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.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

P-Noy in denial about loss of INC support; JPE averts Senate trial court's collision with SC; Cuevas is defense’s rock star, besieged for photos by female admirers of all ages

Yesterday, Tuesday, Feb. 28, was a day that will long be remembered.  First, there were the million people who crowded the streets of Manila, snarling traffic in the metropolis from morning until well into the night. The solid core was made up of Iglesia ni Cristo members ordered by their higher authorities to attend the INC's launch of its "Grand Evangelical Mission" at the Luneta; but there were decidedly a lot others such as individual members of El Shaddai and Catholic elements, who showed up because they wanted to add their voices to those of INC members in support of the Rule of Law and the Constitution.
Police cited only about 600,000 people, although ABS-CBN commentators tried hard to subtract from that number. But this blogger actually saw many buses parked along the length of Roxas Blvd. and around the CCP complex that remained full of people in the early evening. Definitely these folks would have swelled the mammoth crowds at the Luneta even more, but doubtless they wisely figured that finding their way back to their buses would have been a nightmare---so they chose to stay in the buses.

Yesterday’s INC-led  massive rally was something we have not seen in Metro Manila since the glory days of EDSA 1, and it came just two days after the P-Noy administration thought it could pre-empt the INC gathering by recruiting  hakot crowds to the 26th annoversary of the People Power Revolution commemorating EDSA 1. But the thinness of the crowds at that occasion was signal that hakot had failed.


The INC mammoth gathering in Manila was replicated in various cities around the country and the message of their sheer numerical force doubtless was delivered, especially to the six re-electionist senator-judges, as well as the prosecutors who would be up for reelection in 2013. Though the purported reason was a grand bible exposition, it had been bruited about for days that the gathering would be in support of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona ,who has become Malacanang’s No. 1 hate object now that former President GMA has been arraigned.   CJ Corona was billed as the guest of honor and earlier reports said he would show up; but he chose to stay away for fear, according to reports, that his attendance would add political color to the religious gathering. 
Frankly, I myself felt the CJ should attend it, that if he wanted support in his Senate trial that gathering was an indisputable way to chalk it up; but in hindsight I think he did the right thing in staying away---thus displaying a lot of maturity and sobriety in his decision.


By contrast, reports indicate that earlier President Aquino sought out the INC  authorities through emissaries, wanting to wangle an invite to the Luneta gathering, but he was told that it would be open to everyone. Obviously that reply didn’t seem good enough, so P-Noy stayed away too.  This was good, for he would have run the risk of being booed by some elements in that crowd who are turned off by his obstinate refusal to recognize the independence and integrity of the Senate trial court.
Today’s newspapers report that P-Noy now thinks the mammoth rally wasn’t intended to send him a message about how he has been treating some friends of INC.  Pathetically he insists that he still has the support of the sect as he had in his Senate and presidential run in 2007 and 2010, respectively. P-Noy IS OBVIOUSLY IN DENIAL about INC as well as many other issues.  


For days last week the prosecution had been bruiting that they would cut the Senate trial short by limiting the Articles on Impeachment in which they would present evidence.  But when lead prosecutor Niel Tupas announced yesterday that they are ABANDONING five out of the eight Articles, it still hit  the senators as well as the Senate gallery crowd like a thunderbolt.

Many factors could explain this decision. Definitely one factor was the incredible show of force of the INC-led gathering and the political impact it imparted, no matter how everyone tried to pass it off solely as a religious event. But one doesn’t need to be a brilliant political pundit to see that the prosecution’s decision was a sign of the lousy crafting of their hasty impeachment complaint and the weakness of their evidence---that their “dynamite fishing expedition” had failed. Inevitably it will be viewed this way by the Filipino people. 

Rep. Tupas tried to excuse his panel’s failure to produce more evidence by claiming that their difficulty stemmed from their fighting no less than the Chief Justice. Sen. Joker Arroyo shot down that claim fast, however,  when he stressed that the prosecution has no less than the President of the Republic for their ally.  In the past two days the prosecution seemed to be scraping the bottom of the barrel when they produced ABS-CBN cameramen and Malacanang records personnel as witnesses; this prompted a Senate wag to quip that next they’ll produce the ambulance driver that took GMA to the airport and the saleslady from Rustan’s.
AS former Sen. Kit Tatad, who’s writing a book on the Corona trial, put it in an interview yesterday at the Senate, the prosecution's abandonment of the other five Articles was “the knock-out punch” to them.


Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile refused to grant prosecutor Neri Colmenares’ request for the Senate Court to subpoena Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, and instead coaxed his panel to “invite” her on their own. The prosecution initially refused to take up JPE’s suggestion as it doubtless realized that the lady magistrate won’t appear without the “compelling force of a subpoena" to protect her, inasmuch as the SC made an en banc ruling last Feb. 14 dis-allowing any court personnel from appearing in the Senate trial. 

A subpoena, of course, would be different, but as JPE argued, with Sen. Miriam backing him up,:  what would the Senate do if the SC disallows Sereno from appearing?  That would mean a head-on collision between the two courts.  How would the Senate enforce its subpoena? Call in the armed forces or the police?


Actually I don’t see what Justice Sereno would achieve by becoming a witness for the prosecution. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima already dissected for two days Sereno’s dissenting opinion on the SC’s majority decision of Nov. 15 to issue a TRO against the DOJ’s watch-list order on GMA that day.  It’s easy to see that if she herself were to appear as witness, she would be revealing behind-the-scenes details not stated in her dissenting opinion, of what must have been the stormy sessions on that TRO in those three days.

Necessarily she would have to RAT ON HER COLLEAGUES and shatter the confidentiality of SC closed-door deliberations, which the Feb. 14 en banc resolution seeks to avoid (this would make her even more unpopular with her SC colleagues and the Court personnel than she already is).  Moreover, Sereno would be subjected to the customary withering cross-examination by Justice Serafin Cuevas which is not flattering for one perched on Olympus and accustomed to her own withering interrogation of witnesses there. At best it would demean this first appointee of P-Noy. If I were Maylou Sereno, I’d rest on my dissenting opinion.


