Closing statement of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. on the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona
MR. Senate President, members of the Senate. Our fellow Filipinos
Thank you for allowing me the honor of addressing this august chamber and the people of our great Republic. I stand before you as the elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. I stand as one of the 188 congressmen who signed the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.
Your Honors, in the almost four and a half months since this court was convened, the entire country has borne witness to a narrative perhaps unequalled in our history. We have seen high points and lows; we have seen drama and humor. Finally we have come to this trial’s conclusion. A decision has to be made, and it will be made by members of the Senate, and only by them, as the collective embodiment of the people’s will.
Your Honors, together, the Upper and Lower Houses of Congress constitute a single whole. Together we represent the people of this country: their values, their aspirations, and their sense of right and wrong. What is at stake here is the principle that those who do wrong will be held accountable by the system– by the institutions set up by the people themselves.
This impeachment trial has been a long and tedious, even divisive, process. But we have gone through it because our people deserve something better. We want a judiciary that is independent: not only of the influence of Malacanang, or Congress, but also from personal ambition and personal greed. We want a judiciary where no one can say anything offensive about our justices, because they truly live in the light of justice and integrity, and will willingly endure the harsh glare of public scrutiny, because they have nothing to hide.
Your honors, this impeachment trial was conducted for the most noble of purposes. It was conducted in search of the truth. Our prosecution team has proven Mr. Corona’s partiality, when upon a simple letter, he engineered a ruling adverse to the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines. And we have proven how the highest magistrate of the land is willing to tip the scales of justice with his own hands, when it comes to the former President.
When Mr. Corona handed down a TRO effectively allowing Mrs. Arroyo to leave the country, the nation uttered a collective cry of outrage because the very spirit of public accountability was coming under attack – by no less than the Chief Justice, supposedly the highest embodiment of justice in the land.
And the truth, your honors, has been laid bare before this court. Mr. Corona himself has admitted to having amassed 2.4 million dollars and 80 million pesos in cash. Although as shown by the evidence, the amounts he has illegally amassed are much much more, none of these found their way into his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth. He has given nothing but glib excuses for why he did not account for them.
Your Honors, this impeached Chief Justice effectively wants to be exempted from the SALN Law. He has not been declaring his true net worth through the many years that he has been in public service. And yet he himself concurred in Supreme Court decisions wherein lowly public servants were dismissed from public office because they did not declare their true net worth.
Your Honors, he wants this Court and the court of public opinion to ignore his millions of dollars and pesos undeclared in his SALN. He cites a law on foreign deposits and the incredible comingling of funds as his excuses for hiding such huge amounts from the public eye. Why? Is he prohibited from disclosing them in his SALN? Shouldn’t he be the one to set a good example?
Isn’t it disturbing, your Honors, that the Judiciary’s highest official, the last bastion of justice for uniform application of laws all over the land is himself the very culprit who is bending justice and misusing the laws to hide his crime? Our people will not allow that, your Honors.
We are one people, with one rule of law, and one standard for public conduct. Mr. Corona has spoken about a “chilling effect” on the judiciary. And in a sense, the framers of our Constitution did want impeachment to have a chilling effect: on those who would wish to betray the public trust, and those who would abuse the powers of their office for personal gain.
Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism, justice, and lead modest lives. This is the command of the Constitution.
In addition, the Constitution requires that members of the Judiciary must be of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence. This requirement – one that is unique to judges – is not an empty reiteration of the exacting standards in holding public office. In essence, it manifests the Constitutional intent to make the possession of the highest moral values, a condition sine qua non for membership in our judicial hierarchy.
Your Honors, I stand as the voice of an institution that, together with yours, form the legislative branch of government. The Legislature crafts and passes the laws. The Executive enforces these laws. Of what use are our efforts to build a better future, if the head of the entire Judiciary interprets the laws through the crucible of partisanship, profit, and personal ambition?
The impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona has come down to a vote. The burden that your Honors now assume, does not involve a simple determination of which side exhibited mastery of the niceties in a legal proceeding. What this Honorable Court is called upon to decide is far more complex than the entitlement of the Chief Justice to his position. In truth, what this Honorable Court must ultimately determine, is the standard of conduct required by the Constitution of the person to whom is entrusted the leadership of the entire judiciary. Will we look forward to a Chief Justice who can be an independent person, a person with nothing to hide, and a person whose loyalty ultimately rests on the people? Or will a man who has clearly betrayed the public trust be allowed to remain in office?
Your Honors, I ask that you see through the character of Renato Corona, and reflect whether this is the man that we want as our Chief Justice, the head of the entire judicial system, for the next six years.
And I ask that you vote according to conscience, and the evidence. CONVICT CHIEF JUSTICE RENATO C. CORONA.