01369: It's Finally Over - So Now What?

Well, that's all she wrote - Corono has been found guilty of "culpable violation of the constitution" due to his failure to fully disclose all of his assets on his SALN, particularly an P80 million account of "co-mingled funds" and at least $2.4 million in dollar accounts. It took us pretty much 5 months to get to this point and thus this is the first0-ever Impeachment Trial in the Philippines to reach the end.

The voting went 20-3, which is what some Prosecutions predicted would be the final outcome. The only Senator-Judges who voted in favor of acquittal were Arroyo, Defensor-Santiago and Marcos. All the senators gave speeches of various length to explain their actions, but in the end it was pretty clear what the key points were.

One example that was cited a lot was the case of this court employee in Davao who had been impeached due to failing to disclose a market stall / sari-sari store in her SALN declaration. This was deemed to be a significant non-disclosure and she lost her job and a lot of her benefits because of that. So the logic went that if the final sanction had been meted out to some staff level court employee, what more the Chief Justice who had hidden millions more?

I firmly believe the Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile captured the entire flow of the trial in his speech explaining his vote. He made sure to explain that he too had been appalled by the Prosecution's lack of preparation and their constant need to use the powers of the Impeachment Court to gather evidence for them. But he also cited how the Defense did not present documentary evidence of their own to refute the charges plus the Chief Justice himself admitted he had 4 Dollar accounts that had not been declared in his SALN.

English: Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Some, like Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, argue that omissions on the SALN should not be considered an impeachable offense. For minor errors, I would definitely agree like inaccurate amounts or parking lots attached to condo units that were omitted. But for entire Dollar accounts to remain secret with the bank secrecy law as his only defense despite his legal expertise being related to banking and taxation laws - well that's just silly. The Constitution and the spirit of the SALN law call for full and voluntary disclosure of assets, and he didn't do that. And that pretty much sealed his fate, along with his weird emotional and not very legally-useful testimony.

We still have a long way to go. Yesterday's victory of sorts will be meaningless if this does not result in greater transparency in government as a whole. The Freedom of Information Act needs to be passed. More public officials should find the balls to open up their bank accounts to scrutiny, even if only by the Ombudsman and not by the public and perhaps we'll see our reputation for being one of the most corrupt countries in the world start to weaken.

But I expect we're going to see a bit more politically power plays and maneuvering first. We're probably going to have a few more politically-minded impeachment petitions filed as peoples start to use this process as a weapon against their foes. And we're going to hear a lot more rhetoric about the meaning of this case including possible petitions to the Supreme Court.

But for now, I expect it'll be business as usual as the various political players lick their wounds, rearrange their assets in offshore accounts and prepare for the next phase of this political process.

Ah yes - Dirty, messy politics are definitely More Fun in the Philippines.
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