Speaking of lead defense counsel Cuevas, former Sen. Ernesto Maceda, himself a lawyer and who writes a very popular column for the Star, was heard after an exceptionally good cross-examination by Cuevas as opining, “That’s classic cross-examination at its best.”  We saw it again last Tuesday, when Cuevas reduced two witnesses from ABS-CBN to almost zero output. 

Cuevas’ cross reminds me of someone peeling an artichoke ever so patiently, one layer at a time, until he reveals the core. Yet he does it with such polite and courtly manners, never imperious, that the witness ends up with a smile, feeling good at having ultimately said nothing, while Cuevas' admiring audience across the nation, led by JPE, hangs on to his every sentence. In the memorable words of Standard columnist Jojo Robles, "Cuevas wiped the floor with Secretary Leila de Lima.” 

It’s no exaggeration that this balding 83-year old veteran lawyer with a voice  like crackling lard has become a rock star, and women of all ages flock to him after each trial session, wanting to have photos with him or pushing a lozenge pack into his hands, lest he loses that voice. 

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Saturday, February 25, 2012

On her arraignment GMA turned tables on P-Noy by submitting herself to due process, and challenging him to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law; Palace should stop defending Naguiat as this could affect P-Noy's ‘daang matuwid’ in a possible US congressional investigation on RICO Statute; JPE calms down anxieties of IBP officials and members at Laoag convention

It was obvious that the arraignment of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before Pasay RTC Judge Jesus Mupas last Feb. 23 on the charge of electoral sabotage was meant to refresh the minds of people toward what the Aquino administration wanted to do---which was, to link impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona to GMA who had appointed him to the highest Supreme Court post a month before she stepped down from power.  But GMA wisely pulled the occasion in the direction SHE wanted and lectured a thing or two to President Aquino.
In her statement prior to arraignment, she said, “Despite the continuous and massive vilification campaign against me and my family, I have always said that I will dispute all charges “IN THE PROPER FORUM” (emphasis BOC’s), i.e., in the court of law. GMA stressed that she's submitting herself to the legal process, “not only to clear my name but also as part of my commitment to respect and abide by the rules and orders of our courts.” She ended with her “fervent hope that our leaders will uphold and our people have faith in the Constitution and the rule of law.”


Thus, despite the disadvantage to her of a court that obviously is under the thumb of the Aquino administration (note how Mupas scored a Guiness Book record in speed-reading the stacks of documents that accompanied the Comelec-DOJ charge sheet accusing GMA and four others of electoral sabotage last Nov. 18), she turned her arraignment into an object lesson for P-Noy. GMA pointedly contrasted her full submission to the rule of law and due process, to the way President Noynoy continues to violate these same principles by pronouncing CJ Corona already guilty in forum after forum, even while his Senate trial is in full swing and his defense panel hasn't been able to present his side as yet. 

P-Noy's continuous savaging of  Corona is outright disrespect of the Senate, and in fact his spokesperson, Secretary Edwin Lacierda, even incited the senators to oppose the Supreme Court’s TRO on the Foreign Currency Deposits Act, after it was handed down. At the La Consolacion forum and again today, at the 26th EDSA celebration, P-Noy was heard calling for “people to decide the CJ’s fate, instead of a few.” Obviously he wants to seal Corona's fate outside the Senate trial court.
The contrast between our past and present leaders in obedience to the rule of law is as sharp as night and day.


Ironically, now that he’s got a hot potato on his hands in the person of Pagcor Chair Cristino Naguiat, P-Noy asks that this close buddy and former Ateneo classmate “be presumed innocent until proven guilty, just like CJ Corona.”  But he never presumed his SC adversary to be innocent at all. It only goes to show that P-Noy maintains a double standard, one for his adversaries and another for the famous KKK---the kabarilan, kaklase at kaibigan. 

Naguiat is the butt of criticism now after Wynn Resorts CEO Steve Wynn denounced his former partner, Japanese billionaire pachinko king Kazuo Okada for allegedly having bribed Philippine officialdom to the tune of $110,000 to win concessions in Manila’s entertainment capital. Local media is awash with reports of Naguiat not only accepting bribes from Okada but also having enjoyed enormous perks, such as $6,000-a-night hotel accommodations in Macao from the tycoon (which, according to internet reports is the priciest in that Asian gaming capital) as well as substantial cash that went “with the villa.”
The perks said to have been enjoyed by Naguiat were initially dismissed by the Palace as "industry practice" (but why was Naguiat listed as “incognito” guest at the hotel if pricey perks are industry practice?). He himself says he’s just “collateral damage” in the war between the two rival gaming tycoons. But over the internet people are now arguing that the Palace should stop defending Naguiat as it wouldn’t look good for P-Noy’s daang-matuwid advocacy, especially in the US where congressional investigation on possible violations of the RICO Statute could be conducted over Wynn’s bribery allegations against Okada.
That’s very sound advice, P-Noy.


Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile flew aboard a private plane to Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, last Friday, Feb. 17, to address the 20th Convention of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. It was a crucial session for this umbrella organization of the country's lawyers. For not only was there a 97 percent attendance of its nationwide chapters present, there were also talks that in the light of the litany of accusations leveled against CJ Corona by the prosecution as well as some charges of violation of his right to due process being tolerated by some senator-judges, some members wanted to review the unequivocal stand the IBP made at the beginning of the Senate impeachment trial a month ago. Recall that the IBP came out with a half-page ad and then a full-page ad in major dailies then, stating its unswerving support for the rule of law and the Constitution, and the Supreme Court led by Corona.

