FORMER chief justice Renato Corona on Wednesday said that he leaves his fate to God amid claims by his predecessor, retired chief justice Reynato Puno, that his impeachment could be voided if it could be proved that senator-judges were “bribed” to convict him.
“I leave everything to God who unfolds our future,” Corona said in an interview.
He sent through text a verse from the book of Jeremiah that states: “Let’s just leave things to God who alone knows the plans he has for us, which are always for our welfare and not for harm, to give us future with hope.”
The former chief justice however shied away from Puno’s statement that he can seek to nullify the impeachment proceedings since the tribunal was not “impartial.”
Puno, in a recent roundtable with editors and reporters of The Manila Times, explained that his assumption is based on the premise that there was indeed “bribery.”
Corona said that he felt vindicated after Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada disclosed in a privilege speech that senators were given additional pork of at least P50 million each after the impeachment trial.
Puno argued that his former colleague can use bribery as a ground to declare the impeachment proceedings void ab initio (from the beginning). But he admitted that it could result to chaos and would not be a walk in the park for the ousted SC chief.
Senator Serge Osmeña 3rd agreed that the Supreme Court can declare the removal of the former chief justice void if there was indeed “intervention.”
“I think that is true. If there was bribery, it can be declared void. I guess the Supreme Court will be the one to do that. But first prove it,” Osmeña, one of those who voted to convict Corona, said in a separate interview.
He, however, noted that in order to prove that bribery really transpired during the course of the trial, some members of the Senate impeachment court should first admit to receiving payoffs in exchange for Corona’s conviction.
Osmeña maintained that there was no bribery, and although additional funds were offered to the senators after the impeachment trial, it cannot be considered as a bribe.
“I know that they are not gonna offer me P50 million for my vote, I will throw it back on their face,” he said.
Former senator Panfilo Lacson said that although Puno may have basis in making his statement, he expressed doubts that the impeachment proceedings would ever be voided.
He noted that reversing Corona’s conviction would be near impossible for three reasons: at least five of the 20 senators who voted to convict the ex-chief justice must be proven to have been bribed; second, the question on who shall declare the nullity of an independent branch of government; and, third, the position was already filled up.
“In short it is very difficult, if not almost impossible,” Lacson said.
Senate President Franklin Drilon insisted that allegations of bribery have no basis because there is no proof to show that senators accepted payoffs.
He added that even Estrada did not consider the extra funds as a bribe.
At the House of Representatives, the members of the prosecution during the impeachment trial—Reps. Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte, Romero Quimbo of Marikina and Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption—said that Corona’s conviction for his failure to declare his millions worth of assets under his wealth statement cannot be overturned.
“That is a big if. Mere conjectures and speculations have no place in the court of law, moreso in an impeachment court,” Fariñas, a bar topnotcher, said.
Quimbo agreed with Fariñas, saying that the allegations of bribery thru the Disbursement Acceleration Program releases cannot be taken as facts at this point.
“If there was any senator who may have been bribed, he or she must be prosecuted for such. But absent any evidence, it is most unfair for any of them to be accused of such. There is yet no shred of evidence pointing to that,” Quimbo said.
“But as far as we’re concerned, we presented more than enough evidence—his millions of dollars and pesos that were not declared in the SALN, as well as undisclosed real properties—to support the decision of all Senators, except for three,” he added.
Tugna said the senator-judges made their decisions based on the merits.
Meanwhile, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali and 1-BAP Party-list Rep. Silvestre Bello said that Corona can seek the help of the Supreme Court but a reversal of his conviction would be “wishful thinking.”
“[The] decision of impeachment court is final, and beyond power of judicial review,” Umali said.
“Besides, it will only create a chaotic situation because how can you now undo all that has happened after Corona’s removal?” he asked.
Umali maintained that no other court can decide on impeachment cases, not even the SC.
Bello, a former solicitor general and secretary of Justice, shared the same sentiments.
”The impeachment process and decision is a political issue over which the SC has no jurisdiction,” he said.
Corona, he stressed, cannot do anything with the Senate’s decision as it was already considered final.
”The decision of the Senate in an impeachment case is final,” the deputy minority leader said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, another prosecutor during the impeachment trial, offered a different view.
”The reported bribery thru DAP may have tainted the conviction even if it was correct,” he said in a statement.
If Corona wants the decision nullified, Colmenares said, he should ask the Senate to reconvene the impeachment court since it is the only body that can hear impeachment cases.
WITH REPORTS FROM JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA, LLANESCA T. PANTI AND JHOANNA BALLARAN