Re-affirming the People’s faith in the Judiciary:
A call for Chief Justice Corona to give his written consent
to the opening of his Foreign Currency Deposit Accounts
relative to the Impeachment Proceedings
“The behavior and conduct of judges must re-affirm the people’s faith in the integrity of the Judiciary. Justice must not merely be done but must also be seen to be done.”
(section 2, Canon 2 of the New Code of Judicial Conduct)
Acting on a petition filed by PSBank through its President, the Supreme Court (SC) issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) on the Senate sitting as an Impeachment Court (the Court, for brevity) preventively cutting short the inquiries conducted last February 9 2012 relative to the accounts owned and maintained by Chief Justice Corona, specifically, as regards his foreign currency deposits (FCDs).
The basis lies in section 8 of Republic Act 6426 (as amended by P.D. 1035, and further amended by PD 1246) which declares and considers all foreign currency deposits as absolutely confidential in nature and in no instance shall these deposits be inquired or looked into by any person, government official, bureau, or office whether judicial or administrative or legislative, or any other entity whether public or private EXCEPT upon the written permission of the depositor.
This development is truly an unfortunate turn of events in what was otherwise perceived by the Filipino as an avenue for authentic institutional reforms in the Judiciary. Not only is the political process of Impeachment being challenged as a violation of the theory of “Co-Equal Branches of Government” if the Supreme Court steps in to discusss an impeachment issue, but it has also created in the minds of most Filipinos — an image of the Supreme Court sitting as a collegial body, that has a fondness of “protecting one of its own.”
As their institution’s primary figure, Chief Justice Corona of the SC wields considerable authority and influence and can therefore set an example to others occupying high positions in government, by allowing or providing his written permission to open his foreign currency deposits in order that the truth can come out.
The CEAP, a national association comprising 1,252 private educational associations, believes that a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court can set the tone for authentic judicial reforms by letting the Impeachment proceedings run its course and not insist on meeting the Legislative and Executive branches “head-on” with this issue, lest it would stir conditions ripe for a constitutional crisis in our country.
“Judges shall ensure that not only is their conduct above reproach,
but that it is perceived to be so in the view of a reasonable observer.”
Section 1, Canon 2 New Code of Judicial Conduct.
In his book Legal and Judicial Ethics (2009 ed.), Dennis Funa* describes a judge as someone who occupies a position in government that gives a tangible semblance to an otherwise intangible concept – “justice in society.” In fact, some judicial pronouncements even describe judges as the “visible representation of the law and justice.” (Arban vs. Borja, 143 SCRA 634)
This must be so because the people’s faith in the legal and judicial system is not based only on the magnitude of legal knowledge and diligence of members of the bench but also on the highest standard of integrity and moral uprightness they are expected to possess. (Dawa vs. De Asa 292 SCRA 703)
Simply put, it is about integrity. In the Judiciary, moral integrity is more than a cardinal virtue, it is a necessity. (Pascual vs. Judge Rodolfo R. Bonifacio, 398 SCRA 695.)
If this ethical standard is made to apply to all judges, this admits of no exceptions, not even for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In fact, with all the more reason should this standard of behaviour be made to apply to the Chief Justice of the highest court of our land.
Thus, when Chief Justice Corona conveniently hides behind the mantle of protection offered by this TRO issued in favor of PSBank, it reveals his questionable character leading one to logically posit this question – if Chief Justice Corona is truly innocent as he so claims, then why is there resistance in the request for a disclosure of his foreign currency deposit accounts?
Without belaboring the technicalities of whether or not the Supreme Court, in having issued the TRO, was already interfering with the powers of the Senate sitting as an Impeachment Court, and without favoring any one of the parties involved in the Trial of this impeachable officer, the CEAP calls on the Chief Justice to be a shining example to all members of the bench by exhibiting the kind of moral uprightness demanded of them as best exemplified if he provides his written assent to the disclosure of his foreign currency deposit accounts.
“As a subject of constant public scrutiny, judges must accept personal restrictions that might be viewed as burdensome by the ordinary citizen and should do so freely and willingly. In particular, judges shall conduct themselves in a way that is consistent with the dignity of the judicial office.” Section 2, Canon 4 New Code of Judicial Conduct.
Like all positions in government, a judicial office is also regarded as a public trust. As such, his actions must be viewed closely by the public as any betrayal of his sworn duties only serves destroy that trust reposed on him by the people and only contributes to the further erosion of the people’s faith in the Judiciary.
Thus, when it is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the propriety of his actions are at issue, he must take all steps necessary to restore the people’s faith in him. Regrettably, a few days after the issuance of the questionable TRO, Chief Justice Corona opted to elicit sympathy from his co-workers instead, theorizing that the current impeachment proceedings is an affront to the institutional indepence of the judiciary as a whole and not simply against its Chief Justice.
While the New Code of Judicial Conduct explicitly recognizes in sec. 6, Canon 4 thereof that judges, like any other citizen, are entitled to basic constitutional freedoms – his freedom of expression, assembly, including his right to privacy in relation to his financial records – the same proviso is also clear that in the exercise of such rights, the judge must always conduct himself in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of the judicial office and impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
Thus, the CEAP believes that the Chief Justice should be the embodiment of proper conduct that is to be expected from a member of the bench. This must be so in order to preserve the dignity of the judicial office.
To that end, if there is truly nothing that Chief Justice Corona is hiding in his foreign currency deposit accounts, the CEAP strongly urges CJ Corona to take heed and permit the disclosure of the same. Not only is this consistent with ethical standards, the same is likewise consistent with the requirement in section 7 of Canon 4 requiring a judge to be financially transparent by informing them about his personal fiduciary interests as well as those of his family members. That way, he avoids being caught up later on in financial entanglements.
A disclosure of these foreign currency deposits also strengthens the capacity of the people to have access to relevant records not ordinarily available to them, an essential component in the public’s right to know whether its servant, the judge (the Chief Justice) is properly performing his duty. As held in Cowley vs Pulsifer (137 Mass. 392):
“It is of the highest moment that those who administer justice should act under the sense of public responsibility, and that every citizen should be able to satisfy himself with his own eyes as to the mode in which a public duty is performed.”
We therefore urge CHIEF JUSTICE CORONA to heed our call.
In the interest of truth and justice, allow the disclosure of these foreign currency deposit accounts in order that the Impeachment Proceedings can fully and fairly take place.
We pray that the Chief Justice recognize the impeachment proceedings as a vital part of our political exercise desiged by the 1987 Constitution for the protection of the body politic, and therefore must take all steps to ensure that this political exercise enshrined in our Constitution be faithfully carried out.
Finally we hope that CHIEF JUSTICE CORONA is one with us, in our collective call for authentic and long lasting reforms not only in the judiciary but also in other branches of government – characterized by a high sense of accountability to the public, financial transparency and utmost integrity, one that not only restores but re-affirms the faith of our people in its public servants.