase in 2010, when he became President with his government salary of P820,000 a year. 

The behavior of the two top officials' net worth is quite easy to see and compare in the following two charts: 


The question that  comes to mind is: what accounts for the whopping 250%  leap in P-Noy's net worth?  Some folks I checked out his chart with opined that perhaps it was due to inheritance from his late mother Cory, who passed away in August of 2009. Or perhaps it could have been his divestment of his share of Hacienda Luisita to, reportedly, one of his siblings, although someone else argued how it could have been from Luisita when that estate has been badly ailing financially, especially in the last few years?  Or could this increase have come from considerable campaign contributions that were unspent during his  candidacy in 2010 (because there was just too much of them)?

Then the next question is, did the President pay the correct taxes on either or all of these financial developments that favored him?
P-Noy should explain the gargantuan jump in his net worth, just as CJ will be made to explain his own increase in net worth when he was appointed to the helm of the High Court.  

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Now the entire Corona family, not just the CJ, is on trial as their ITRs are being summoned. Significant that on eve of 25th Anniversary of Mendiola Massacre, Luisita farmers back up CJ Corona in his fight vs. Cory's son

From a high of “45 properties” supposedly belonging to CJ Renato Corona that were played up incessantly in the yellow media in the last three weeks prior to trial opening--- in full violation of the rules of engagement such as the gag order on both sides, as well as elementary decency and fair play--- the prosecution has now whittled down Corona’s alleged pieces of property to 19 (yes, still including the three Bellagio parking lots as separate titles, para pangpahaba ng listahan!). Obviously, a lot of entries in that computer-generated list, as submitted by P-Noy’s classmate, Administrator Eulalio Diaz III of the Land Registration Authority, had to be cancelled after the prosecution discovered they had no connection with CJ at all. 

The LRA had erred in firing away without due diligence, but no apologies are being offered for the incalculable hurt and harm to the Corona family or to their balaes and others who turned out to be mere collateral damage.  The obvious intention was to  shock the people with perceptions of tremendous ill-gotten wealth amassed by the Coronas.


The demonizing continues, but yesterday’s hearing showed that a good number of entries in the revised list of 19 property pieces were made out in the name of Corona’s children---his daughter Charina who, as CJ pointed out at last Monday’s SC send-off rally for the defense lawyers, is a successful physical therapist in the US, and his other daughter Karla and her husband, Dr. Constantino Castillo III, a successful surgeon-urologist connected with two leading hospitals in Manila. The prosecutors' obvious intention in retaining the Corona children in that re-configured list is to pass them off as dummies of their father or father-in-law.
Subpoenas have now been served on the BIR to produce the income tax returns (ITRs) of the Corona spouses and all their children. In the Senate trial yesterday, Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile pointed out that public disclosure by the BIR of ITRs has to have the approval of the President of the Philippines, no less. But since this whole impeachment case was ordered by President Aquino in the first place, BIR Commissioner Kim Henares would only be too glad to comply;  she was quoted as saying she is preparing them.


Now the whole Corona family, not just the CJ, is on trial.  This Is not fair and just, for Article II, which is the first article being taken up in the Senate trial, should restrict the prosecution only to the scope of its title, “Alleged Non-disclosure of Declaration of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (of CJ Corona).”  Corona’s SALN, like those of the other SC magistrates, is prohibited from public disclosure by a resolution approved en banc way back in 1989, during the time of the much-respected Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan and this ruling has applied during the terms of all CJs from Andres Narvasa, Hilario Davide, Artemio Panganiban, Reynato Puno up to Corona. Last Wednesday the latter's SALN, was made public after the Senate President ordered SC Clerk of Court Edna Vidal to submit it to the trial court.
That document proved what Corona has been stressing all along---that he has been faithfully filing his SALNs, contrary to the allegation of the prosecutors, except that he was bound by the en banc 1989 SC resolution from disclosing them publicly.  That disclosure should have stopped there but the prosecutors went on a further fishing expedition for data they obviously didn’t have until then---in violation of what Article II had sought.
It was obvious that the prosecutors realized early on that Article II was their most impact-laden weapon---hence the ramming through of their arbitrary changing of the order of presentation. They shelved Article 1 despite the vehement objection of lead defense lawyer Serafin Cuevas and the lack of adequate preparation and proof, only innuendos. The aim was to sustain the intense campaign to shame and humiliate the Coronas in the media over the past three weeks on their so-called 45 properties.


