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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, May 30, 2012

Franco Castillo tearfully breaks conviction news to grandpa Corona; defense lawyers teary-eyed during voting; many of the ‘Sanctimonious 20’ senators doubtless have foreign accounts, but not signing waivers; JPE persuades six followers to convict CJ at secret dinner meeting at Loren’s residence.

Such is the human heart that when something is so hurtful, it tends to retreat from searing pain. I understand that when last Tuesday’s voting at the Senate impeachment court began, Chief Justice Renato Corona and his wife Cristina, who were in his hospital room, chose not to watch the proceeding;  instead they spent the time praying quietly. His family had advised against the Chief’s watching it on TV so as not to overburden his heart, but other relatives and family friends watched it in an adjacent room.
One of those in that adjacent room related to this blogger how the Coronas’ eldest grandchild, 10-year old Franco Corona Castillo, a bright student at Xavier School, who seems to be very close to his grandpa, kept track of the score among the senators; from time to time he would run to his grandparents’ room with results, e.g., three for guilty and two for not guilty. When the conviction votes reached 16, Franco dashed back to their room screaming, “They impeached you, grandpa! They impeached you. “ Then he burst into unconsolable tears. Grandma Tina embraced him tight and led him to the bed next to his grandpa to quiet him down.
XXX
Franco wasn’t the only one who shed tears that afternoon. At the Senate session hall, members of the defense panel quietly followed the voting and cameramen with their zoom lens swore later that while Atty. Ramon Esguerra was bent over his knees he would periodically wipe the corners of his eyes. Rico Paolo Quicho stared at the ceiling but cameras caught him at some point winking away tears.
The defense panel had, as Atty. Quicho put it, given their client “an honorable fight” in accordance with the highest professionalism. This was in sheer contrast to the bungling of the prosecution which, as Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile noted in his closing remarks, had relied on the court’s subpoena too often to produce evidence, when this should have come complete upon submission of the complaint to the Senate. The prosecution had no evidence of CJ's guilt at the start and just went on one grand fishing expedition.
XXX
A lead member of the prosecution, Rep. Rudy Farinas, had early on criticized his team’s complaint as lousy and the 188 signatories as having failed to read the complaint.  Yet, it is the height of irony that the prosecution succeeded in convicting Corona—thus meriting invitations to a grand victory party at the Palace last night, amid reports of fat cash bonuses and multi-million projects for their districts. 


This elicited the wry remark from DZBB commentator Joey Reyes Zobel that "namamasko na ang mga House prosecutors." It also gave rise to a new joke about the principle of check-and-balance, as Malacanang understands it: “a check now and the balance later.”
 On the other hand, the defense could not save CJ despite its brilliance---because the case against him was won not because of the complaint’s merits but because of political accommodation of the Palace’s order, and what the senators could milk it for.
XXX
 In fact, an indication of how some of the “Sanctimonious 20” who condemned CJ wore their convictions on their sleeves was the media buzz that some senators  came to the voting prepared with two little speeches to read, depending on the voting trend.
  It was also heart-rending that CJ was being crucified for non-disclosure in his SALN of his peso and foreign accounts---monies that, as Senate President Enrile acknowledged in his closing remarks, were NEVER PROVED BY THE PROSECUTION AS ILL-GOTTEN---whereas a good number of his senator-crucifiers doubtless own dollar accounts perhaps even bigger than CJ’s, that were unreported in their SALNs. Moreover, except for three senators, they refused to sign waivers on these accounts.
 As TeddyBoy Locsin noted in his “Tedditorial,” the hypocrisy of the Senate on this issue was stifling.
XXX
The Philippine Star has a story today about the dinner meeting of seven senators at Sen. Loren Legarda’s beautiful Forbes Park residence last Sunday “purportedly to map out their  strategy in the impeachment trial of (CJ) Corona.” This blogger learned that the dinner was called at the behest of SP Enrile and attending, aside from hostess Legarda were JPE’s loyal disciples, namely, Jinggoy Estrada, Vicente Sotto and Gregorio Honasan. 
At the suggestion of Loren her former runningmate in NP, Manny Villar, was added to the original list, and Lakas President Ramon Revilla III also was invited. So secret was the gathering that there were no staffers present except JPE’s chief of staff, Gigi Reyes.
When the impeachment trial was fairly new, former Sen. Ernesto Maceda, an old hand in the Senate, told us that in such an undertaking, where the Senate President goes, there’s the direction of the trial. In the first four months, JPE was being touted everywhere as fair and impartial, the savior of the court. In fact, deposed President Estrada had said that if the presiding judge at his own impeachment trial had been of the caliber of JPE, he would have been acquitted and no walkout would have occurred.
XXX
But by May 7, when Corona’s trial resumed after a five-week break, the gallery habitués all felt the Senate President had changed. He seemed quite partial to the prosecution, despite giving the latter the occasional drubbing it deserved. A number of observers thought that after the break JPE looked like a man going through an inner turmoil they didn’t see in the first half of the trial.  The perception that JPE had gone to the prosecution’s side grew stronger as voting approached. 
Last Sunday at Loren’s place, according to reports, JPE proposed to the group to vote as a bloc to convict Corona. Sensing some resistance at first---three were said to be originally leaning toward CJ: Estrada, Loren and Villar---JPE reportedly became upset and asked what use would such meeting be if they could not unite as a bloc.
Since last week tremendous pressures were said to be brought to bear on the senators, in the form of promised appointments to government posts for the "graduating" senators and campaign funds for reelectionists. One of the most targeted was Bongbong Marcos, but to this young man’s credit, he remained unwavering in his support for CJ to the end. By contrast, Legarda appeared to be vacillating over the past two weeks, but last Sunday she was obviously won over to JPE’s side along with Villar.


 Last week prosecution was already boasting of 19 votes in its pocket. Had JPE not abandoned CJ, Malacanang would not have gained the 16 it needed.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Eight courageous senators and a landmark decision

Wanted: eight courageous senators who will protect the independence of the Judiciary from the Executive branch that seeks domination of all three branches of government. Wanted: eight senator-judges who will morph into 'senator-statesmen.'

