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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.

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. 

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