Many decent citizens are shocked and disturbed at the way the entire resources of government are being marshaled not only against the CJ but his entire family---in a manner never before seen here (truly sui generis or a class in itself, as the lawyers would put it). 

It began with the rush-up of 188 votes in the House to railroad his impeachment,  then the spurious list of 45 pieces of property from the LRA  played up in the media. Then the COA report on the judicious use of SC funds under Corona’s administration was denounced by the Palace which then called in the BIR to demolish it; this was followed by the Palace leak to media of an alleged World Bank aide-memoire criticizing the Corona Court’s “misuse” of funds in a WB-funded project in the SC (handled by the impeccable SC Associate Justice Teresita de Castro). Its release was officially denied next day by the WB, but in the face of this rebuff Department of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima quickly released contents of a memo purportedly also from the WB on the same issue. 


Then came the prosecution's move to subpoena CJ's SALN whose property entries it was quick to denounce as "under-valued" (but many  people are asking, is there really a perfect SALN? Unfortunately this cannot be asked of the prosecutors in return, for as media reports said, most House members haven't even filed their own SALNs).  And now the subpoena of the ITRs of the entire Corona family.
Couple all these moves with the fact that a few senators are now actually lawyering for the prosecution (Sen. Franklin Drilon lost his temper when former Sen. Kit Tatad confronted him about this yesterday during a Senate hearing break) and the loud whisper about the offer to each senator of P100 million to vote conviction, and one can easily see that the administration policy is “Durugin si Corona." 

Legions of CJ’s supporters across the nation and around the world are praying that God would continue to steel his determination to clear his family's name and defend the Court’s independence.


I find laden with historic import yesterday's news report that on the eve of the 25th Anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre of Jan 22, 1987, Hacienda Luisita farmers are throwing their support for the embattled CJ. 25 years ago farmers demonstrated on Mendiola to press the Cory administration for genuine land reform, beginning with the return of Hacienda Luisita to its farmer-tillers. The police fired into the crowd of demonstrators, killing 13 of them. It was a black eye for the year-old Cory administration. 

The support of Luisita's farmers for Corona is understandable, for they doubtless fearl that if he is ousted and replaced by P-Noy’s handpicked utusan in the Court, pffft goes their chance of ever getting their lands---or being compensated justly. As Corona himself opined, it was the SC’s unanimous decision of Nov. 22 to order the re-distribution of Luisita lands that got him impeached in the House.
Last Wednesday news quoted Hacienda spokesperson Antonio Ligon as saying the estate will seek the inhibition of Corona in SC deliberations, doubtless beginning with the pending motion for reconsideration of the Court’s re-distribution decision. It's easy to see why the Cojuangcos want CJ out.  Not only did he support the SC's unanimous decision on Luisita, he also insisted that the land valuation on which the farmers’ pay-back scheme to the Cojuangcos would be computed should be pegged at 1989 prices---unlike the position of Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno (said to be P-Noy’s candidate for CJ), who wants it pegged at 2006 prices.


There’s a discrepancy in the estimates offered by various opinion writers on the the computation of Hacienda lands’ valuation. For instance, PDI’s Rigoberto Tiglao pegs it at P196 million under the 1989 prices and at P5 billion at 2006 prices. On the other hand, a source I quoted puts it at P9 billion at 1989 prices and P26 billion at 2006 prices, respectively. Perhaps the latter computation is a little too bloated, but whatever it is, there’s a WHALE OF A DIFFERENCE between the 1989 and 2006 valuation prices and CJ is batting for 1989 prices obviously because he’s  concerned for the farmers.
The farmers will pay the Cojuangcos for the lands partly with what this family, in turn, will pay the farmers as reimbursement for the Cojuangcos’ commercial transactions of Hacienda lands over the years (such as the grossly over-valued lands sold for SCTEX).  Corona is backing up to the hilt the lower 1989 prices and that’s why the farmers are backing him up in this impeachment case. As they say, amor con amor se paga.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Corona property listing and WB aide-memoire on JRSP exhibiting similar patterns of manipulation. Did Abad use son-in-law connection at WB? Integrity of SC Justice Teresita de Castro, who monitors WB project at SC unassailable. Prosecution limping its way in Senate trial