Will eight senators repeat the historic role of their predecessors who--- 21 years ago---courageously said NO to continued stay of US bases, thereby asserting Philippine independence from American imperialism?

Will they vote to acquit CJ Corona and assure the independence of the SC especially in the Hacienda Luisita case? This is what it boils down to: the struggle to protect the independence of the Judiciary as epitomized by the Supreme Court, against the onslaughts of a Chief Executive who seems hell-bent on controlling the three branches of government.

*    *    *

On trial in the Senate impeachment proceeding---now on its finale act---is not only Chief Justice Renato Corona but our government and even our democratic way of life. 21 years ago, as Manila Times columnist Ricardo Saludo pointed out, 16 such courageous senators (among them Sen. Joseph Estrada, father of Sen. Jinggoy, and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile) stood up to the imperialistic might of the US and asserted that after over a century, enough was enough: the US military bases treaty will not be renewed, and the bases have to get out of here.

In 1991 few expected that the 16 senators would have the courage and the guts to thumb down the bases treaty, but they did it. Similarly, this afternoon, the nation is looking for eight senators who will courageously stand up and assert their vote of acquittal of CJ Corona, because they believe that he is NOT GUILTY OF AN IMPEACHABLE CRIME in not disclosing his dollar accounts in his SALN.

But more importantly, the nation is looking for eight senators who realize they have to preserve the SC from the increasing subversion of the magistrates' independence, such as President Aquino had mercilessly sought to do with Corona, and earlier with the threat to impeach Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo.

*    *    *

In voting to acquit Corona, these courageous eight senators would be swimming against the tide, conditioned by an endless barrage of basically unfounded accusations---Hitlerian style---disgorged in yellow media. This will take uncommon courage, but I feel certain there are eight such senators who would be unafraid, just like the 16 before them who stood up to US might.

21 years ago few thought the 16 senators would dare do the unthinkable, but it happened. This will be the MIRACLE OF GOD THE FATHER this afternoon---that eight senators will find the courage to swim against the conditioned thinking against CJ, and above all, TO DEFY THE DICTATES of Malacanang

Corona stood up courageously to defy Malacanang six months ago---when its occupant and his allies thought CJ would cave in immediately and resign, like Mercy Gutierrez. Instead the Batangueno magistrate  fought on, hobbled by health problems toward the finish line, and despite attacks against his person and his family by various agencies of government unleashed with a ferocity never before witnessed in this country.

*    *    *

 The House of Representatives quickly caved in to Malacanang with 188 members affixing their signatures to the unverified impeachment complaint blitzkrieg fashion. In the last five months the House prosecution unloaded "evidence" that was plainly malicious and unfounded---the alleged list of 45 properties, the list of 33 peso accounts, the list of 82 dollar accounts, etc.

 Fairy tales about "little lady," "an envelop hung on a gate on a rainy night" and a spurious list of dollar accounts from polluted sources in the government banking system, used without verification by an unscrupulous ombudsman with an axe to grind against her former SC colleague.

All these malicious, unfounded and unverified accusations were spun endlessly in the yellow media until they began to acquire the mint of truth. In the eyes of the public Corona was made to appear corrupt and guilty of amassing wealth. Cries for his conviction crescendoed.

As the trial winds down to the voting, the nation is looking for eight courageous senators who will not swim with the tide "in aid of compensation," but who will judge according to their conscience and valid arguments, as against spurious documents that should have been slapped on the faces of his morally unqualified accusers.

*    *    *

Yesterday, the House prosecutors argued the case against Corona based again, as in previous weeks, on innuendoes and allegations, not on hard facts and evidence as the defense has done in five months. It was also the supreme irony that the two prosecutors who gave the final arguments kept hitting on the integrity and credibility of CJ, whereas one of them, Rep. Niel Tupas has his family embroiled in cases at the Sandiganbayan and who are recipients of government positions from the President in recent weeks---a clear case of bribery during the impeachment trial.

 The other, Rep. Rudy Farinas, has a colorful history of notoriety in his public and family life.

 By contrast, defense lawyer Eduardo "Dindo" de los Angeles argued with a mild-voice and milder manners the case for CJ, but his plea for acquittal packed a lot of legal dynamite that should have hit thinking and sensible members of the Senate.

*    *    *

De Los Angeles, a giant in the legal community and Dean of Ateneo College of Law for 20 years, argued that Corona should not be impeached because he placed his faith in the law that guarantees absolute confidentiality of dollar accounts.

Said this lawyer: "The Chief Justice has acted consistently, unwavering in his conviction and belief that RA 6426, the Foreign Currency Deposits Act" (FCDA) affords him full and absolute confidentiality. Just because he is the Chief Justice does not imply that he gets to have less in law than anybody else. The law is solicitous of any individual's rights, irrespective of his status in life."

What he was stressing is, will the senator-judges convict a man who interprets the law THE SAME WAY THEY DO? Will the senator-judges convict a man who FOLLOWED THE LAW THEY THEMSELVES MADE?

* * *

 The entire nation, whether pro or against Corona, is agonizing at the moment over the Senate's verdict.
Doubtless the senators are the most in agony as they face terrible pressures, mainly from Malacanang, to cave in and convict CJ, perhaps against their better judgment. That's why I said earlier that we are a nation in search of EIGHT COURAGEOUS SENATORS WHO WILL ACQUIT CJ and guarantee the independence of the judiciary and the democratic way of life.

As a parting shot before the voting, let me quote this beautiful passage from the great 19th-century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck: "The statesman's task is to hear God's footsteps marching through history, and to try and catch on to His coattails as He marches past."

 May our quest for those those eight senators who will cease to be mere senator-judges, but morph into "senator-statesmen" this afternoon be successful.  God bless us all and the country we love.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Basa-Corona incredible reconciliation presages CJ acquittal on Tuesday

On this Pentecost Sunday, let's pray that Holy Spirit enlightens senator-judges, so that they will vote on merits of case as their conscience dictates, not on extraneous matters such as promise of campaign funds and multi-million projects. The story behind incredible reconciliation between members of the Basa-Corona clan---a presage of a God-designed event.

