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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 13, 2012

Former Associate Justice Carpio-Morales signed SC decision in March 2010, that ruled that Ombudsman first establish prima-facie evidence from complainants vs. impeachable officials, before they could be prosecuted. Why did she now accept the $10million complaints vs. CJ sans evidence (judging from hugas-kamay stance of Keh, Hontiveros, Bello et al?).





Tomorrow’s scheduled testimony of Ombudsman (OMB) Conchita Carpio-Morales  vs. Chief Justice Corona at the Senate impeachment trial has  all the character of high drama, especially as she promised to tell all on the alleged  peso and dollar bank accounts of CJ.

Note that Morales specifically cited the mind-boggling “aggregate value” of “at least US$10 million” in her letter to CJ, where she arrogantly demanded explanation “within 72 hours” on allegations raised in three complaint letters against him filed before her office.

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Just a few fast comments:  even for anti-CJ people with the most biased minds, the “aggregate value” of $10 million is simply unbelievable when you reckon that CJ Corona and wife Cristina have lived in the same inherited house in Xavierville subdivision, now even sub-middle-class, for 25 years and without house-help. This is also the same couple who bought a bargain-sale unit damaged by typhoon in a medium-range condo building in Makati. Logic dictates that if CJ, who will only retire in 2018, has $10 million stashed away, he should be investing in Fifth Avenue, NYC, or the plush Hillsboro in San Francisco, or a similar fancy address.  

Another good question to ask is, how does an associate justice who later becomes CJ raise nearly half a billion pesos while in the SC? Certainly not in the PAL vs. ASAP case against tight-wad Lucio Tan. A prosecution member candidly opined to media that the $10million allegation looks like “malalim na kuryente.” It certainly does, judging from the way spokespersons Miro Quimbo and Erin Tanada have recently expressed hesitation to include the $10 million allegation as evidence, until they first listen to what OMB Morales has to say about it.

Actually, there’s studied opinion that the prosecution anticipated that when Senate President Enrile discloses possession of the $10million docus, CJ’s defense team would---a la Erap Estrada defense---vigorously object, provoking suspicion that CJ is indeed hiding the truth. Pero kinagat ng defense---it quickly offered the testimony of CJ himself. No second envelop there!

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When the Inquirer exclusively ran the story about OMB’s letter-demand to CJ, lawyers began debating whether OMB has the authority to entertain a criminal complaint against CJ when he is undergoing trial by the Senate. With the bombshell dropped by defense counsel Judd Roy that CJ himself will testify and rebut all allegations against him---on condition that Morales and the complainants testify UNDER OATH---the issue of OMB’s jurisdiction may have been rendered moot.

But should it really be moot? In the coming cross-examination of Morales, the defense would perhaps raise this issue of her authority over CJ. What’s interesting is that this question was resolved by the Supreme Court in March of 2010, in favor of the judiciary official undergoing impeachment, and former Associate Justice Carpio-Morales was among those who signed the decision. Now she’s singing a different tune. Why the turnaround?

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Lawyers of all persuasions have offered their opinions on this issue of OMB’s jurisdiction over CJ, but we non-lawyers feel this crucial topic should not be left to the lawyers alone.  In fact, when it first came out, this writer opined that it’s unjust and unfair for OMB to investigate CJ since he’s undergoing an impeachment trial, which takes precedence under the Constitution. I argued that IF OMB HAS GROUNDS TO CHARGE CJ, the proper time is AFTER the trial, if the respondent is convicted. This is elementary justice and decency as well.  I agreed with Sen. Miriam Santiago that OMB should not open a second front while the respondent faces this supreme challenge.

I said that by giving due course to the multi-million $ complaints even without a shred of evidence, OMB Morales, who was President Aquino’s personal choice to administer the oath of office to him, was out to further humiliate and harass the CJ. Part of a tight script. 