Well, JPE apparently squelched all rumblings in the IBP with his straight talk that, toward the end, said eyewitnesses, left the Senate President, who had  turned 88 three days before, quite emotional and teary-eyed. Stressing how difficult the job of balancing “divergent and, most of the time, opposing views” of his fellow senator-judges has been, JPE said the Senate’s task at hand is “a sacred duty which we have no discretion to evade.”
While an impeachment case is political in nature, he said, “such is neither an excuse nor a license for us to ignore and abandon our solemn and higher obligation and responsibility as a body of jurors to see to it that the Bill of Rights is observed and that justice is served, to conduct the trial with impartiality and fairness, to hear the case with a clear and open mind, to weigh carefully in the scale the evidence against the respondent, and to render to him a just verdict based on no other consideration than our Constitution and laws, the facts presented to us, and our individual moral conviction.”


JPE recalled the deliberations and voting on the SC’s TRO which had enjoined the Senate from implementing the subpoena issued to the PS Bank manager to produce and testify on documents pertaining to alleged bank accounts of CJ Corona.  He recalled the heated debate among the senator-judges earlier to grant subpoena requests from the prosecution with limitations, and “whether or not the use of the compulsory process to prove the charge in Article II would violate existing laws on the confidentiality of bank deposits in RA 1405, the Bank Secrecy Law, the Anti-Money Laundering Act and RA 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposits Act."
Enrile pointed out that the general consensus “painstakingly arrived at” was that, subject to the limitations of the Impeachment court, there was no legal impediment to the issuance of requested subpoenas pertaining to local currency deposits, but they heeded the SC’s TRO on foreign deposits. He stressed that in carrying out their duty as an Impeachment court, the senators “remain under, and not above, the Rule of Law…and that the actual exercise of that awesome power is subject to the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution.”  He emphasized that just like any other instrument, the impeachment process “can be subject to abuse and misuse, and this is not something that I will allow while I carry out my duty as Presiding Officer of the Impeachment court.” 

Stressing that “I know that I am starting to sound like a broken record,” JPE reiterated that the Senate Impeachment court “must at all times observe the Rule of Law. It cannot transgress any of the applicable provisions of the Bill of Rights. It must be guided by the presumption of innocence before the pronouncement of guilt. It must at all times observe the principle of procedural and substantial due process…It cannot violate the laws passed by Congress of which it is an integral part. Lawmakers must not and should not also be the ‘law-breakers.” He closed with the admonition that everyone in his audience of lawyers remain vigilant that justice would triumph.
As JPE spoke, recalls an IBP official to this blogger, one could hear a pin drop. Afterwards, whatever doubts the IBP members may have entertained about due process and the supremacy of the rule of law were put to rest.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

P-Noy’s call for mob rule shows he’s running scared of a Corona acquittal, as big groups mobilize to support CJ. AMLAC inspection of CJ’s accounts at PSBank in last quarter of 2010 shows long-term plan to run after him. How we wish such determination and focus of the President could be shifted to urgent national problems crying for solutions NOW.

from http://www.philstar.com/

Fr. Jaime Bulatao
from ateneo.edu.ph
A document is circulating in the internet about a purported psychiatric report issued by Fr. Jaime Bulatao, S.J., in 1979 analyzing the psychological and emotional imbalance of Benigno Aquino III, then 19 years old and a student at the Ateneo de Manila where “Fr. Bu” had headed the psychology department. The alleged report spoke of the instability and proneness to melancholia, depression and other psychological instabilities of Noynoy and was floated in media during the 2010 presidential campaign. Then presidential candidate Noynoy denied its veracity, and obviously a big segment of the electorate believed him as he was elected with a wide margin over his rivals.

Chief Justice Renato Corona
Now the so-called Bulatao report has surfaced again and was raised by no less than Chief Justice Renato Corona, who challenged P-Noy’s mental and psychological fitness to rule the country. Is the report true or not? In the mind of many people, there is no need for its certification, for the President has exhibited behavior especially toward CJ Corona that may no longer be deemed “normal.”

The way he has come down on Corona with all the forces of government---from his order to the House to impeach him, to the simultaneous investigation of CJ and his family by the BIR and as recently disclosed in the Senate trial, the investigation of his bank accounts by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (Amlac) since the last quarter of 2010---as contrasted to P-Noy's seeming inattention to his other duties and functions as President, can only be interpreted as a sign of disturbed behavior. Not even the late President Marcos was persecuted the way CJ is undergoing trial now in two separate forums.


The President has been ranting and raving against the CJ and has adjudged him guilty EVEN BEFORE THE DEFENSE IS ABLE TO PRESENT CORONA’S SIDE AND PRODUCE ITS OWN EVIDENCE. At a student forum at La Consolation College he even denigrated the Senate proceedings by saying, “Are we going to allow only a few to decide for all of us?” That remark can be interpreted as a call to mob rule in case the CJ is acquitted by the Senate, and P-Noy’s looming inability to accept such verdict. It’s also clear indication that despite recent Palace “surveys” supposedly showing that 77% of the Filipino people find Corona guilty, P-Noy is running scared and unsure that he’ll get the 16 votes in the Senate to convict CJ.


I don’t blame P-Noy if he’s running scared, for there are a number of extraneous factors that will come into play on the senators’ judgment. Consider, for instance, the six re-electionists in the Senate, namely, Alan Peter Cayetano, Koko Pimentel, Loren Legarda, Chiz Escudero, Gringo Honasan and Antonio Trillanes III. They surely are aware that backing up Corona is a major religious group that has always factored into our politics, the Iglesia ni Cristo, so much so that P-Noy reportedly now refers to it as “Iglesia ni Corona,” which does not sit well with its higher ups.

Bro. Mike Velarde
from: thephilippines.ph
On Feb. 28 the INC will hold a massive rally in Manila which will reportedly be joined by elements of El Shaddai (it will be recalled that Bro. Mike Velarde had a hand in the appointment of Corona to the top SC post) and Catholic elements.