Two days into the Senate trial hearings on the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, the excitement for many trial watchers is NOT in the Senate trial court but outside---specifically in the media, where a lot of manipulation and twisting of facts seems to be passed off as facts and given prominent news coverage especially by the yellow media, both broadsheets and online.   
Inside the Senate session hall the news that’s not news (as this was anticipated way before) was how inept the prosecution team is. I’m not surprised, for just before the old year ended a prominent House member expressed to me his fear that the prosecution team would be quite weak, as most of its members are so “baguito” in the practice of law. The past two days at the Senate only served to confirm this House member’s fear, as the bungling of the prosecution sent the gallery into fits of laughter yesterday.


Allow me to quote a citizen’s email reaction on Day 2:
 “I listened in its entirety and watched portions of the trial since Day 1. Yesterday the Prosecution fell hard on their faces with their arrogant maneuverings. They surprised the Court when they wanted to present evidence for the 2nd Article on  Impeachment instead of the 1st. When asked why by (Senate Presiding Judge) JPE, they reasoned that it is because the past days' papers were filled with news and commentaries about the CJ's alleged ill-gotten properties (obviously pandering to their perceived backlash from the evidence they maliciously announced through media days earlier). 
“After opposition from the Defense, they were still allowed to proceed, but when it turned out that their evidence was in the form of a computer-generated document with no witness to attest to its authenticity, they were told that this would be inadmissible. Realizing their blunder they asked for the termination of the trial for the day as they promised to present their witness today. The prosecution is aided by their panel of private prosecutors and other "legal beagles" who are experienced in Court litigation, although the latter are not allowed to speak as prosecutors.”


The ineptness of the prosecution team was anticipated, but the manipulation of so much news nowadays to damage the reputation of the Supreme Court and its embattled Chief is really quite disturbing. The battle in the media has become so dirty.
First came the banner news about the so-called “45 properties” of CJ Corona’s, the list of which supposedly was issued by Administrator Eulalio Diaz III of the Land Registration Authority (LRA). Doubtless much against his will, but realizing that this ill-gotten wealth issue would continue to be distorted by biased media if he did not tackle it himself, CJ decided at last Monday’s send-off ceremony for his defense team to frontally take on the “45 properties” title by title. He asserted that he and his wife only owned five of those pieces of property, and that the others wrongfully attributed to them belong to his children, several to his balae, to Mel Mathay and even to the developer to whom he had either sold property or from whom he had acquired one. The CJ noted that there were two or three entries in that list whose owners he didn’t even know and that it included even three parking lots of a condo he had invested in---“lahat para pampahaba ng listahan!”  
The narration left his supporters, which included judges who had journeyed from far and all garbed in black, disgusted and angry with the brazen distortion of what was being passed off as facts. But what was interesting was that Administrator  Diaz who had furnished that allegedly erroneous list was President Aquino’s classmate at the Ateneo, and that he was apparently only obeying orders from Malacanang. Corona noted that LRA is an agency of the DOJ, and at that point the SC crowd turned to boo the DOJ next door. I think  Diaz ought to resign.


The latest news manipulation involves an international financial agency, the World Bank.  Three days ago the leading yellow paper bannered that WB has issued an aide-memoire containing findings of its review made from Oct. 24 to Nov. 12 last year, where it supposedly criticized the inefficiency of the SC in running the Judicial Reform Support Project (JRSP). This is a program established and partly funded by the WB in 2003, during CJ Hilario Davide’s time, with nearly a billion-peso fund, with the aim of improving the efficiency of the Court (it’s supposed to come to a close this June 30). The aide-memoire dated Dec. 28, 2011 was supposed to have been sent by WB acting country director Matthew Stephens to SC Associate Justice Teresita de Castro, who runs the JSRP Program Management Office (PMO).  
Interestingly, alleged copies also found their way to ten offices of the Executive department---and to the media.