Last Thursday morning, according to news reports, Chief Justice Corona conferred with his lawyers in his sick room at Medical City hospital and told them he had made up his mind to attend the Senate hearing the following afternoon, Friday---against the advice of some family members and friends, and especially his doctors---to disabuse the senators' minds about his "walkout" last Tuesday and argue issues being raised against him.

But before doing so, CJ, his wife and children were asked to sign a waiver by the hospital that he was fully aware of the risks he would undergo if he showed up at the Senate. The only concession he got was that two doctors would accompany him in the ambulance and the session hall and that he would return to the ICU.

Obviously CJ was fully aware of all the risks---physical as well as political---but his courage and complete faith in God overcame them.

XXX

At the Senate trial last Friday there was an air of nervousness about his condition, and at least once the hospital staff was seen taking his blood sugar sample for testing. Luckily for CJ, everything went well and only at the end of about an hour and a half of tough and steady grilling did he indicate through his lead counsel, Justice Serafin Cuevas, that he was tired and not feeling well anymore. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile quickly discharged him.

What was obvious about Corona was his air of calm and certainty about his two appearances at the Senate (except for his sudden "walkout" last Tuesday owing to his acute hypoglycemia and nausea) and the facts and figures he was dishing out---even as black propaganda and distortions swirled about him without let-up in the "outside trial court."

He spoke about his five properties, three peso bank accounts totalling about P80 million, four dollar accounts that began some decades back and by now amounting to $2.4 million, etc.. It was evident that he was testifying on first-hand knowledge about his life and doings.

XXX 

On Tuesday, after tomorrow's final presentation of evidence and arguments by the prosecution and defense panels, the senator-judges will come to a reckoning of their own conscience and hearts. Will they convict or acquit the Chief Justice? The nation has been sharply divided about his fate and debates have spilled out all over media and the social network, in coffee shops and living rooms across the country.

Today is---again serendipitously---Pentecost Sunday, when we recall how the Holy Spirit breathed into the apostles over 2,000 years ago and emboldened them to go out into the world and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Let us pray that the Paraclete would illumine the hearts and minds of the senator-judges, majority of which, given the fishing expedition that the bumbling prosecutors have been conducting over the past five months, should only go for CJ's acquittal if for no other consideration but evidence.

Unfortunately, as the argument has by now worn thin, impeachment is a political trial first and foremost, and the senators are politicians first before they are judges. But let's not give up on the Holy Spirit to produce His miracle on Tuesday.

XXX

The issue now that, as one paper put it, will definitively decide CJ's fate is the SALN and what he has entered or failed to do so there, as well as the Foreign Currency Deposits Act (FCDA), that CJ cites as his reason for not including his foreign accounts in his SALN. He argues that the FCDA guarantees absolute confidentiality of foreign accounts and that to include those in one's SALN runs contrary to this law.

Senator-prosecutor Franklin Drilon counters that such argument encourages corrupt people to hide behind the FCDA and that peso equivalents of foreign accounts can be stated in the SALN. Did Drilon do this in his SALN over the years? The problem is that while there is validity to its being used as smokescreen by the corrupt, the FCDA enacted by Congress sticks, pending amendment. Congress should amend it if there is basis.

But until this happens, the holder of a foreign account cannot be punished because of the law's AMBIGUITY if he or she invokes its absolute confidentiality and excludes the account in his SALN declaration, as Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago argues. Singapore and Hongkong guarantee super-strict confidentiality of foreign deposits, which is why they entrap foreign accounts in huge numbers, including those of many Filipino politicians.

XXX 

Sen. Defensor Santiago raised another point on these two laws that, as CJ Corona noted last Friday, appear to be in conflict with each other. She stressed that the SALN law is a general law, while the FCDA is a specific law, and under the rules of statutory construction, a specific law prevails over a general law---meaning, the FCDA law prevails over the SALN law.

Moreover, as the retired expert on SALN at the BIR, lawyer/CPA Estrella Martinez, noted in the media, in her 32 years at the BIR she never found a single government official who declared his or her foreign account in his/her SALN. The EXCEPTION now is CJ Corona, who signed last Friday a waiver of his foreign accounts---indicating he has nothing to hide.

Now the CJ is being pinned down on the two laws' ambiguities by some senators who will decide his fate this Tuesday. It's obvious that these senators are just looking for a justification for their conviction vote, which is based not on evidence but on extraneous considerations such as multi-million projects, or generous campaign-fund guarantees, etc. It's sheer hypocrisy.

XXX 

To borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, my reported role in the reconciliation of the warring Basa clan is "grossly exaggerated." Let me recount. During the "one long minute" break last Friday at the Senate, former Antique governor Sally Perez, in her typical excited manner, told the regular coterie of female gallery spectators that she just read in a running TV media headline that the Basa cousins of Tina Basa Roco-Corona wanted to reconcile with her (perhaps in answer to Sr. Flory's prayer).

Then Sally heard a report over radio that one of the Basa girls said she wanted to "hug" Tina. During the lull, Sally, ever the peace-maker and architect of win-win situations, thought, why don't we try to reconcile this warring family?" I jumped at it: let's sound out Tina Corona---no harm trying.

Along came civic/ religious leader Baby Nebrida-Ballesty (she with the perpetual flowers in her hair) and during the lull Sally ushered her, Star columnist Chit Pedrosa and myself into the VIP gallery for a quick chat with Ms. Corona. I've spoken in this space about a number of serendipitous developments in the CJ's trial, and one of them was that Baby spotted among the clustered Basas her friend, Betsy Basa- Tenchavez, whom she regularly comes across in Subic.

Betsy ran to Baby and they huddled, while Sally, Chit and I talked to Tina---sige na, we urged her, reach out to your relatives. Sally told her about hearing that one of the Basas wanted to hug her.