Pastor Quiboloy
from: zhenmei.blogspot.com
There’s also the group of Pastor Apollo Quiboloy whose columns in Manila Standard, titled "Plumbline," I submit, are indication of his leanings. Recently Quiboloy scolded the two high-ranking leaders for their word-war (which P-Noy has been carrying out way way before, with just one slambang answer from CJ the other day that hit home); but in a column dated Jan. 20, 2012, Quiboloy asked Corona’s persecutors “to first prove that they have not committed the same sins they say he did.” "That to me," asserted Quiboloy, “is the important ’predicate’---to borrow a legalese in vogue these days---of this trial. The prosecutors’ fidelity to the SALN law must first be shown before they prosecute Corona for being unfaithful to it.”

The INC and Pastor Quiboloy’s group have massive command votes that reelectionist senators cannot afford to ignore. In addition, while the CBCP has not gone beyond exhorting P-Noy and CJ to lower their warfare tones, it cannot be denied that various bishops still harbor ill-feelings about the way they were shamed in the Pajero issue and are offended by P-Noy’s all-out support for the RH bill.


Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile
For Christendom today, Ash Wednesday, signifies the beginning of Lent, which means fasting, abstinence and mortifications. But for Senate President and trial presiding judge Juan Ponce Enrile, his mortifications had begun much earlier, as he admitted in a speech before the 20th convention of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines last weekend in Laoag City. As he put it before the country's best lawyers, the need to balance the concerns of all parties inside the trial court and rein in the proceedings in a manner that conforms to law have been trying his patience. We all pray that JPE’s health continues to hold up despite this heavy burden.

At yesterday’s hearing JPE bristled at the insistence of the prosecution to expand the coverage of Article 3 to cover matters he felt were beyond its stated scope. This included the prosecution’s accusation that CJ and wife Cristina had availed of numerous travel perks courtesy of PAL’s Platinum Card, even when the FASAP still has a case pending before the SC. Enrile bellowed to the prosecution that if they want to expand Article 3’s coverage, they would have to amend it first, which will take time and delays proceedings further.


Actually, as JPE pointed out, the difficulties the impeachment court faces stem from the very poor preparation that went into the prosecution’s impeachment complaint. As the trial crawled into its 21st day, it became more and more evident that the prosecution didn’t have enough evidence and that it was relying, as JPE said, on the senators and on court subpoenas to ferret out evidence that the prosecution should have secured for itself in the first place.

Justice Serafin Cuevas
from: tropicalpenpals.com
In turn, the complaint was poorly prepared because, as the prosecution itself admitted yesterday, it was in a rush to file it---a case of striking while the iron is hot. But as the old adage goes, haste makes waste. Thus, despite the fact that the defense panel’s hands are tied---lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas complained about the unfairness of the change in trial rules that resulted in the defense’s inability to even challenge the line of questioning or reasoning of a senator-judge who unfairly acts more as prosecutor---the prosecution is not getting the upper-hand because of its bunglings.


Rep. Milagros Magsaysay
The poorly crafted complaint has brought a lot of embarrassment for the House of Representatives. As Deputy Minority Leader Milagros Magsaysay was quoted yesterday, many House members are ashamed of what their colleagues have been doing, while a majority legislator admitted that this is the reason many House members don’t want to show up at the Senate hearings in support of their panel. In fact Speaker Feliciano Belmonte was quoted yesterday as stressing that he ordered a sizable number of representatives to show up at the Senate to show support for their panel.

Unfortunately their presence didn’t improve the performance of the prosecution, leading to JPE’s complaint yesterday. As a wag put it, "Napakalinis na ng prosecution, kasi araw-araw sinasabon sila."


Sen. Jinggoy Estrada
from Pep.ph

His patience wearing thin, the Senate President personally undertook the questioning of PS Bank branch manager Annabelle Tiongson last Monday for over an hour, about the visit of QC Rep. Jorge Banal to her, armed with documents purporting to contain information on CJ Corona’s accounts in the bank. JPE felt compelled to do so obviously to hasten the interrogation of Tiongson, whom Sen. Jinggoy Estrada had earlier tagged as possibly the source of the Corona documents presented by lead prosecutor Niel Tupas (I had written in an earlier blog about what appears to be the operation of the “Iloilo Mafia” in this regard).

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
from manilatimes.net
But later that day Sen. Jinggoy admitted that he was ready to shift his suspicion to the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLAC), after PSB President Pascual Garcia, in response to a query from JPE, revealed that a Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) team had conducted an audit of his bank around September to November of 2010. Significantly, it was revealed that included in that audit team was a specialist designated by AMLA, and on sharp questioning by Rep. Bongbong Marcos, Garcia admitted that this AMLA specialist is THE ONLY OFFICER in the team who can look into signature deposit cards. Garcia also admitted, quite significantly, that it was the first time his bank was ever audited, and the accounts of CJ Corona were specifically sought and that PSB "complied with the requiredments." 


The conclusion one inevitably drew from the two days of hearing was that this administration had zeroed in on CJ Corona’s persecution ever since the President came into office on July 1, 2010. It would appear that the AMLA representative had identified CJ’s accounts and documented them for future use, and that opportunity came up with CJ's impeachment.

As to the “fake signature cards” that were floated by rappler.com and came into the possession of Reps. Umali/Tupas and Banal through some fairy tales, these had to surface in order for the prosecution to be able to ferret out the accounts via a Senate subpoena, despite the Bank Secrecy Law. But first these docus had to be doctored so that there would be discrepancies with the originals in the bank vault. Among them, the bogus docu bore a “PEP” or “politically excepted person” marking, while the orig had none. This way, the source wouldn’t be made clear. Neat, isn’t it?

One can only wish that our President and his government would be as focused and single-minded on the nation’s problems, such as the deteriorating power situation in Mindanao, the increasing rate of poverty and criminality nationwide, as they are in persecuting underdog Corona.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

P-Noy’s allies, confident of CJ Corona’s conviction, already floating “search for ideal CJ.” Actually they want only one qualification: that new CJ will bow totally to P-Noy’s every wish. But Justices Carpio and Sereno, rumored contenders for Corona’s post, ought to be insulted at the thought that they’re perceived only as puppets of P-Noy

You better believe that Filipinos from the various social strata follow the impeachment trial. One evening recently I was at a Mercury Drug branch and had occasion to chat with the security guard who said he was rushing home to catch the replay of the trial over TV. I said relax, it’s Friday---no trial. Queried on how he finds the hearings, the guard confessed to being an ardent admirer of the two seniors, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile whom he feels is even-handed and fair, and lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas whom he found “sobrang galing at dunong!”.  But he also likes the aura of CJ Renato Corona---“para pong mabait at mapagpakumbaba,” adding how he pities CJ as “talagang bugbog sarado ki P-Noy.”