As such sensitive memos go, public disclosure is completely irregular. Now we know why. As excerpted by the leading yellow newspaper, some of its criticisms were quite harsh, such as the claim about the SC’s ineptitude in handling the project and certain disbursements by justices being “ineligible"  and triggering demand for refund. Moreover, as CJ’s defense lawyer Ramon Esguerra noted, the timing of the adverse news release two days before the Senate trial opened was suspicious. Court Administrator Midas Marquez, who was criticized in the supposed aide-memoire as functioning as a three-way one-man agency within the SC, opined that it merely wanted to put the Corona Court “in disrespect.”
In my earlier blog I said we must assume that the criticisms leveled by the WB aide memoire at the SC are properly quoted in media. But now we must REVISE that assumption as there’s the HUGE possibility that its contents were doctored (following a familiar pattern?). In fact it could be SPURIOUS.  


Why so? One, the aide-memoire came from an unofficial email account and not the WB’s, and  released by Rappler.com, a social media network highly critical of the past Arroyo regime and which has taken a strong adversarial stand toward the CJ in the current trial.  Two, the WB’s External Relations Office’s official, Ms. Leonora Aquino-Gonzalez, DENIED that the WB had released it, stressing, in fact, that it will not be disclosed to the public.
As the yellow paper noted, WB officials “have so far refused to confirm whether the aide memoire they gave Philippine government representatives is the same as the one being circulated to members of the media.”  Interestingly, it was Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda who took it upon himself in a press conference after the yellow media's release, to affirm that the WB report was genuine---despite the official pronouncement by Ms. Gonzalez.  He arrived at this conclusion, he said, after comparing copies circulating in media with those furnished the executive offices and found them “identical.” Of course they would be identical as they obviously came from only one source!  I’d take Gonzalez’s denial any time.


Other pertinent facts: SC Justice Teresita de Castro, who was a former Chief of the Sandiganbayan, has an unassailable reputation in court circles and among lawyers. “She’s straight as an arrow,” said one IBP official reverently. De Castro, who holds very courageous views in the SC, cannot be perceived to allow any monkeying of this WB program under her care.  Two, British national Andrew Parker, husband of Julia Abad-Parker, Chief of the Presidential Management Staff, and son-in-law of Budget Secretary Butch Abad, now the most influential and powerful official in the Cabinet, has been connected with the WB’s Manila office as senior economist, though he is said to have been on leave from it since 2010. Isn't it just handy that it's Secretary   Abad who's now making noise about this supposed WB aide-memoire?
One indication that this WB document stands on shaky ground is that P-Noy’s allies in the Senate decided not to go ahead with their investigation into this issue, in deference kuno to the on-going trial. 

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Demonizing of Corona family continues, violating rules of impeachment court; CCT missing in action; what kind of game is the Kano playing with disclosure of WB report on Corona Court on eve of trial?

The demonizing of Chief Justice Renato Corona in the yellow media continues unabated and it’s obvious that their aim is to break his will to fight conviction in the Senate trial that starts tomorrow.  For instance, the lead yellow newspaper bannered the so-called “45 properties” of Corona amounting to P200 million, but I laughed to myself when I saw that among those listed were three parking slots in Bellagio Condominium building that were counted with the Coronas’ unit there as separate pieces of property, making it appear that they own four units there. 

In the impeachment case against him ordered by President Aquino, the CJ has not gone into detailed rebuttal of the personal issues raised against him and his family  strip-tease style by the House prosecution team, in full violation of the gag rules of court, such as his so-called 45 properties. But friends have done it for the Coronas via the only recourse available in today’s highly-partisan media---the internet.


Civic leader Baby Nebrida recently circulated an account of a conversation with Tina Corona, the CJ’s wife, where the latter stressed that they bought the Bellagio penthouse “with no doors, not bathroom tiles, no flooring, no cabinets and no partitions, KAYA MURA.” She decried that the listing supposedly from the Land Registration Authority even included properties of her balaes as well as some old property in Marikina she inherited from her mother and sold in 1988. Tina Corona lamented that even former QC Mayor Mel Mathay’s name was dragged into the controversy. “Would I use Mel Mathay as my dummy?” she was quoted as decrying in that write-up.

By the way, Baby Nebrida was a Maryknoll classmate of Tina, whom she noted came from a well-to-do family with property in various areas, including a whole row in Lepanto, Manila.  Neither, it seems, does CJ Corona come from a poor family. His father was a renowned tax lawyer and reputed to be one of a handful of honest ones in the BIR in his time.

