‘Bribery’ voids Corona impeachment – Puno

MANILA — If it can be proved that the senators who acted as judges in the impeachment trial of former Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona were “bribed” through the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), then his removal would be null and void.

This is according to Corona’s predecessor, retired chief justice Reynato Puno, who explained that if the senator-judges were influenced to vote for a conviction, the entire process should be nullified.

“[If bribery is proven], talagang void yun. Wala kasing impartial tribunal,” Puno said during a roundtable with editors and reporters of The Manila Times.

The former chief justice, who was never implicated in any controversy during his term and has a sterling reputation, stressed that bribery can be used as a ground to declare the Corona impeachment proceedings as void ab initio (from the beginning) since there was no fair and impartial tribunal.

Puno said the issue could cast doubts on the assumption of Maria Lourdes Sereno as chief justice.

“May question din sa nakaupo,” he said, alluding to Sereno, who was appointed as chief magistrate in August last year.

The former chief justice said, however, that even if the impeachment process were nullified, Corona would no longer be able to regain his position.

“Magulo ‘yan (that would be chaotic),” he admitted.

For one, the Supreme Court cannot step into the issue and rule on the nullity, legality or constitutionality of the impeachment process because the Senate impeachment court is an independent body.

He added that even if Corona were to be found innocent of the impeachment charges, prosecutors were able to dig up additional facts that the former chief justice should be held liable for. He did not enumerate what these “facts” were.

Puno however said that Corona himself can question his conviction once there is  ”solid evidence” to support the allegation of bribery, which cropped up when Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada exposed that senators who voted to convict Corona were given an additional appropriation of at least P50 million each. Some other lawmakers got even bigger allocations, Estrada said in his privilege speech.

Palace officials admitted that the funds for the additional allocations for the lawmakers were sourced through the DAP, which is now being criticized as illegal. Several petitions have been filed before the High Court questioning the disbursement program.

According to Estrada, it was Senate President Franklin Drilon, then chairman of the appropriations committee, who approved the extra funds.  Drilon is also a ranking official of the Liberal Party and campaign manager of the administration slate in last May’s polls.

If Corona had not been impeached, his term would have ended on October 15, 2018.

Besides Estrada, former senator Joker Arroyo also revealed that Drilon approved the release of P47 million to his office but that he had no inkling that it was sourced through DAP.

Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago earlier said that the extra allocations given to senators were bribes even if the funds were released after Corona was convicted.

Puno claimed that if it could be substantiated that the DAP releases were indeed “bribes,” then there was a “denial of due process” which could be a ground for the declaration of a “mistrial”.

“Void yun. It is a denial of due process. That is a constitutional right. It binds all departments [of government],” Puno pointed out.
If Corona’s rights were violated, Puno said that like any other citizen, he has the right to raise the issue with the SC.

He maintained that Corona can file another petition to declare the proceedings in the Senate as null and void before the Court en banc.

He said that the last time a mistrial was declared by the High Court was when Rolando Galman tagged by the government as the assassin of the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr..

In that particular case, the SC en banc declared a “mistrial” and a new trial was held at the Sandiganbayan after the ouster of then president Ferdinand Marcos.

He added that there were constitutional issues on the petition raised by Corona wherein the High Court should have rendered a decision rather than declaring the petition as “moot and academic” when Corona was already ousted.

“May mga issues si Corona na ini-akyat at hindi nadesisyunan hanggang matapos ang impeachment. Dahil ang lakas ng clamor noon na purely political ang Senate impeachment,” he said.

For declaring it as a “political” procedure, the Court practically distanced itself from the impeachment case.

Puno is presently leading the group pushing for a people’s initiative to enact a law against the use of the Priority Development Assistance Fund and the DAP. The law would ensure that budgets cannot be tinkered with and funds are not misused.