On the other hand, my suki fish vendor clearly understands that the issue against CJ is really all about Hacienda Luisita, disguised as a  campaign against the CJ’s “corruption.”


Over TV the other day I watched P-Noy’s tirades against Corona at the opening of the EDSA anniversary at La Consolacion College. Like many  citizens I found it deplorable and pathetic that he’d use that forum of  young students assembled from various schools, to continue his vicious attacks on CJ---complete with visual aids and calling for his conviction. Ironically the first question he got in the open forum afterwards was, “Mr. President, how can you help us bring down tuition fees?” These youngsters obviously were signaling to their President that, hey, we want you to talk to us about gut issues affecting us and our parents who pay for our education with great sacrifice. But P-Noy continued his tirades against Corona, as he had done at Tesda the week before. 

Reports say he'll take the hate-Corona campaign to 25 other campuses around the country. What P-Noy doesn’t seem to realize  is that there is such a thing as over-doing something. In the first place, mapipikon na ang mga senators, for as Corona argued, P-Noy should respect the impeachment process and leave the senators alone in this job entrusted to them by the Constitution, instead of his openly seeking to influence their vote and marshalling all the forces of government against the CJ. 

But by openly campaigning for CJ's conviction, P-Noy reinforces the assertion made by Corona’s defense team at a recent press conference---that he’s seeking to buy the senators’ votes for P100 million each. This is unfair to the majority of senators who are trying to act prudently in the trial court. Secondly, it’s MAKING A MARTYR OUT OF CJ and eliciting tremendous sympathy for him.


House allies of P-Noy, led by Pangasinan Rep. Hernani Braganza, are now bragging (no pun intended, Nani) that they’re shopping for the “ideal Chief Justice” presumably because they believe Corona would be convicted.  Actually, going by how they have  argued over the past nearly two months since the impeachment complaint signed by 188 House members was forwarded to the Senate, there’s only ONE QUALIFICATION that P-Noy’s allies are looking for in an “ideal CJ”---that he or she will obey P-Noy’s COMMAND. But doesn’t this bring us back to the argument being peddled by his allies about CJ Corona being GMA’s alleged stooge? Would it be only a change of cast? What's all the wrenching national upheaval about?


The popular theory among political pundits is that Aquino ordered the House to impeach Corona after the Nov. 22, 2011 unanimous decision of the Supreme Court ordering full distribution of Hacienda Luisita’s lands. Or at the very least, if redistribution of Hacienda lands is inevitable, P-Noy wants to make sure the Cojuangco family will get “properly compensated” (this was his first reaction to that SC decision). 
Frankly, I can’t see how the SC’s Nov. 22 ruling, where 14 justices voted for redistribution, could be reversed just like that. Perhaps it’s more the computation of the valuation of the lands that the farmers will have to pay the Cojuangco family that could be easier to manipulate in a “revamped” SC, with Corona replaced. This is because the justices have varied positions on valuation: CJ Corona insists that it be pegged at 1989 prices, which means that the farmers get to pay only P196 million for the lands over a given period;  whereas Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno reportedly insisted on land prices of 2006, when the stock distribution option was re-offered to the farmers, which means at least P5 billion for the Cojuangcos. Analyst Rigorberto Tiglao even puts it at P10 billion.
Whatever it is, P-Noy’s garrulous House allies would actually be insulting Justices Carpio and Sereno if they think these two magistrates, assuming either of them is appointed to a vacant CJ post, or even an outsider as is being rumored, such as former UP Law Dean Raul Pangalangan, would be P-Noy’s PUPPET.  I imagine they all have legal standing to protect.


The story of the fake bank documents supposedly containing reference to CJ Corona’s accounts at PS Bank is getting murkier by the day.  First, the prosecution panel attached these docus to its request for subpoena of Corona’s bank accounts even as copies were floated by rappler.com in the internet. After the defense complained of the unauthorized float, the Senate  grilled lead prosecutor Niel Tupas who made the startling revelation that the prosecution had nothing to go by in the accounts issue except the solitary information that CJ Corona had won P1 million in a PSB lottery. With this admission, Tupas thus confirmed what the defense has been saying all along: that prosecution has to undertake a grand fishing expedition to move its case. .

Queried by SP Enrile on where the prosecution got the docus since PSB hadn't submitted any as yet,  Tupas pointed to Umali who said it was handed to him by an unidentified “short lady” at the Senate.  PSB branch manager Anabelle Tiongson was summoned to explain the docus' sudden appearance. After days of tortured and vague answers she finally opined that those were fake since some entries in the bank originals did not correspond to those in the prosecution's docus.


Interestingly, under questioning Tiongson, an Ilongga, claimed that she did not know Rep. Niel Tupas at all, despite the fact that her first cousin, Obet Armada, was the running-mate of Tupas’ brother Boboy in an election (Tiongson is also a relative of LP Sen. Franklin Drilon, both hailing from Dumangas, Iloilo, while the latter was Niel Tupas' wedding sponsor ). But even more startling was that Tiongson  refused to “confirm or deny” that Niel Tupas is also a depositor in PSB (text messages claim the existence of alleged huge deposits of Tupas there that make Corona look like poor relation).  An exasperated Senate President stressed that failure to confirm or deny means only one thing: AFFIRMATIVE. 

Listeners doubtless could not help but see the entre-familia connection among the "Iloilo Mafia."     