The "properties issue" against the Coronas was studded with holes and maliciously raked up by the Land Registration Authority, which then was seized upon and exploited in the front pages by the yellow media.


The attacks against the CJ and his family have stepped up and are getting more vicious and personal, with various agencies of government being mobilized to come up with issues designed to bring CJ to his knees. But Corona, at the lighting of the candlelight rally in the SC Quadrangle the other night, stressed that while all the attacks on his family have hurt him so much, he pledged that he will not resign and that he’ll continue fighting not for himself any longer but for the future of democracy in our country.  The Chief remains steady but it’s not hard to imagine how terrorized many of his SC colleagues are, seeing what’s happening to him, especially since a number of very crucial issues are up for resolution in the Court.
There’s talk all over media that P-Noy’s camp is mobilizing enormous amounts of money in the oust-Corona campaign and one gauge is the three-full page ad paid for by his followers in the lead yellow paper (easily over P300,000 per page in the main section on a Sunday). There’s also talk about P-Noy’s buying off senators whom he cannot cajole through persuasion. Some senators have publicly admitted they talked with P-Noy but they deny that Corona’s up-coming trial was among the topics discussed. That’s kind of hard to believe, given the intensity of P-Noy’s passion against Corona.
But what’s interesting is the tie-up between all the big money flowing amid talks of buy-offs in the Senate, with the disappearance of the conditional cash transfers in the metropolis. My info is that in Pasig and Pasay CCTs have not been given out since October up to now and in fact in Pasig it was a very bleak and dark Christmas for many poor families who waited all through the season for their 4-Ps to pay so they could pay for their electric bills, but alas, the dole-out hasn’t come until now!  The poor were told that their 4-Ps went to Sendong victims but it’s more likely being manipulated by administration officials for the anti-Corona campaign.


In my almost 29 years of continuous practice of journalism, I have learned, like many journalists, to read symbols behind events. For instance, note that the main celebrant for the mass at the SC Quadrangle tomorrow morning at 9:30 am., which will kick off a dramatic send-off for the CJ’s defense team to the Senate, will be Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of the Archdiocese of Manila (the announcement made last Saturday by the mass organizers said that  retired Archbishop Oscar Cruz would concelebrate, but he did not come).  Given Bishop Pabillo's influence in the CBCP, his participation says a lot.


Speaking of symbols, today’s headline in the lead yellow paper, which reads, “WB: Loan to SC high risk,” also says a lot about the US.  The story said that the final tranche of the Judicial Reform Support Project, a program designed to “restore efficiency in the dispensation of justice in the country” and is partly funded by a World Bank loan of $21.9 million, has been cancelled due to “questionable procurements and disbursements” and “irregular expenses” noted in the administration of the Court under CJ Corona. The WB aide memoire is alleged to cite “implementation delays and additional work required for smooth project closing,” and the review conducted on Oct. 24-Nov. 11 last year, supposedly uncovered “inaccurate, incomplete information” on various aspects of the project, “rated unsatisfactory.” 
The report zeroes in on criticisms on the Court Administrator who remains unnamed in the report, but of course, it refers to Atty. Midas Marquez, who also acts as head of the SC’s information office. Marquez has been in the limelight in recent weeks as he defended the embattled CJ, but there has been  pressure from the prosecutors for him to resign, as they allege that he acts more like the spokesperson of Corona rather than of the entire Court; Marquez denies this.  


I find the WB review interesting in view of the controversy the Commission on Audit kicked up recently when its auditors opined that everything’s okay with the way the SC has been handling the Judiciary Development Fund (JDF), first set up in 1984 under P.D. 1949. The JDF derives from legal fees and is used to augment allowances of officials and personnel and fund acquisition and maintenance of office equipment and facilities. COA said there were “no serious irregularities” in the JDF, contrary to what Article VIII of the House impeachment complaint claimed, that Corona had failed to account for the JDF and the Special Allowance for the Judiciary (SAJ).
The JDF is different from the WB-funded JRSP, but to be logical, if the SC is being scrupulous with handling one set of funds, shouldn’t this be indication of judicious handling of other funds, especially the WB’s? 
It’s interesting, though, that instead of lauding COA’s favorable verdict on the JDF, Palace Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda quickly lambasted it as “not entirely accurate” and even “adverse.”  He challenged media to confirm this COA report from COA Chair Ma. Gracia M. Pulido-Tan (I had erroneously attributed here the COA chairmanship to Commissioner Heidi Mendoza ), but interestingly, Pulido-Tan never issued any statement to contradict her people’s findings.  Soon enough the Palace ordered the BIR to refute the COA’s statement---absolute proof that Malacanang is on top of CJ’s impeachment.


