Sunday, February 12, 2012

Chief Justice Renato Corona's Impeachment Trial is about his moral fitness, not his legal competence

Let me just say---and this is my final take on the matter--that the current impeachment of the Renato Corona is all about his fitness to continue dispensing his duties as Chief Justice. This is the core issue--the fitness of the individual to serve the post entrusted by him by the Filipino People. Section 11, Article 8 of the 1987 Constitution says that members of the Highest Tribunal shall hold office...

Section 11....during good behavior until they reach the age of seventy years or become incapacitated to discharge the duties of their office. The Supreme Court en banc shall have the power to discipline judges of lower courts, or order their dismissal by a vote of a majority of the Members who actually took part in the deliberations on the issues in the case and voted thereon.

Why is it extremely important that the Chief Justice exercises good behavior during his term? Former CJ Davide says good behavior actually ensures that the Highest Tribunal maintains the public's confidence which is "of utmost importance in a modern democratic society."

RULE 2.01 - A judge should so behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. 

Now, what constitutes this "good behavior" and fitness test". Let us consult the 1987 Constitution once more. In Article 8, Section 7, it states:

(1) No person shall be appointed Member of the Supreme Court or any lower collegiate court unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines. A Member of the Supreme Court must be at least forty years of age, and must have been for fifteen years or more, a judge of a lower court or engaged in the practice of law in the Philippines.
(2) The Congress shall prescribe the qualifications of judges of lower courts, but no person may be appointed judge thereof unless he is a citizen of the Philippines and a member of the Philippine Bar.
(3) A Member of the Judiciary must be a person of proven competence, integrity, probity, and independence.

The first two sub-provisions of Section 7, tells us of the statutory requirements needed for someone to become a member of the Supreme Court. The third sub-provision shows the moral fitness that a member of the Court should possess--proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.

What is the legal definition of competence, as stated here? In Atty. Jeremy Cooper, a law lecturer in London, he defines legal competence as a trait of a successful competer.(   
The Modern Law Review,Vol. 54, No. 1, Jan., 1991). For Copper, a practising lawyer is competent when, in the exercise of his profession, he competes successfully against his colleagues. 

Competence really is about someone's skills.  Competence is "possessing sufficient mental ability to understand an issue, problem, or situation; to make a reasonable decision concerning it; and to understand and appreciate the potential consequences of the decision."

RULE 3.01 - A judge shall be faithful to the law and maintain professional competence. (Code of Judicial Conduct, 1989)

So, it is enough that a Member of the Supreme Court "must be at least forty years of age...engage in the practice of law for fifteen years", that member must be competent, especially in understanding an issue and making a reasonable decision concerning it.

How about integrity? How do we define it?

Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy,[1] in that it regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.
The word "integrity" stems from the Latin adjective integer (whole, complete).[2] In this context, integrity is the inner sense of "wholeness" deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others "have integrity" to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold.

Such stated practices as revealing any and all assets and liabilities of a public official entrusted of this position is part of the integrity test. The reason why public officials are being asked to submit their SALNs is specifically to test their integrity as a public official.

CJ Corona is no exception to this. Fact is, he should be the first one, the inter pares, among all members of the Supreme Court to reveal every facet of his financial situation through the SALN.

How then can you trust someone who lies or half-bakedly lay bare his financial position before the public? Public service, they say, is public trust. When someone agrees to occupy a position in government, he does so, knowing that he is now subject to extreme public scrutiny. When someone loses the trust and confidence of the people whom he vowed to serve, there is no other reason why he should stay in that position.

How about probity? How do we define it?

PROBITY. Justice, honesty. A man of probity is one who loves justice and honesty, and who dislikes the contrary. Wolff, Dr. de la Nat. Sec. 772. A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.


probity is a noun synonymous to candidness, candor, conscience, deservingness, equitableness, equity, fair play, fairness, faith, frankness, good faith, goodness, high principles, honesty, honor, honorableness, incorruptibility, ingenuousness, integrity, justice, merit, moral excellence, morality, morals, principle, rectitude, reputability, righteousness, sincerity, straightforwardness, trustiness, truth, truthfulness, uprightness, veraciousness, veracity, virtue.

Again, the Chief Justice stands accused of violating this moral trait simply because he has not been forthright with his Statement of Assets and Liabilities (SALN). 

RULE 5.08 - A judge shall make full financial disclosure as required by law. (Code of Judicial Conduct)

At a modicum, if the Chief Justice is really a man of probity, he should allow the opening even of his dollar accounts, and not hide behind the weak argument that he has rights as a citizen under the Constitution and he is just maintaining his ground to avoid the government from encroaching on the rights of the citizen to be protected against unfair prosecution.

Again, let me state here that this impeachment trial is about about rights or legal technicalities. It is about the moral fitness of Mr. Renato Corona to continue occupying the post of Chief Justice. 

Exercising the right moral conduct is oceans apart from being legally competent. This trial is about the people's right to know whether Mr. Corona is still to be trusted by the People as their Chief Justice. 

The very first moment, Mr. Corona agreed to be appointed to this post, was the very first time that he should have recognized the fact that everything about him is now open to scrutiny. 

How then can Mr. Corona win in this trial when he refuses to reveal his dollar accounts before the public? The public owes Mr. Corona. This fact ends when Mr. Corona decides to revert back to being a private citizen. If he goes back to being a mere citizen, Mr. Corona is entitled to all the protections afforded to him by the Foreign deposits bank secrecy law.

Lastly, independence.

The Code of Judicial Conduct 

RULE 1.03. - A judge should be vigilant against any attempt to subvert the independence of the judiciary and should forthwith resist any pressure from whatever source intended to influence the performance of official functions.
 RULE 2.01 - A judge should so behave at all times as to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. 

RULE 2.02 - A judge should not seek publicity for personal vainglory.

RULE 2.03 - A judge shall not allow family, social, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment. The prestige of judicial office shall not be used or lent to advance the private interests of others, nor convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge.

RULE 2.04 - A judge should refrain from influencing in any manner the outcome of litigation or dispute pending before another court or administrative agency.
RULE 3.02 - In every case, a judge shall endeavor diligently to ascertain the facts and the applicable law unswayed by partisan interests, public opinion or fear of criticism.

Hence, let me state it frankly that we are now judging Mr. Corona on the basis of very simple moral traits which he stands accused of violating or not exercising during his stint as Chief Justice, namely: competence, integrity, probity and independence.

How do we determine the moral fitness of Mr. Corona? Review his very actions during the time that he was Associate Justice up to the time that he serves as Chief Justice.

His SALN is one proof or evidence to determine his moral fitness. His actuations as a justice during times when he was deliberating crucial cases and his public statements. 

Let us go beyond the customary rules and judge him based on these established traits.