Last Thursday Tiongson detonated another bomb. She claimed that Q.C. Rep. Jorge Banal showed up at her bank branch with bank docus bearing Corona’s name, seeking more information on CJ’s accounts. But she said that after recovering from “shock” at seeing those signature cards in an  outsider's possession, she refused to give him any info and he left. So startling was the script Tiongson was following that afternoon, that even her young lady lawyer did not know that her client was going to divulge it.  So, why did Tiongson offer it at that moment---to save her skin? Whose script was she following?  Did higher ups in the bank authorize her to do so, to cooperate with President Aquino?  
Rep. Banal, who happened to be in the Senate premises (!) that afternoon (he’s part of the House secretariat) was summoned by Enrile to explain his role, and his story was that he found the docus in a brown envelop left by his fence last Jan. 31 evening, and he promptly turned it over to his prosecution colleagues. Interestingly his brother, PDI columnist Conrad Banal, wrote up the Corona bank issue on Feb. 2 when no one even in the Senate had those docus.


All these developments proved several things: that at the start the prosecution had no evidence whatsoever other than those docus that were ILLEGALLY OBTAINED, and that, as Enrile pointed out, the prosecution depended solely on the Senate subpoenas to fish them out. The problem is that as Sen. Joker Arroyo put it, these docus have “no evidentiary value,” having been obtained under illegal conditions and attested to by bank officials themselves as a forgery. As Arroyo put it, “A forgery is a forgery.”  SP Enrile agrees, as he reasons that if the documents are proved fake, then the prosecution's whole body of arguments on this issue will be stricken off the record.

 Aside from the "fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree principle," the logic here is that if the docus are fake, assumptions based on them, e.g., sum totals there cannot be trusted. 

But there's another strange twist: the Palace quickly asserted that those docus are GENUINE, not fake. The Palace is the only one making this claim now--- totally without basis, Your Honor, as Defense's Serafin Cuevas loves to say. Was it because the Palace wants to save the PSB and its parent bank, MetroBank, as well as do damage control on the banking industry that now suffers from the docu leaks? Or it wants to ferret out all the details of Corona's accounts, before JPE makes good his threat to strike them off the record? 

The defense team is seriously contemplating filing charges against those who willfully used the fake docus to obtain evidence in a court process that's lawful and in order.
The developments are bad for the banking industry, but so too are they bad for the prosecution that's given to repeated lies. 

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

JPE, perhaps unknowingly, caused BPs to rise in Senate session hall yesterday, in wake of rife talk of a plot to oust him; coup fizzles out after plotters get only 6 votes; move aside, Hyatt 10---here comes “Senate 10;” defense lawyers ready with small bags in case they’re cited for contempt.

Senator Juan Ponce Enrile

Today is Valentine’s Day and this blog extends Happy Valentine greetings to all my friends and relatives who continue to enjoy enduring affection and devotion with their loved ones and families.  But yesterday, the thoughts of everyone in the Senate session hall were farthest from being about love. For talk had been rife over the weekend---in fact Daily Tribune bannered it yesterday---that the Senate group allied with President Noynoy would seek to oust Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and install one of their own, as in their estimation JPE is now perceived as a stumbling block to the certain conviction of Chief Justice Renato Corona. 
I had argued earlier here that ousting JPE would not sit well with the people as he's generally perceived as fair and even-handed in his rulings as presiding judge of the impeachment court. Actually reports indicate that there was a attempt yesterday by Palace allies among the senators to gather votes for JPE's ouster, but it fizzled out after they could only get six votes---namely, those of four Liberals and Senators Ping Lacson and Antonio Trillanes. 


With that background in mind, imagine the consternation JPE created when after the long Senate caucus on the SC’s TRO that began at noon yesterday, he suddenly entered the session hall from the rear portal where gallery guests enter, instead of from the side entrance clear across that's always used by the senators. Moreover JPE was in a brown suit without his judge’s crimson robe and as he walked down the hall he began shaking hands first with the prosecutors, then with the important guests in the VIP gallery and then with the defense panel, led by Justice Serafin Cuevas. The cameras feasted on him as he moved about.  

Some spectators who witnessed this mini-drama were terrified and frantic questions popped up all around:  has the rumored ouster of JPE materialized? Is he saying goodbye to everyone? Who’s going to take his place? How can the trial go on without JPE?  A lady guest thought JPE looked sad and formal.  Walking toward the dais he then disappeared through the side door and for a long while we spectators sat in the gallery, not knowing what was happening behind the scenes.


After half an hour JPE emerged again, this time garbed in his crimson robe, followed by the rest of the senators, including the voluble Miriam Defensor Santiago. Audible sighs of relief arose and blood pressures began going down. JPE then announced the decision of the Senate body that would go down in its annals as one of its landmark moves: 13 senators voted to uphold the TRO issued by the Supreme Court last Thursday against unauthorized disclosures of foreign currency deposits (FCDs) in Philippine banks, as provided by the Foreign Currency Deposits Law, while 10 senators voted to defy it.   
There was great rejoicing in certain quarters yesterday after the 13 senators voted to uphold the majesty of the law---thus averting a constitutional crisis.   Actually, had the voting been the reverse and 13 senators voted to defy the TRO, the coup plotters would have been emboldened to push their oust-JPE scheme. Who knows, perhaps JPE would be celebrating his 88th birthday sorrowing, instead of in full glory of his fans this noon at the senators' lounge. 

Some wits were quick on the draw to play up the fortuitous results:  as one texter put it, "move aside Hyatt 10, now comes the SENATE 10." The next day, an email depicting the ten anti-TRO senators festooned with party hats and balloons was viralled under the label, “100 million reasons to party.”  The reference to the "P100 million," for those who are lost in translation, came from the assertion of CJ Corona’s defense lawyers in a rainy night press conference last Sunday at Club Filipino that they received “authoritative” information that the Palace was offering each senator P100 million to defy the SC’s TRO on FCDs.