XXX 

Tina hesitated for a few seconds and before anyone knew it, Baby was leading her by the hand across the DMZ of two or four unoccupied seats. Then that memorable scene exploded over TV, before the eyes of cameramen bored as the session was suspended. The Basas and Coronas were hugging and kissing and weeping and wiping one another's tears. The incredulous gallery burst into applause.

Members of the prosecution panel didn't know what hit them, but the cousins were unstoppable. The Basas sauntered over to where CJ quietly sat at the witness stand, fully unaware of the drama happening behind his back; the Basa ladies one by one began hugging him and he hugged them all back, soothing them as they wept, his wife standing by obviously still in disbelief about what was happening.

Was that scene for real?

 It happened so fast---spontaneous combustion---that it couldn't have been rehearsed. A regular reader of this blog, Ms. Araceli Z. Lorayes, admits to a touch of skepticism over the Basas' actuations, but credits Tina Corona for "having behaved impeccably" all through the black propaganda against them. The better question is, will the Basas' and Coronas' reconciliation stick? They should make it stick, as the women on both sides of the divide are all good-looking---papangit sila pag nagkagalit pa uli. Nothing destroys one's looks than pent-up anger, whereas nothing can be lovelier than to forgive. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

To all those, like this writer, who cannot understand the reason for the devastating sufferings the prayerful and deeply religious Chief Justice Corona and his family are going through at the hands of his very unchristian tormentors, please read this beautiful story, courtesy of a friend, and feel uplifted in spirit. And kindly pass this on to kindred souls who are equally depressed and puzzled over the meaning of what’s happening in our midst.



Some women were in a Bible study class and there was the passage that “He will never leave us, until He sees His image in us. He is always there, holding us in the palm of His hands come what may.” The passage is tied to a verse they were studying, taken from Malachi 3:3, which says: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

This verse from Malachi puzzled the women even more than the first passage, and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God and His constancy toward those He loves and who love Him in return.

One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study.

That week the lady called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest---beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire, where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then her thoughts raced back to the verse from Malachi they were studying in the Bible class, that says:  “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.” She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire THE WHOLE TIME THE SILVER WAS BEING REFINED.

The silversmith answered, yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on it THE ENTIRE TIME IT WAS IN THE FIRE. For if the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

THE WOMAN WAS SILENT FOR A MOMENT. THEN SHE ASKED THE SILVERSMITH, “HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN THE SILVER IS FULLY REFINED?”

He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy, when I see my image in it, then I know the silver is truly refined.”

As the story put it, if today you are feeling the heat of the fire, remember that God has His eye on you and will keep watching you until He sees His image in you.

This story is so apt to describe the situation of CJ Corona today. Doubtless, through all the praying CJ and his family have done together with the legion of prayer warriors behind him all through the months of trial, there doubtless comes a tiny moment of weakness--- such as in recent days, when all the vilification and demonizing has crescendo-ed AND HE IS NOT EVEN BEING GIVEN BY THE SENATORS THE HUMAN RIGHT TO GET SICK (accusing him of faking up the hospitalization and all!)---when he probably wonders if God is still with him. Bakit mukhang pinababayaan siya.

But as Malachi 3:3 puts it, God is right now holding CJ in the middle of the flames WHERE THE HEAT IS HOTTEST---never taking His eyes away from the silver core of His embattled follower’s being---so as to burn away all the impurities from his life. And God can now see His image in the purified soul of this disciple.  As CJ himself put it in a recent interview, God is in control.








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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CJ’s testimony moved nation of watchers. JPE seemed quite heartless in sternly warning about CJ’s non-appearance, even if he saw CJ in wheelchair in front of him. Senate buzzed with talk that Sen. Serge Osmena financed trip to Manila of Las Vegas-based Basa relatives and arranged VIP seats for them in Senate hall---at arm's length from Corona family.



Yesterday noon as I left for the Senate impeachment trial, I told my kasambahay, who normally begin their daily TV time with the 6:30 pm. news, to drop everything and watch the testimony of Chief Justice Corona over TV at 2 pm. For the past five months my kasambahay have followed the CJ’s trial inside and outside the Senate in the news, and of course it has been pretty lopsided against him. Yesterday I told them they would hear his side for the first time and witness history in the making. When I got back my elderly kasambahay, Josie from Iloilo, said she felt like crying at CJ’s testimony---"Awang awa ako sa kanya, M’am."  This reaction doubtless represented the pulse of the nation.

XXX

CJ’s three-hour testimony, delivered entirely in Filipino, went straight to the heart of the nation, as he had intended, as he apparently paid little heed to whether he could still win the hearts and minds of the senator-judges.  What seemed to matter to CJ only was that his fellow Filipinos would hear him and they believed, as he seemed so sincere and sure of his facts.

Senate President Ponce Enrile tried to cut CJ’s rambling testimony short--- the astute politician that he is, he doubtless knew the effect it would have on the people. But after a while he gave up and allowed CJ to finish as he disputed the Basa Guidote case, the 45 properties, the 31 peso accounts, finally reserving for the end his tirades against OMB Conchita Carpio Morales for the lies she peddled with the raw intel data from AMLC about his  “82 bank accounts in five banks.”  He also blamed the “hacendero President” for his impeachment, lamenting how P-Noy is surrounded by crooks and “leftists,” specifically presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas.

XXX

CJ’s testimony was an outpouring of all his sama ng loob at all the lies and calumnies peddled by the prosecution and its yellow allies, on orders of Malacanang, which he and his family stoically bore since last November.  At some point CJ became so emotional he couldn’t speak.  But the three-hour testimony took a heavy toll on his health and being a diabetic since the ‘80s, his sugar level dropped perilously; some people close to where he sat thought his hands began to shake.

 His wife Tina approached him during the short break sought by his defense counsel and learned that he was feeling quite bad, his vision blurring and his knees wobbly. Suddenly, after saying that “Now the Chief Justice of the Republic begs to be excused,” Corona took his notebook, stood up and left, his family scurrying after him.

