Accounts and Accountability

After successfully pinning down the discrepancies in Renato Corona’s SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth), the House prosecution panel quickly switched to a higher gear and aimed its sight at its next target: Corona’s dollar accounts.  The move was deflected however by Pascual Garcia, president of the Philippine Savings Bank, who testified that the said accounts were untouchable by virtue of the bank secrecy law. His position sat well with the defense but constrained the prosecution. To buttress its position, PS Bank went to the Supreme Court and prayed for a TRO. The Supreme Court acceded to its plea, effectively curbing albeit momentarily any attempt to make Corona account for his dollar accounts. The Senate found itself in a bind when it confronted the question whether or not it should abide by the Supreme Court’s order. On one hand, it is acknowledged that the Supreme Court is the final authority on questions of law; on the other hand, the Senate is assured by the Constitution paramount and sole power as impeachment court. Overnight, the Senate which handles the impeachment trial suddenly becomes the subject on trial, that is, on trial before the public eye.  Viewers of the impeachment hang on for the Senate’s decision. In the end, with a vote of 13 against 10, the Senate deferred to the Supreme Court in a gesture perceived by some as a calibrated response to avert a possible constitutional crisis and at the same time, to preserve the Senate’s image as custodian of the rule of the law.  The majority chose to sustain “absolute confidentiality” of Corona’s dollar accounts over the matter of absolute accountability for which he is being tried.

The stance of the majority jibes with that of the defense and is patent among lawyers.  Most lawyers share the same tendency to reduce a question of justice to a question of law and a question of law to a question of the text of the law. In a recent column, Professor Randy David (Philippine Daily Inquirer, February 18, 2012) referred to this as the lawyers’ Umwelt, the ability to read the world, for better or for worse, as their vistas dictate. Oftentimes however, such vista is conditioned by a dogged idolatry of the text even if it stands against public reason. They adhere to the facticity of law blindly and conceal the infirmities of their arguments by spewing Latin phrases, conjunctions, adverbs and legal citations meant not to uncover the truth but to throw their hearers off balance. Sometimes, we become unwitting victims of this verbal exhibitionism when we assent to a point they make however far it is from common sense.  In a memorable scene towards the end of the movie “Devil’s Advocate”, Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) confronted John Milton (Al Pacino), the devil incarnate, and asked him why he chose lawyers to be his surrogates. Milton explained: “Law is the ultimate backstage pass. There are now more students in law schools than lawyers walking the streets.”  The movie of course is fictive but it does tell us how law and lawyers may be drawn into the dark side.

Given the situation, the people remain vigilant and critical.  Optimism is strong for the senator-judges to be discerning enough to see through the fortifications of technicalities the defense lawyers have erected in order to blur perception of Corona’s guilt.  We can’t blame them though; they were recruited and paid to do that dirty job and by the looks of it, Renato Corona is getting every ounce of his penny’s worth.  His lawyers’ gift of judicial gab never fails to wow the impeachment audience.  Added to this, he has likewise firewalled himself through a memorandum enforcing confidentiality of records of Supreme Court justices and another instruction barring any Supreme Court personnel from testifying at the impeachment trial. He has also filed a motion asking the Supreme Court to stop the ongoing impeachment. And now this, a help from thirteen senators – the sheer number of them leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

It was a fortress Corona built for his defense; law after all is his turf.  Had he shown the same readiness for defense as a graduate student, he would have legitimized his doctoral degree with a dissertation.  Had he chosen to be just rather than a justice, he would have been truly honorable.  Had he known ethics better than law, he would have not cowered behind judicial cloak.  Had he upheld accountability rather than his accounts, he would have restored respect for public office.

He has not done, has never been any of those.  Corona sucks up to a faded Glory whose legacy now weighs him down like a monstrous crown of ignominy.