In the course of discussion on this issue of FCDs, some senators argued that the FCD Law, RA 6426, was being used by the corrupt and grafters in our society as refuge because dollar deposits are untouchable under this law. I can see that point, and if Congress wishes to amend this law to make it more open to scrutiny, they should do so. But the question is, would Congress amend this Marcos-era law that has remained untouched since 1974, considering that perhaps there's hardly a senator or representative who doesn’t have an FCD here?

 But just to carry that argument through, as a senator pointed out, relaxing the law on FCDs here would only mean that dollar depositors would move to Singapore which has even more stringent law on FCDs (it’s now termed the “New Switzerland” as the old European haven  has considerably relaxed its once-formidable secrecy law in recent years, under pressure from the international banking community).  


Last Sunday night the defense panel of CJ Corona came out in blazing red shirts (the signature color of rallyistas for Corona at the SC), without the two most senior lawyers, namely, Justice Cuevas and former Ateneo Dean Dindo de los Angeles, to state their main reason for summoning that “hastily-called” but well-attended (for a Sunday night!) press conference. Led by defense lawyer Mon Esguerra, they claimed that an infallible source had told them that the Palace had offered P100 million to each senator to vote against the SC TRO on foreign deposits. But they stopped short of divulging their source, nor did they offer any clue as to who among the senators might have accepted the bribe.

Atty. Jose Roy and Atty. Serafin Cuevas
from http://www.balita.ph/
At yesterday's Senate hearing, senators one after the other angrily rose to denounce the Corona lawyers’ spin and Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano sought to force defense lawyer Jose “Judd” Roy III, the group’s spokesperson for yesterday’s show-down with the senators, to disclose their alleged source of the report.  Judd  Roy, grandson of the late Sen. Jose Roy and an Ateneo ’89 graduate and former dean and president of the Pamantasan ng Lungson ng Maynila, is normally the hard-hitting one among the defense lawyers. But yesterday, before the senators, Judd was uncharacteristically courteous, humble and deferential as he explained why they were forced to take their case to the media.

Atty. Roy deftly invoked Paragraph E, Sec. 20, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court on "admission to the bar and duties of attorney," especially regarding confidentiality between lawyer and client. This court ruling is akin to that governing journalists’ invocation of secrecy of their source. The senators, probably realizing the futility of forcing the contempt issue, did not go beyond verbal castigation and protest.

Atty. Mon Esguerra quipped to media last Monday afternoon that they all began praying for Judd Roy's defense before the Senate as early as the midnight before. While he spoke several of them were seen opening their pocket bibles.


A member of the House prosecution whom I had a chance to chat with after yesterday’s session lamented that all the defense got from the senators for that “absolutely wrong move” last Sunday night was "just a slap on the wrist.”  I riposted that the Senate President, upon a move from a senator, ordered the defense to explain in writing why they shouldn’t be cited for contempt for their action and the defense asked for three days to do so. But the prosecution member countered that that didn’t mean anything---after all, “nakasingaw na ang lahat.” 

I ventured that from what I gathered from the defense lawyers, they were all ready to be cited for contempt for what they did and in fact, last Sunday night, they each had small bags packed with essentials for possible forced dormitory stay in the Senate. But the prosecution member opined that that was probably the reason the senators gave the defense a mere slap on the wrist---they sensed that the defense lawyers were aching to be booked for contempt, but the senators did not want to make martyrs out of them. 

Actually, what the defense lawyers' startling press con achieved, among others, was to frighten some senators from voting against the SC TRO. If only for that, packing those small bags was well worth it. 

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

A coup d’etat against Enrile will not sit well with the Filipino people, as it's generally accepted that JPE has been quite fair and even-handed. If JPE is ousted, then it’s a signal that fair and just trial is being abandoned. Would Senators Lapid and Escudero be able to vote independently, considering favors from Aquinos?

Sentaor Juan Ponce Enrile

Nothing seems to shake the single-mindedness of the Aquino administration toward getting Chief Justice Renato Corona convicted---not the 6.9 earthquake that hit Central Visayas a few days ago and where life continues to be miserable for millions of people bereft of power and clean water; the deterioration of the peace and order situation in the metropolis; the rise of the price of gasoline and essentials and the unabated rise in hunger statistics.

Tesda, the agency tasked with training unskilled youths should hardly have been the venue for President Aquino to speak about the CJ’s alleged dollar accounts---it would have been more proper had he spelled out his plans to generate more jobs for the skilled workers Tesda seeks to train. But the President lost no time at Tesda to attack the Supreme Court’s recent TRO (in a vote of 8 vs. 5) against opening Corona’s alleged foreign currency deposits and to challenge him to authorize their disclosure. 

In so doing P-Noy at the same time stone-walled the continuing challenge aired by many citizens ever since the SALN became a hot issue, for him to also disclose the 55 percent increase within a year (2010) of his own SALN and explain his various property under-valuations in it.


Secretary Edwin Lacierda

After the SC TRO-ed the disclosure of foreign currency accounts last Thursday, Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda attacked that ruling as a “brazen effort to derail the (impeachment) proceedings,” and then went on to openly incite the senators to assert their “prerogatives” against the SC. These are indeed lamentable times for the rule of law, as the Palace’s occupant and sycophants around him continue to assail decisions of the High Court. Never in the history of this country have we seen such attacks on the SC by Malacanang. I recall how in GMA’s time, there were bitter defeats she had to swallow from the SC, such as its rulings that GMA's  Proclamation No. 1017, that put the country under emergency rule during an attempted coup, and the MOA on Ancestral Domain were unconstitutional. But each time her administration bowed to SC's will.

Here we see Lacierda openly inciting the senators to disobey the SC's TRO against foreign account disclosures. Reports also indicate that since last Friday senators have been getting follow-up calls from Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa about P-Noy’s utmost desire that they defy it. 

Senator Lito Lapid
 But the campaign to woo senators doesn’t end there. Reports indicate that presidential sister Kris Aquino, who is No. 51 in ABS-CBN’s list of prominent stockholders, granted Sen. Lito Lapid a program of his own in the network (quite apart, of course, from the assistance the DFA is giving his wife who was apprehended with a huge amount of dollars in her possession while entering the US). This new program is being heavily advertised in the network. The question is, how can Sen. Lapid vote independently given this naked bribery offer from Kris? 