XXX

Justice Serafin Cuevas at that moment was explaining something and didn’t know what was going on. Everyone in the gallery was dazed and confused.  JPE began to thunder about CJ’s lack of decorum as he was not yet given leave from the session hall. JPE said he won’t tolerate any disrespect to the Senate Court and ordered the defense to bring CJ back. Cuevas and the other lawyers ran out to do so.  JPE---and the whole world at that point---thought CJ had staged a walkout and he asserted that if CJ would not come back he would have his long testimony stricken off the record and the Senate court would just rely “on what has transpired here.”

His startled family followed the Chief who obviously wanted to get out of the building as he probably thought he had an attack coming and wanted to get to a hospital fast. Later I learned that he felt nauseous. But the Senate security, on orders of JPE, locked the entire building and prevented the Coronas from leaving. After some tussle they went back to the holding room provided by the Senate where  he was heard wanting to lie down.  His hypoglycemia appeared to be bad and soon his son-in-law, Dr. Constantino Castillo, a urologist-surgeon of Medical City, and the Senate’s doctor attended to him at the Senate’s clinic (he was fed a muffin and fruit juice).

After about half a hour CJ returned to the session hall in a wheelchair, but he still looked a bit dazed and inert from the glycemic episode.

XXX

This writer learned that during the inter-faith rally at the old SC Quadrangle it had been very hot and CJ was besieged by so many supporters, including the SC employees all in red and judges and justices and judges from various courts in the metropolis area.  When news came out about that CJ's glycemic episode, a friend of mine who was at that rally texted that even then he was afraid something like that would happen, as CJ must have suffered from dehydration.  

Because of the deluge of supporters CJ missed lunch altogether yesterday (a no-no for diabetics). In the car enroute to the Senate he still worked on his testimony. At the witness stand all he had was water.  All these, plus the terrible emotional and psychological turmoil he felt as he confronted his accusers and the senator-judges, many of whom were no longer impartial and fair, contributed to his malaise.

XXX

From the Senate he was taken straight to Medical City and later he was transferred to the ICU. The doctors’ verdict was that his troponin t level was elevated due to possible heart attack, and they want a 48-hour monitor before he could be allowed to return to the Senate. As I write this piece the senators are holding a caucus to discuss the implications on the trial of CJ’s medical condition.

A number of things must be stated here. I must confess that I remained dumbfounded at JPE’s continued warning to CJ’s defense lawyers about the dire consequences of his failing to show up today---even as JPE---and the rest of the world---saw that CJ was already on a wheelchair in front of the senators, looking rather inert. It seemed so heartless and cruel of JPE.

Why couldn’t he even have inquired why CJ was suddenly in a wheelchair? During the lull after CJ's “walk-out,” JPE must have learned of the commotion about CJ’s near-collapse. Couldn’t he even have summoned the Senate doctor to determine the facts before making his judgment that CJ showed up today or else...Or would JPE have preferred the spectacle of CJ throwing up in the session hall, or collapsing, or even dying there?  Did it have to be business-as-usual for JPE?

XXX

Predictably, the prosecution and their media allies went to town with the “walkout” spin. As I left the Senate last night I ran into some prosecution lawyers who all felt that CJ faked his sick condition because he was afraid of being cross-examined. That stand is not only quite ridiculous, it's utterly heartless. If CJ could give such a scathing testimony for three hours, I’m certain he’s prepared for an equally scathing cross-examination too. As he stressed, “I’m no fool.” Ang hirap sa prosecution, they think everything is fake.

Let’s all pray that Sta. Rita de Cascia, the “Advocate of the Impossible,” whose feast day coincided yesterday with CJ's testimony, would perform the miracle needed---to restore CJ to full health quickly so that he could finish this trial and be acquitted (the senators would have no option but this). 

XXX

The side drama was how the Basa family showed up in full force in the VIP gallery of the Senate session hall---just two seats away from where the Corona family sat, and there was no greeting either way. The loud buzz in the Senate was that Sen. Serge Osmena financed the trip of a number of the Basa family members from Las Vegas, Nevada and that his office arranged the VIP seats for them.  On an afternoon when those seats were premium---in fact some House impeachment signatories were heard complaining over radio how they had to scramble for the scarce passes---the Basa family had VIP seats. Moreover, they could use the Senate as their forum to air their complaints against their Corona relatives in the yellow media. VIP treatment talaga!







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Monday, May 21, 2012

CJ Corona’s testimony in Senate serendipitously begins on Feast of Sta. Rita of Cascia---the “Advocate of the Impossible.” Reports say P-Noy's leaders seek to cushion impact of INC support for CJ by assuring reelectionist senators who would convict CJ that PCOS machines will help them. Is this why Comelec is vociferously fighting Tandem's petition for TRO of contract with Smartmatic?





Tomorrow, May 22, as the personal testimony of Chief Justice Renato Corona begins at the Senate impeachment court, it also happens to be---in what may be termed happy serendipity---the feast of Sta. Rita de Cascia.  It’s serendipitous because this saint, who lived in the late 14th century in Cascia, Italy, about 150 kms. north of Rome, is also known as the “Advocate of the Impossible.” And a lot of miracles have been attributed to her intercession, including some spectacular cancer cures.

Now, virtually all the political pundits have said that CJ Corona is up against the entire machinery of government, as President Aquino has made it his primary "reform agenda" to oust CJ from office.  And because of this, stacked up against CJ are frightening odds.

But given all the praying that CJ, his family and his myriad supporters across the country---especially the various units in the judiciary which have been solid in his support---as well as all his “prayer warriors” have been doing in the past six months, CJ might just have won over Sta. Rita, among other heavenly patrons, to his side.  The "Advocate of the Impossible" might just pull the miracle of an acquittal for him.

XXX

A friend of mine has attended most of the masses celebrated at the SC compound by various members of the clergy who are also supporters of CJ. One of the more constant celebrants is Fr. Dave Clay of the Columban Fathers, and earlier today it was outspoken Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles.

Recently this regular mass-goer told me how impressed he is with the supernatural faith of CJ and his wife Cristina through all the incredible trials and tribulations they have undergone since last November. He noted how calm and serene the Coronas have remained in the face of perhaps the most  vociferous personal attacks in the media in recent times; he opined that this can only come from their deep abiding faith in God. As CJ put it to media recently, “I have put my entire life in the hands of God. I know He is in control.” 