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Recently lawyer and TV personality Marissa Manalo asserted to this writer that indeed OMB does not have the authority to entertain a criminal complaint vs.  Corona at this point, based on rulings laid down by the SC. Atty. Manalo cites the SUBPOENA DUCES TECUM ruling of the SC on JANUARY 11, 2010 in the case of ACTING DIRECTOR ALEU A. AMANTE, PIAB-C, OFFICE OF THE OMBUDSMAN. This became the basis of the March 2010 ruling of the SC setting limits to the power of the OMB under RA 6770, the Ombudsman Act.

 Manalo quoted the SC ruling:  

“This is not to say that Members of the Court are absolutely immune from suit during their term, for they are not.  The Constitution provides that the appropriate recourse against them is to seek their removal from office if they are guilty of culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. ONLY AFTER REMOVAL CAN THEY BE CRIMINALLY PROCEEDED AGAINST FOR THEIR TRANSGRESSIONS.  (Underscoring by Atty. Manalo).

In fact, argues Manalo, Section 22 of RA 6770 specifically grants OMB the authority to investigate impeachable officers, but only when such investigation is warranted, as follows:


“Section 22. Investigatory Power.  The Office of the Ombudsman shall have the power to investigate any serious misconduct in office allegedly committed by officials removable by impeachment, for the purpose of filing a verified complaint for impeachment, if warranted.


“Conversely, if a complaint against an impeachable officer is unwarranted for lack of legal basis and for clear misapplication of law and jurisprudence, the Ombudsman should spare these officers from the harassment of an unjustified investigation.”

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 Manalo argues that quite clearly, the alleged investigatory power of OMB to investigate impeachable officials is only for purposes of filing a verified complaint for impeachment, and not simultaneously with the impeachment proceedings, as what Carpio-Morales is doing toward CJ. Manalo further argues that the prohibition includes the lack of factual and legal bases of the present complaints against CJ Corona before the OMB (judging from all the denying and hugas-kamay that complainants Keh, Hontiveros, Bello et al. are resorting to, they have no evidence---BOC).

The lawyer stressed that OMB, “with all due respect, instead of sparing her former colleague in the SC from the harassment of an unjustified investigation, is actually allowing her office to be a tool for harassment and injustice. “

She also noted that Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who is Corona’s protagonist in the Hacienda Luisita land valuation issue, pointed out in her separate CONCURRING opinion in the case of  Ma. Merceditas N. Gutierrez v. The House of Representatives Committee on Justice, Risa Hontiveros Baraquel, et al., of February 15, 2011:  “The Ombudsman is the public official constitutionally tasked to investigate and prosecute complaints against other public officials EXCEPT FOR IMPEACHABLE OFFICERS and members of the national legislature.”  (Underscoring by lawyer).

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Interestingly, a related story by Edu Punay in Philippine Star of today, pg. 4, asserts how the SC ruling of March 2, 2010 also stressed that the anti-graft office “should dismiss outright criminal complaints against justices that fail to allege prima facie case or those filed without supporting proof.”  The Star cited the SC ruling on the graft charges by lawyer Oliver Lozano vs. former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. and former Associate Justice Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez, which then OMB Simeon Marcelo eventually dismissed.

The Star quoted the SC ruling that “For the criminal complaint’s fatal omissions and resultant failure to allege a prima facie case, it rightfully deserves immediate dismissal.” It also reiterated that part that said, “Only after removal can (the justices) be criminally proceeded against for their transgressions.”

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According to the Star story, the SC ruling was apparently influenced by a July 31, 2003 memorandum by then OMB Simeon Marcelo, which directed that “all complaints against judges and other members of the judiciary be immediately dismissed and referred to the high tribunal for appropriate action.”

As noted earlier, Associate Justice Carpio Morales was one of the signatories to that March 2010 SC ruling mandating the need of complainants to establish a prima facie case first BEFORE investigation of an impeachable official can be done. With the complaints vs. Corona filed without a shred of evidence, why did OMB now give them credence?




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