Dr. Evelina Escudero Ph.D
from philstar.com
Then too, Dr. Evelina Escudero, Ph.D, mother of Sen. Francis Escudero, was recently appointed by P-Noy as member of the 12-member exclusive club that is the UP Board of Regents (BOR), the UP Systems’ highest decision-making body. Dr. Escudero, who obtained her doctoral degree in education philosophy from the UP, has been a home economics faculty member, apart from being quite active as head of the College of Home Economics Alumni Association and the UP Alumni Association. 

P-Noy’s critics tend to look down at the sudden prominence of the "lowly" UP Home Economics College in the BOR, but it can be argued that Dr. Escudero has a large constituency. The HE College, aside from being the training ground for all those who want to be good housewives or get into the food business, is also where a lot of those who fail the stiff UPCAT exams at UP (including children of prominent politicians) first gain a toehold, thanks to the exercise of presidential prerogative by UP Presidents.

But the main issue at this point is the TIMING of Dr. Escudero’s appointment, JUST WHEN THE SENATE TRIAL IS IN FULL SWING AND HER SON IS A SENATOR-JUDGE. A prominent member of the BOR, Engr. Manuel Albarracin of Phinma Corporation was due to finish his term at the BOR this July, but the Palace can’t wait. Albarracin was notified that he is being asked to step down, and soon enough Dr. Escudero was appointed. Albarracin is a big loss to the UP Engineering alumni, for thanks to his efforts, the College of Engineering has raised the biggest funds among all the UP colleges, and was able to successfully finance many projects. 

The question is, like Sen. Lapid, can Sen. Chiz overlook the appointment of his mother to the BOR come voting time in the Senate?


Like many other interesting moves of the Palace these days (such as reports over the weekend of buy-off offers of P100 million to each senator to defy the SC TRO), the appointment of Dr. Escudero and Sen. Lito Lapid’s new TV program on ABS-CBN courtesy of Kris Aquino smack of an UTTER LACK OF DELICADEZA. When you come down to it, they constitute BRIBERY of senator-judges and they indicate the Palace's sense of desperation about the possible outcome of CJ Corona’s trial. The way it’s dangling different delectable candy sticks to the senators in exchange for their crucial votes, it shows that after all the shaming and bludgeoning that CJ and his family have been subjected to---with the help of the yellow media and mobilization of just about all agencies of government---the Palace STILL REMAINS UNSURE THAT IT CAN CONVICT CJ. Therefore it has to resort to BRIBERY in various forms.


Let’s take a look at the 29-page petition filed by the Philippine Savings Bank with the Supreme Court to stop the Senate from opening alleged foreign currency deposits of CJ Corona. As was pointed out in the hearing by PS Bank President Pascual Garcia III in his staunch opposition to such disclosure, RA 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposits  (FCD) Law, passed in April 1974 at the height of the martial law regime (just two days after April Fools’ Day), imposed far stricter requirements for disclosure of foreign currency deposits than what RA 1405, the Bank Secrecy Act, that governs local currency deposits allows. 

The FCD Law requires written authorization from the depositor for a foreign currency account to be disclosed, and it allows NO EXCEPTIONS. In fact, as Atty. Rita Linda V. Jimeno (Karen J's equally good-looking mom) argues in her Standard column, the FCD Law provides "an absolute prohibition against the 'examination or looking into of such deposits by any person, government official, bureau or office, whether judicial, administrative or legislative...' " By contrast, the Bank Secrecy Act provides five conditions where disclosure may be permitted, which includes the requirements of impeachment.


Thus, while the prosecution won permission from the Senate court to disclose local bank accounts of CJ Corona in PS Bank and BPI, the SC, not quite unexpectedly, issued last Thursday a TRO against what the prosecution wanted to do, ----which was to force open alleged foreign currency deposits of Corona. In doing so, the SC was quite mindful of its own ruling in “Salvacion vs. BSP" which was the ONE AND ONLY TIME SINCE 1974 that a foreign currency account was “garnished” or attached. This was to compensate the family of the  12-year old Filipina rape victim of a foreign national here, who had no other means to compensate save his foreign deposits here. That SC decision was THE ONLY EXCEPTION SINCE THE LAW'S ENACTMENT IN 1974.

PS Bank President Garcia argued that at peril in such unauthorized disclosures would be the welfare of the 1.6 million foreign currency depositors nationwide, and the banking system itself. Garcia, the longest-serving PSB prexy, has become a huge hero for standing up for  supremacy of the law even at the risk of being cited by the Senate in contempt. By contrast, it's the senators allied with P-Noy who want to trampled upon the law. 



Fr. Joaquin Bernas
Fr.Ranhilio Aquino
Tomorrow, Monday, Feb. 13, the Senate Court will hold a caucus to decide how to react to the SC TRO on the FCDU Law. Pro-administration senators are trying to bully the chamber into rejecting the TRO, with outright encouragement of the President and his co-horts, as those senators try to coerce their colleagues to believe that the Senate court is superior to any other court in the country in the task of conducting an impeachment. Various constitutional experts such as Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino and Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago have exhorted the Senate to respect the law and the SC’s TRO. In fact, Christian Monsod, who was part of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, argued that the Senate impeachment court was not “infallible” and that the SC was merely doing its constitutional duty to “interpret the law” when it issued the TRO. The President of the CBCP, Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, also joined the chorus of voices in urging the senators to respect the TRO. 

Last Thursday Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also advised his colleagues to respect the SC ruling, but rebellious elements among them are out for blood---never mind if they tear up the chamber on this issue. Some dark clouds forebode that there could be a coup against JPE if he persists in his stand to respect the SC's TRO.  JPE has been judged by the nation as having been fair in his handling of this most difficult trial, and any attempt to oust him would not sit well with the Filipino people.

Tomorrow's Senate session will be quite pivotal in the annals of this impeachment trial.

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