The Chief Justice and his family have also won a lot of admiration for the dignity with which they have carried themselves despite all these tirades especially toward CJ from the President of the Republic.  

XXX

Politicians close to P-Noy have pooh-poohed reports that the powerful Iglesia ni Cristo is moving for acquittal of CJ by the senators.  But the fact that the President went to the INC central headquarters this morning to talk to its officials on the eve of CJ’s Senate testimony means that there’s a lot of uncertainty about the trial’s outcome and how INC’s reported support for CJ could spell the difference.

But there’s also talk that administration and ruling party leaders have quietly tried to minimize the impact of a potential loss of support from the INC especially for senatorial re-electionists who won’t vote for Corona. Reports say these leaders stress to the senators that even if they were to lose the INC vote, the PCOS machines can make up for it. Papapanalunin naming kayo through the PCOS machines, so the stalwarts reportedly tell the senators.

Is this the reason why Comelec is fighting tooth and nail the petition filed before the SC by the Tanggulang Demokrasya and other civic organizations to void the contract between Comelec and Smartmatic?

XXX

Like many citizens I was shocked to realize, after the dizzying power-point presentation of OMB Conchita Carpio Morales at the Senate impeachment court, that her data on the alleged dollar bank accounts of Corona were a mere hodge-podge of unsigned, unverified information from the AMLC. What OMB did was to hype her PPP with the help of COA deputy chair Heidi Mendoza’s team, to make it look like CJ has innumerable bank accounts with  unending deposits and withdrawals by CJ. But these turned out to be based on raw intelligence data culled by AMLC, with the help of lousy accounting hocus-pocus from COA. 

It was sheer irresponsibility on the part of Morales to present these totally raw and unverified data in a formal and official impeachment court against the highest magistrate. In fact one cannot imagine this sort of thing happening in an impeachment trial in the US Senate. Thus, if a lawsuit would be filed by some citizens against OMB or even an impeachment proceeding, to test the constitutionality of her resort to power, it would be only proper; and the AMLC has to share the blame. 

The office of the Ombudsman and the AMLC have clearly been used as weapons of destruction against enemies of this administration.  As Philippine Savings Bank president Pascual Garcia had testified two months ago, the AMLC had begun looking into CJ’s bank documents as early as September 2010.  On the other hand, Morales admitted doing the same as early as last Feb. 19, after the scripted filing of complaints without basis by some civic groups.

XXX

Following is an email received from a reader:

“I read your 15th May online column and I really do not know how the senator-judges will treat the 17-page report brandished by the OMB---but from my end, I think it was pure kuryente. If news reports say that the document had a cover letter with a warning that its contents were primarily for intelligence purposes only, then the AMLC has NOT determined the accuracy of the information as well as the reliability of its source.  

“This is a standard intelligence requirement in the military or law enforcement service. Such data CANNOT be used for judicial proceedings at this stage. Obviously, the report only contained investigative LEADS which the OMB should have prudently used to painstakingly develop hard facts--- instead of presenting it openly and publicly to the Impeachment Court. This is precisely why such a sensitive piece of information was UNSIGNED by AMLC Executive Director Vicente Aquino, who also personally took pains to hand-carry it SAFEHAND to the OMB.

“This episode only confirms one thing: the OMB despite her more than 40 years of legal practice, is not wise to the ways of the world's second oldest profession.”

XXX

As any military personnel will tell us, any intelligence data need to be checked and re-checked first before being used, as the reader stated above. The question is, was OMB Morales just being naïve and taken for a ride by AMLC’s Aquino on the unverified data he submitted to her, or was there malicious intent on her part to destroy the reputation of CJ by confusing the citizenry with unverified allegations in her PPP?

Incidentally, why isn’t AMLC Executive Director Aquino responding to public complaint about those raw data he submitted to OMB Morales, which became the basis for her allegation that CJ has 82 accounts in five banks? Why is Aquino now making Insurance Commissioner Emmanuel Dooc, who is one of the three members of the AMLC Board, attest to those supposed AMLC data?  Is Commissioner Dooc now being made the fall guy?





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Friday, May 18, 2012

Senators and other government personnel worried about OMB Morales’ arbitrary and twisted interpretation of laws to suit her bossman P-Noy's agenda vs.CJ Corona. But OMB's 'bombshell' is now exploding in her face. Lawyers' groups should challenge her actuations before SC. Readers react.



The senators and for that matter, all those in government have every reason to fear the moves of Ombudsman (OMB) Conchita Carpio Morales against Chief Justice Corona, for it shows how willing she is to twist the interpretation of laws to suit the persecution agenda of President Noynoy vs. Corona. For as Sen. Bongbong Marcos put it, if this grand conspiracy of government forces, led by the OMB, against the highest magistrate of the land could happen, who is safe from their designs? 


 Now that CJ's trial is winding down and the voting of the senator-judges is forthcoming, various lawyers’ groups who value our democratic institutions should challenge the constitutionality of Morales’ recent actuations before the Supreme Court.


To be sure, the nation wants real honest-to-goodness cleansing of corruption in government. But Morales’ moves against Corona have been too arbitrary and vindictive---most notably in her wrong interpretation of the waiver clause in the SALN that allows her---so she claims---to pry open anyone’s foreign account without a court order or written consent from the depositor. This violates the absolute secrecy guaranteed by the Foreign Currency Deposit Act (FCDA) and makes it an utterly useless law. 


XXX


The business community, however, should be just as worried, or even more so, about the whimsical and distorted application of this absolute secrecy guarantee of the FDCA, as it will have a chilling effect on the banking system that benefits from it.   


Speaking of the business community, there’s a report that some business leaders allied with P-Noy would call for CJ’s resignation on Monday, in view of the OMB’s "explosive revelations” at the Senate this week---and to counter the CJ’s testimony on Tuesday.  But these business leaders should first listen to CPA-lawyer Estrella Martinez, who denounced in the Inquirer today the OMB’s 17-page “evidence” supposedly delivered to her by  Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) executive-director Vicente Aquino.


