Annual Convention of the 20th IBP House of Delegates

17 February 2012, Friday, 11:00 am
The Fort Ilocandia Resort Hotel, Laoag City

Theme: “IBP: Upholding the Constitution; Promoting the Rule of Law”

I am truly grateful for this opportunity to have a break from our very taxing schedule of impeachment court trial, and I wish to thank the officers and my fellow compañero-members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines for this invitation to join you in the Annual Convention of the 20th IBP House of Delegates.

There has never been a more opportune time than now for us members of the Bar to be reminded of these time-honored principles of “upholding the Constitution” and “promoting the Rule of Law”, in the light of what we, as a people and as a nation, are confronted with today. For sure, fellow lawyers such as your good selves have been closely following the latest saga in our political history, which is the impeachment trial of no less than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the honorable Renato C. Corona.

As early as December 13 last year, when the Articles of Impeachment against Chief Justice Corona were transmitted by the House of Representatives to the Senate, the twenty-three (23) members of the Senate, including myself, have taken on an extraordinary role as jurors of an Impeachment Court, mandated by no less than the Constitution to try and decide whether to convict or to acquit the respondent, based on the grounds dictated in the Constitution.

For us Senators, the task at hand is a sacred duty which we have no discretion to evade. As jurors, it is our obligation and responsibility to closely and diligently examine the evidence and the facts to be presented before us, to determine whether such evidence and facts sufficiently and convincingly support the charges, and ultimately, to decide the fate of no less than the Chief Justice of the Highest Court of the land, and the head of a co-equal branch of our government.

While it has often been said that, by and large, the trial in an impeachment case is political in nature, nonetheless, such is neither an excuse nor a license for us to ignore and abandon our solemn and higher obligation and responsibility as a body of jurors to see to it that the Bill of Rights is observed and that justice is served, to conduct the trial with impartiality and fairness, to hear the case with a clear and open mind, to weigh carefully in the scale the evidence against the respondent, and to render to him a just verdict based on no other consideration than our Constitution and laws, the facts presented to us, and our individual moral conviction.

As the trial slowly progresses, I have realized that the position I am now in as the Presiding Officer of the Impeachment Court is one that I do not exactly relish. Not only do I have to carefully study the legalities of all the issues and concerns being raised by both the Prosecution and the Defense, but I also have to consider and balance the divergent and, most of the time, opposing views of my colleagues, my fellow Senator-Judges. It seems that not only Chief Justice Corona is being tried here, but also my patience. Having to preside over the trial is simply very trying, no pun intended.

Levity aside, let me refresh your memory of what transpired in the trial just earlier this week. Last Monday, the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) which, in effect, enjoined the Senate, sitting as an Impeachment Court, from implementing the subpoena issued to Philippine Savings (PS) Bank for its bank manager to produce and testify on documents pertaining to the alleged bank accounts of Chief Justice Corona in their Katipunan branch.

Because of this, the Senator-Judges have had to debate amongst ourselves and decide whether or not we will respect, or abide by, the TRO issued by the Supreme Court. As I stated in my explanation of vote on this matter, it is important for the public to know the backdrop against which the essential and substantive issues involved in this case must be viewed.

The Ruling issued by this Impeachment Court to grant the Request for Issuance of Subpoena to the Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI) and the PS Bank was the result of our thorough and careful deliberations on the merits of said Requests filed by the House of Representatives, through its appointed Prosecutors.

It should be noted that in deciding to grant the subject Requests for Subpoena as embodied in the Ruling, the Impeachment Court imposed specific limitations, as it applied the jurisprudentially accepted rule that in order to entitle a party to the issuance of subpoena duces tecum, it must appear, by clear and unequivocal proof, that the book or document sought to be produced contains evidence relevant and material to the issue before the court, and that the precise book, paper or document containing such evidence has been so designated or described that it may be identified. Hence, the Impeachment Court limited the coverage of the subpoenae it issued pursuant to the Ruling.

During our deliberations, the Senator-Judges were fully aware and carefully took into account the applicable laws and jurisprudence bearing on the issue of whether or not the use of the compulsory process which the Prosecution seeks to avail of to prove that the charge contained in Article II of the Articles of Impeachment would violate existing laws on the confidentiality of bank deposits as contained in Republic Act No. 1405, as amended, the Anti-Money Laundering Act, and Republic Act No. 6426.

Noting that R.A. 1405 clearly lists cases of impeachment as one of the exceptions to the general rule on secrecy of bank deposits, there was a general consensus that, subject to the limitations set by the Impeachment Court, there was no legal impediment to the issuance of the requested subpoenas pertaining to local currency deposits.

One thing that I can assure the public though is that this consensus was painstakingly arrived at because most, if not all, of us believed that, in carrying out our duty as an Impeachment Court, we remain under, and not above, the Rule of Law. Indeed, even as the “sole power” to try and decide all cases of impeachment is lodged on the Senate sitting as an Impeachment Court, the actual exercise of that awesome power is subject to the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Needless to say, the impeachment process is a very powerful tool that can be used under the system of checks and balance in a democratic society like ours. Just like any other instrument, however, it can also be subject to abuse and misuse, and this is not something that I will not allow while I carry out my duty as Presiding Officer of the Impeachment Court.

In my humble opinion, the filing of an impeachment case with the Senate against the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, or for that matter against the President of the Philippines, both heads of co-equal branches of the government, does not in any manner erase, modify, or affect the operation of the principle of separation of powers among the three branches of the government.

The legislative power to enact laws, the presidential power to execute and implement faithfully those laws, and the judicial power “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government” still stand unaffected and operable in spite of the filing of such impeachment case against the President of the Philippines or the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, as the case may be.

I know I am starting to sound like a broken record but I will say it again. The Senate sitting as an Impeachment Court must at all times observe the Rule of Law. It cannot transgress any of the applicable provisions of the Bill of Rights. It must be guided by the presumption of innocence before the pronouncement of guilt. It must at all times observe the principle of procedural and substantial due process. It cannot use its power to issue compulsory processes to compel any witness to appear and testify and, in testifying, is forced to commit a crime. It cannot compel a witness to testify against himself. It cannot arbitrarily declare a person guilty of contempt and deprive that person of his or her liberty. It cannot violate the laws passed by Congress of which it is an integral part. Lawmakers must not and should not also be the “law-breakers”, so to speak.

Although the respondent in the trial before us is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, we cannot escape the reality that, in a larger sense, the conduct of this trial and its outcome will necessarily have a serious impact on the entire nation. Its success or failure to achieve the purpose for which the Constitution has provided this mechanism as part of our system of checks and balances and of public accountability, may spell the success or failure of our democratic institutions, the strengthening or weakening of our sense of justice as a people, our stability or disintegration as a nation, and the triumph or demise of the rule of law in our land.

Indeed, we carry a very heavy burden on our shoulders nowadays. After all, in the context of the ongoing impeachment trial, the people’s faith in the Senate of the Republic, the image and the very fabric of our nation and our democratic system are at stake. At this point, the only assurance I can give to the public is this -- that, as Presiding Officer, I will always be fair, just and impartial.

Evidently, we still have a long way to go in this impeachment trial. The Prosecution has presented only 16 out of the 96 witnesses they said they intended to present. The Defense has yet to take their turn. The final outcome, whether the Chief Justice will be convicted or acquitted, remains to be seen. Personally, however, whatever the outcome may be, I will leave it to our people and to history to judge me based on my actions and decisions as Presiding Officer and a juror of this Impeachment Court.

Once again, thank you very much for inviting me today and I wish everyone a very pleasant morning.

Mabuhay ang IBP!