Decision ‘sets high the bar of public service’-A A +A
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
CHIEF Justice Renato Corona’s conviction “will set the bar of public office high and restore our faith in the judiciary.”
“We cannot allow the public to think that the judicial system is all about palusot (lame excuses). Where would justice be if the guilty go scot-free and the innocent are condemned?” said Michael Yu, former Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City chapter.
Acquitting the chief justice would have compromised the integrity of the judiciary and made Filipinos lose trust in the judicial system, lawyers and a political science professor said.
“Although the impeachment complaint is against Chief Justice Corona, as chief justice he represents the institution. This is what is crucial because the trust of the people in the institution will be affected,” said Grace Magalzo, incoming chairperson of the University of San Carlos’ Political Science Department.
As the highest official of the SC, Corona should set a good example, not only among court workers and lawyers, but all public servants, Magalzo and lawyer Joan Largo said. He also should be the first to inspire the people to have faith in the judiciary.
But by admitting that he did not declare all his assets in his statement of assets and liabilities (SALN) as required by law, Corona has lost the trust of the people, they said.
“Had there been an acquittal, I’m afraid the judiciary would continue to lose the faith of the Filipino people… It would further seal the impression of the public that we have a judiciary that’s becoming more of a boys’ club, that we will have justices of the highest court of the land who will defy all possible explanations just to come to the aid of one of them,” said Largo, incoming dean of the USC College of Law.
Magalzo said an acquittal would also have made it difficult for advocates of good government to change the face of Philippine politics, from one that is perceived to be corrupt to a “politics of character and conscience,” given that Corona’s integrity has already been tainted.
She told Sun.Star Cebu that it’s important to have a chief justice whose integrity and honesty are not questionable, and who enjoys the trust of the people.
“One of the qualifications required of an SC justice that is not required of the senators or even the president is that he or she should be of proven independence, probity and integrity, the same characteristics that are in question in the impeachment… The moment the people lose trust in the judiciary, they will place the law in their own hands… and that’s dangerous because that results to vigilantism,” Magalzo added.
She also warned of a heightened tension between the Executive Department and the Judiciary had Corona been acquitted, as this may be interpreted as a failure of the Aquino administration’s fight against graft and corruption.
Magalzo believes that even after the impeachment, both branches of government will still be independent, but the SC’s decisions on cases involving the executive will be questioned because the judiciary will be perceived to be biased.
Associate Justice Gabriel Ingles of the Court of Appeals in Cebu said he is happy since “there is now hope for a credible and trustworthy leader.”
“I am happy for the Constitution because it is given life. (I am) happy for the nation because there is hope for more transparency and accountability among appointed and elected public officials,” he said in a text message.
For Cebu City Councilor Edgardo Labella, an acquittal would have promoted dishonesty among public servants, particularly in declaring their assets in their SALNs.
Labella, a lawyer and former deputy ombudsman for the Visayas, does not see any conflict between the Foreign Currency Deposits Law and the law requiring the SALN.
The confidentiality rule of the foreign currency deposits law, he said, prohibits only the banks, and not the depositor, from disclosing details of the account.
“If he had been acquitted, public officials would just put all their money in a dollar account so they won’t have to declare it in their SALN… Public officials should be accountable to the people,” he said.
Earl Bonachita, IBP Cebu City chapter president, said that had Corona been acquitted, it would have meant that senator-judges were not convinced there was enough evidence to remove the him from his office.
“But because of the distrust that the people have shown based on the surveys, then he would have to work hard in order to regain their confidence,” Bonachita said.
For Largo and Magalzo, even if Corona had been acquitted, he would no longer be fit to lead the judiciary.
“It was clear from the start of the proceedings that he was not forthright in his declaration in his SALN. We’re talking not just of any person, we’re talking of the chief magistrate of the highest court, and I feel we should hold him to higher standards because he serves as the model of us all.
When we saw that he was not candid, honest and forthright in his declaration, I was morally convinced he is not fit to lead us all, to lead the legal profession, much more the judiciary,” she added.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 30, 2012.