Ms. Martinez, who had served in the BIR for 32 years, denounced OMB’s “evidence” from AMLC as “just a sheet of paper with no probative value which you can pick up in the garbage can.” The feisty retiree stressed that OMB’s “evidence” is something which no one in the banking community would treat seriously, as it wasn’t even signed or validated---in other words, it's just raw, unverified and perhaps even finagled and tampered intelligence data.

XXX


Last Monday, at the resumption of the Senate trial, OMB Morales caught the defense off-guard as she made her power-point presentation on the CJ’s alleged 82 multi-million $ accounts, laced with characteristic arrogance. but it was a presentation meant to confuse rather than explain---with swirling arrows about huge deposits and withdrawals all added up together to make eye-popping $ accounts in five banks---sans evidence.  But by Tuesday defense lead counsel Serafin Cuevas had seized the ground and got OMB to make a few damaging admissions.  


First, she admitted that to this date she has no personal knowledge of those 82 accounts, basing her claims solely on the 17-page unsigned and unverified AMLC report. Asked during re-direct by Cuevas whether she was able to ascertain which of those accounts still exists, Morales categorically answered, "No, your Honor." 


XXX
 
 
When asked further by Justice Cuevas whether she can “confirm if the contents of said (AMLC) report are accurate,” OMB admitted that "it is beyond my competence.” She also said she had no actual participation in the gathering of information by AMLC and neither did she have any talk nor discussion on this subject with any AMLC official. Morales also claimed she could not verify the report's veracity because she could not go to the banks (perhaps knowing that the banks would realize that she had no court order or written consent from the account holder, as the law requires).
 

After the hearing lead defense counsel Cuevas happily  told reporters, “We practically threw out all of OMB Carpio Morales’ allegations.”
 

XXX

A reader reacted to OMB’s claim that she failed to verify the truth of the information from AMLC: “It’s impossible for a retired SC justice and Ombudsman to declare such a thing.” The reader felt it’s not that she’s incompetent, but that she could not discuss the list with AMLC because it gave her UNSIGNED papers. He stressed that both OMB and AMLC would be guilty of violation of the bank secrecy law if AMLC signed the papers and she discussed them with Vicente Aquino. 


Continued the reader: “Can the banks be compelled to categorically substantiate the unsigned accusations against CJ?  He answers his own query: “Yes, definitely, they are part of the conspiracy. If it turns out that there are no such CJ accounts, or if the banks refuse to answer, then Corona wins.” He opined that “At present I do not believe CJ has such huge accounts. He is not stupid either.”



XXX


Now that foreign currency deposit units (FCDU) have taken center stage, let’s take a look at these. FCDUs were set up to attract dollar deposits to our shores, with the big accounts belonging to wealthy Filipinos and foreign citizens and corporations. Some foreign corporations deposit abroad profits earned outside of USA, to avoid taxes in that country. 


FCDU accounts have developed into quick short-term loans among big foreign corporations, since these are easy to implement and profitable.  Foreign firms may need very short-term loans but they do not want to borrow from banks and incur a lot of paperwork. These loans are done very quickly.


People with large FCDU accounts - even legitimately sourced - and who do not want to be known, do not engage in frequent deposits and withdrawals, as these would trigger s ignals for AMLA. Thus, it would seem ridiculous for Corona to do so, as Morales has alleged. 


 First, if banks would substantiate the accounts and Corona admits ownership, then he has to validate the legitimacy of his dollars’ sources.  But if he denies ownership, the banks would have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that CJ owns it. If the banks cannot, they could be charged with fraud, along with OMB Morales. In fact her Senate "bombshell" is now exploding in her face.


It’s a Catch-22 situation for AMLC, Morales and the banks.


XXX

Here’s opinion from another reader:  

 “82 US$ accounts under one name and in different banks in different places? That's ridiculous and lacks logic. Why would CJ burden himself with monitoring those 82 accounts aside from his peso account? Even the richest people in the world do not maintain such numerous accounts even if they have a battery of accountants. The mafiosis, the druglords, and high-profile criminals do not maintain these many accounts in different banks in different places under one name.

“But granting, arguendo that CJ Corona indeed is into something illegal, he wouldn’t be opening 82 accounts containing huge sums of money under one name, as he knows full well there's an existing law that could forfeit that money once discovered. Siyempre gagamit siya ng ibang name or dummy, as in the Jose Pidal case.  We must remember that Corona is not just an ordinary lawyer---he's the Chief Justice. Naturalmente alam niya ang mga pasikot-sikot sa mga ganyang transactions.

“Corona is not that stupid. His accusers are insulting our intelligence.”

XXX

What about OMB Morales? Wasn’t she dumb for swallowing the unsigned and unverified $ account list from AMLC hook line and sinker?  You bet, says former BIR official Estrella Martinez. 


What about the COA team led by Heidi Mendoza that OMB consulted all last weekend about the AMLC's unverified list. It's obvious that the COA team had willfully contributed to the obfuscation of data in Morales' power-point presentation.  


A commentator opines that the COA team is a disgrace to the accounting profession.



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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ombudsman Morales’ power-point presentation offered no evidence, just arrows of fund movement spinning around like a San Fernando X’mas lantern; OMB’s tale seems straight from some Mafia or Mexican or Colombia drug lords. What was AMLC’s real role here? Executive Director Vicente Aquino should be summoned to testify, as trifling with $ accounts will frighten investors.



Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales came swinging yesterday with aplomb and arrogance, spilling out a simply incredible and fantastic story about how Chief Justice Renato Corona had allegedly amassed wealth in the millions of dollars stashed away in 82 accounts in five banks over a period of about ten years. CJ Corona has denied the claims made by OMB Morales in her power-point presentation and challenged her to resign her post once he proves her allegations as lies.

Resignation should be the only way out for OMB---just as CJ could face conviction if he cannot prove that he does not have the resources to have justifiably acquired the Arabian Nights wealth ascribed to him, and that he did not steal it.