The SC has been put on the spot by the critical WB report (which we presume is correctly quoted); but at the moment it's the timing of its disclosure by the WB (which has always been regarded as an instrument of the US government, being its main funder), on the eve of the start of the Corona trial, is what's MOST INTERESTING. Now the logical question is: why its issuance at this time? Is the US thumbing down the fate of CJ Corona?
Former Assemblyman Homobono Adaza, a most vocal critic of the House impeachment move vs. Corona, was heard earlier today asserting that the US ---through the WB---has joined the chorus vs. Corona for one good reason: to ensure a revamp of the SC in the hope that a new Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (Moa-AD) can be issued by the new Court. Recall that the Corona Court shot down that Moa-AD, which is a demand of the MILF at the negotiating table, in GMA’s time as unconstitutional.
It’s hard to disagree with Bono’s logic. Some pundits opine that the Moa-AD is absolutely crucial to the US as it would placate the MILF and prevent it from being “jihad-istic”; whereas, a placated MILF would leave the US in peace to contemplate its moves vis-à-vis China. Thus, the US would support any revamp in the SC that could push the Moa-AD. 

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Palace loose lips about a ‘Plan B’ if CJ Corona is acquitted to blame for nervous reaction to the cutting off of cell signals during Black Nazarene procession. Battle of the SALNs in SC.


The President’s decision to highlight possible terrorist threats to the Black Nazarene procession last Monday and the subsequent cutting off of cell-phone signals in the vicinity of Quiapo drew various reactions from the populace. It’s a known fact that cell signals can trigger bomb attacks, as they have done in other countries; some thought that the administration was just being prudent and on the job in this move, especially since it was found sorely lacking in response during the Mindanao calamities.  But a good number of people also thought it was quite OA of P-Noy to announce the threats himself in a hastily- called press conference and to call on the people to stay away from the procession. It triggered a lot of nervous reactions from those who feared that P-Noy’s order could be a prelude to the imposition of emergency rule or worse, martial law dictatorship.  
As one internet entry put it: “Ang zarzuelang pinalabas ni Noynoy Aquino kahapon ay isang malagim na banta sa karapatan ng bawat Pilipino…Ano ba ang ibig sabihin ng (pagpapatigil niya ng serbisyo ng mga cell phones sa bisinidad ng Quiapo)? Tandaan ninyo na ang mga himagsikan sa Gitnang Silangan, or tinatawag na Arab Spring, kasama na rin ng naudlot na people power sa Iran, ay binuhay ng internet at INSTANT TEXT MESSAGING. Ang pagpipigil kahapon ng signal ng cell phone ay ISANG REHEARSAL para mapigilan ang napipintong malawakang oposisyon sa rehimeng Noynoy Aquino.”


A number of political pundits echoed this nervousness in the populace, and unfortunately the Palace cannot be absolved here, inasmuch as there were loose lips there that earlier had been quick to boast of a “Plan B” to put into operation in case Chief Justice Renato Corona is acquitted in the Senate trial. IBP lawyers questioned just what that "Plan B" meant, when there are only two constitutional ways to get rid of a sitting CJ---to be convicted by a Senate trial court or to voluntarily resign. From every indication, Corona is not going to resign, as he avers that he’s “not fighting for myself but for democracy in this country.” 

Since Corona has no intention of resigning but already those loose lips were already bragging about their Plan B EVEN BEFORE THE SENATE TRIAL HAS BEGUN, the logical conclusion of thinking citizens is that the Palace is contemplating extra-legal means in case of CJ’s acquittal. Hence the nervous reaction last Monday. Moral of the story: zip those loose lips.