XXX

Readers sent quick observations thoughtfully put together, expressing incredulity about OMB’s allegations. Read these and ponder well. For my part, I offered last Sunday the observation that the $10million alleged accounts do not jibe with the image of the Corona couple who has lived in the same sub-middle class neighborhood inherited home for the past 25 years, sans househelp.

 I argued that if CJ has that kind of fortune he should have bought property in Fifth Avenue, NYC, or Hillsboro, SF or similar fancy addresses. Why would daughter Charina buy a starter-home in California on 30-year installment?  Why would Cristina Corona buy a typhoon-damaged bargain sale penthouse unit in a middle-range condo building in Makati?

XXX

The above details of simple living don’t add up to the image of a person seemingly obsessed with spinning his incredible dollar wealth around from bank to bank DAILY, like some character straight from a Mafia movie or a  drunken drug lord. 

As a former senator put it, if one were to believe OMB’s allegation, one wonders how CJ even got to read the interminable pleadings at the SC, much less participate in those tiringly long en banc sessions---he was painted as a man obsessed with pyramiding wealth.  Wala nang ginawang iba si Corona.

XXX

Could OMB’s power-point presentation based on computer-generated, search engine documents supposedly furnished by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) be part of a getting-even with CJ in their years of association in SC?

As brought out by lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas yesterday, CJ, as head of the Judicial and Bar Council, refused to vote for Morales, who was one of three nominees for OMB in 2010. Moreover, she is the cousin of the reputed rival of CJ for the top post, Associate Justice Antonio Carpio;  in her bitterness over her cousin's failure to bag the top post, Morales became the lone dissenter in the near-unanimous decision of the SC to back up GMA's authority to appoint the CJ.  Morales and CJ also clashed in some rulings of the SC.

But as Sen. Bongbong Marcos noted yesterday afternoon after the Senate session, the most frightening conclusion about the allegations OMB raised---with the apparent cooperation of some elements in AMLC, the Bangko Sentral, COA and some political figures--- is the extent the administration would resort to, to pursue its adversaries. 


XXX


Here are observations raised by one reader:

1.  If I were Corona - presumably a bright veteran experienced lawyer wise to the ways of the world - and I am receiving tons of dollars illegally:
     
 a.  I would have my dollars deposited in off shore banks abroad such as Hongkong - accounts where my name  will not even appear – certainly not in gossipy Manila (by the way, HK banks do say that a good number of Filipino politicians have accounts, some fat ones too, there).

   
 b. If I were stupid enough not to know about off-shore banks, I would maintain only one or a few accounts.  Many accounts spell disaster in gossipy Manila.


2.  Corona may have a dollar account for use for buying plane tickets etc.  Every one worth his salt has one.  One can open a dollar account here with a deposit of even 200 dollars.


3.  It is possible that his children working in USA maintain dollar accounts in Manila with Corona as co-signatory.  Anyone who has a little brain knows it is important to have even 2 co-signatgories.  Why?  I f Corona's daughter opened an account here with her as the sole signatory, and if something happens to her the account would be frozen.  And the Coronas will have to go to court to claim the daughter’s deposit. But with one or two co-signatories, they can immediately withdraw it without any trouble,

   
By the way, families do this even for their peso accounts.

XXX

Another reader worries a lot about the way the provisions of the Bank Secrecy Law and the Foreign Currency Deposits Act are being violated in the unauthorized disclosures by the prosecution earlier, and now by OMB Morales. The reader maintains that these laws governing FCDU accounts may have been violated and the OMB could be prosecuted for disclosing such accounts without a court order n the Bank Secrecy Law, and the express authority of the account holder in the case of the FCDU.

 This reader opines that the local banks should file criminal charges against people who disclosed the alleged accounts, for the banks’ very integrity is at stake. At the rate the laws governing local and foreign deposits are being violated, the dollar depositors will flee from our shores, thus negating the purpose for which these were enacted, i.e, to beef up our foreign reserves.  


Very true.

XXX

Another reader offers various nitty-gritty on Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’s expose on CJ’s alleged dollar account---all worth considering and thinking about:

1. There are too many accounts for a one individual, 82 in all... the respondent/depositor is neither the head of a criminal syndicate or a Drug Lord.

2. There is too much circuitous movement from one account to another.

3. There were no supporting documents like signature cards, deposit/withdrawal slips, written bank instructions from depositor presented. In fact, displaying manifest bad faith, the Ombudsman (OMB) repeatedly---and arrogantly--- said she did not deem it necessary to attach the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) report nor inform the respondent that there was such a report or investigation going on.

4. The power point presentation was obviously prepared in advance and Haydee Mendoza of COA was allowed to slip into the witness stand even without a subpoena.

5. Even if Defense wanted to present Emmanuel Tiu Santos as first witness Senate President Ponce Enrile insisted on allowing the OMB to testify first on the argument that "there is no higher official than the Ombudsman and she is already here." Did he know in advance that she had a "bombshell" present in the form of this fabricated power point presentation? This was obviously part of their grand scheme.

6. An individual with ill gotten wealth would not put any account under his/her real name, it would be placed under a nominee or a dummy, or a dummy corporation just like FM and Jose Velarde did.

7. The power point presentation seems to have been made from a computer- generated "search engine", like the alleged debunked 45 properties of the CJ, which lumped all those properties with the same surname together.
XXX

Another reader opined that since LRA's Eulalio Diaz got away with perjury and lies the first time, the prosecution through OMB is again using the same foul tactics, which should be immediately and decisively exposed.


These supposed 82 accounts are totally incredible and mind-boggling.
There is a clamor  for the Senate to subpoena AMLC executive-director Vicente Aquino, the bank managers involved in the supposed five banks  and all the bank records pertaining to the accounts, such as like signature cards, written instructions of depositor, deposit/withdrawal slips---in order to establish the veracity/ or untruth of these accounts mentioned in OMB’s presentation. This is a sensible suggestion that the Senate should act on ASAP, if only out of justice and fairness to respondent Renato Corona.




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