The leading yellow paper yesterday gave front-page treatment to House prosecutor Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara who asserted that Corona might have “doctored” his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). Young Angara, who’s said to be running for his father’s Senate seat in 2013, made this very serious claim, tantamout to falsification of public documents against the CJ and a criminal offense, solely on the basis that “we (meaning, the House prosecutors) have not seen his SALN.” This unsupported and rather irresponsible claim merited front-page treatment from the newspaper!
Corona has been under pressure from the prosecutors and the Palace to bare his SALN while serving in the SC, but he has resisted this. His argument, as stated in his response to the House Articles of Impeachment is that he has been filing his SALNs with the SC Clerk of Court as the law requires, but that he “has no legal duty to disclose (it and) “Complainants have cited none.” Arguing that Sec. 8 of RA 6713, the “Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees,” provides that the SALN and the "Disclosure of Business Interests and Financial Connections" shall be filed by Justices with the SC Clerk of Court,  the CJ cited an SC en banc resolution on May 2, 1989, where it turned down the request of litigant Jose Alejandrino to obtain the SALNs of SC members who took part in a decision affecting him.  The SC said there was no “legitimate reason" for Alejandrino's request.
In that resolution, argued Corona,  the SC turned down requests for information that may appear to be “a fishing expedition,” noting how these “could endanger, diminish or destroy (the justices') independence and objectivity or expose them to revenge, kidnapping, extortion, blackmail or other dire fates.” I can see the public clamor for transparency even in the personal documents of SC magistrates, but it's also understandable why the SC would not accede to just any request or demand for SALNs, such as what the prosecutors and the Palace are publicly making of Corona. 

It’s foreseeable, however, that the Senate trial court could demand it at some point and the SC Clerk of Court would have to comply. That trial court, however, would be the proper venue---not the media as beneficiary of the prosecutors’ fishing expedition.  


The refusal of the embattled CJ to bare his SALN became more interesting when Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, supposed candidates for the top SC post in case Corona is convicted, suddenly gave out copies of their own SALNs to the press, as if to tell CJ that they’re not afraid to disclose their worth to the public. The Palace was quick top praise their move. But press accounts of these two justices’ disclosures were quick to point out that their SALNs merely stated general details of their assets and liabilities and no specifics---in other words, as these justices' critics point out, what they submitted were MERE SUMMARIES. 
All along, the prosecutors apparently meant to target Corona’s ownership of a 300 sq.m. penthouse condo in Global City which they said he couldn’t afford on his salary as justice. They correctly assessed that this tidbit would be of far greater interest to the public than any legal point in their complaint; in fact the prosecutors included this charge in par. 2.4 of their complaint. To his credit, CJ Corona chose to answer it directly in page 36 of his response, where he admitted that he and his wife “purchased on installment a 300 sq.m. apartment in Taguig” and declared it in his SALN when they acquired it.  He also asserted that “The truth of the matter is that CJ Corona acquired his assets from legitimate sources of income, mostly from his professional toils.”


But the prosecutors were not contented and they detonated news of Corona's penthouse property in the media even as they harped at the same time on his continuous refusal to disclose his SALN.  In a subsequent twist of events, however, texts suddenly flew fast and furious about an 800 sq.m. luxury penthouse belonging to Justice Carpio, complete with its own private swimming pool in a posh condo building in Salcedo Village, Makati City, with an estimated valued of over P38 million, which suddenly made the CJ’s penthouse look like poor relation. Carpio’s own set of critics wondered whether his released SALN had stated that condo.

And now, because Justice Sereno chose to bare her own SALN, some lawyers in the know about the gargantuan P2.65 billion fund that she and her mentor, former SC Justice Florentino Feliciano, had handled for the Philippine government to advance its case against Fraport/Piatco in international arbitration courts, are now also wondering whether her fat income from this arbitration case was properly reported in her SALN. This item about the P2.65 billion arbitration fund handled by Feliciano and Sereno first appeared in the Manila Times early last year.

Only Justice Sereno can answer this issue. In fairness to Justice Carpio and his luxury condo, it’s well-known that the law firm he helped found and headed prior to his appointment to the SC, known as “Villaraza Cruz Marcelo and Angangco Law Offices” or more popularly as "The Firm," has been a top biller (authoritative sources place its yearly billing around P6 billion) because of its wide reach of personnel resources. Those who have been to its offices in Global City are simply staggered at its ritziness.  And as Standard’s Emil Jurado noted recently, Carpio belongs to a well-to-do family with substantial holdings in Boracay island.

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