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Columns - JGL Eye
Thursday, 24 May 2012 16:30

 

 

JGL Eye Column

By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA

(© 2012 Journal Group Link International)

 

C HICAGO (jGLi) – In the heat of the public debate between Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato C. Corona and Philippine President Benigno Aquino III last February this year, Mr. Corona demanded from Mr. Aquino to make public his  “statements of assets and liabilities and net worth (SALN)” and his “psychological records of the mental state.”

 

Trying to be sport, Mr. Aquino met Mr. Corona’s demand half way by disclosing only his SALN last May 15 – showing that Mr. Aquino became richer by P10 million (US$238K) to P65.13 million  (US$1.5M) since assuming office as President.

 

I hope Mr. Aquino would comply with Mr. Corona’s demand for the disclosure of his own “psychological records.” If not, President Aquino would miss the opportunity to add a new dimension to requirements that for those running for President, they should not only “be at least 40 years of age, a registered voter, able to read and write, a Filipino citizen by birth, and a resident of the Philippines for at least 10 years prior to election” but they should also be “of sound mind.”

 

I don’t really buy, although I grudgingly agree, with Senator Miriam Santiago’s earlier proposed amendment to the Philippine constitution that “all candidates running for public office should earn at least a four-year college degree.” After all, some candidates may present diplomas from some “diploma mills.” And sometimes, dropping out of college does not prevent someone from being successful. Just look at my friend, former President Joseph Estrada, whom I heard is still planning to run for Manila mayor, and former U.S. Presidents Washington, Jackson, Van Buren, Taylor, Fillmore, Lincoln, A. Johnson and Cleveland, of course, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, who all did not get a college diploma.

 

But what I would like to be introduced as amendment is for candidates to be “of sound mind.”

 

MR. PRESIDENT,  PLEASE COME UP WITH YOUR “PSYCHOLOGICAL RECORDS”

 

A nd if Mr. Aquino would still disclose his “psychological records” at this stage, the prosecution in the impeachment trial of Mr. Corona could require Mr. Corona to be armed with his own “mental record” that would certify that he is fit mentally to stand trial when he resumes his testimony on Friday (May 25). This gesture is based on the Golden Rule  (do unto others, as if you are the other), if not being Christian (let those without sin cast the first stone).

 

That’s why I totally agree with the Chief Justice when he challenged his accusers to similarly issue waivers on their own dollar accounts. I would add all public officials, including the other Supreme Court justices, Senators, Congressmen, members of the Cabinet, Constitutional officers, governors and mayors, to also issue waivers to their dollar accounts, if they have any, as well.

 

Deciding on the “evidence” at hand, the Senator-Judges will be violating the civil right (procedural due process) of Mr. Corona if they rule on Mr. Corona’s impeachment trial without obtaining testimonies from the expert psychiatrists and psychologists that Mr. Corona is mentally fit to stand trial.

 

His legal defense team headed by former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas may disagree with me. But when their client was claiming in his opening statement that because of his “prudent spending” (only for “food and tuition”) and because he has “no household help and they are not even using air conditioners at home to save on electricity costs” that’s why he amassed millions of (pesos or dollars) since “45 years” ago by depositing them in his bank accounts and rolled over the interests, it does not make sense to me.

Mr. Corona was among the midnight appointees as Chief Justice in 2010 and was entitled to collect 46,000 pesos (US$1,095) salary a month. Unless, he won the lotto or dug up a treasure trove or “invested in stocks” just like what reportedly Senator Manny Villar did, it would not still make sense that he would enrich his “three peso accounts and four dollar accounts” to the tune of $10-M or so. In 45 years of making the maximum of US$1,095 a month, Mr. Corona only stands to gain more than US$591,428, not even US$1-million. Even if he did not spend a penny out of his monthly salary!

 

PRIMUS INTER PARES CANNOT TAKE BLAME FOR ALL

 

W hen the Chief Justice accepted personally the blame for Supreme Court vote of 14-0, ordering the total distribution of Hacienda Luisita to about 6,000 farmer beneficiaries that got him the ire of President Aquino, his interpretation of the unanimous ruling does not make sense to me.

Even he is the primus inter pares (first among equals), Mr. Corona is only one of the 14 justices that should be personally blamed by Mr. Aquino. Is he saying all the other 13 justices are his stooges? He just disparaged the independence of mind of other justices. If Mr. Aquino is in his right frame of mind, the President will not take the adverse ruling personally against, you, Mr. Chief Justice!

 

I could cite other instances in his opening statement that do not make sense. But I will leave the rest to the impeachment Senator-Judges to consider.

 

And as a result, I suggest, the Chief justice should be subjected to “competency trial” before the impeachment trial resumes!

 

If Mr. Corona’s legal defense team cannot convince the Chief Justice to undergo “competency trial,” the Senator-Judges should take note of the ruling of the United States Supreme Court in Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510 (2003), in which the United States Supreme Court determined that a capital defendant (I know impeachment trial is not a criminal trial but it also observes a due process) was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel by his lawyer’s failure to investigate the troubled background which would have revealed evidence that could have mitigated the punishment.

 

Thus, any evidence such as mental illness or mental retardation that might mitigate the defendant’s crime or punishment should not be overlooked by the defense lawyer, who wants to avoid a claim of ineffectiveness.

 

At the same time any statement by a defendant during an examination or trial on the defendant’s incompetency, the testimony of an expert based on that statement, and evidence obtained as a result of that statement, may not be admitted in evidence against the defendant in any criminal proceeding, in this case the impeachment trial.

 

If the impeachment court rules without waiting for the result of the competency trial, the ruling will violate Mr. Corona’s right to procedural due process.

 

There are mental illnesses (other than epilepsy, senility, alcoholism or mental deficiency), like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness and major depressions, that could impair a person’s ability to think, make judgments, respond emotionally, but are treatable that are not familiar to defense lawyers.

They should now find out if Mr. Corona has mental illness before presenting them to the impeachment court. Go! # # #

 

Editor’s Note: To contact the author, please e-mail him at: (lariosa_jos@sbcglobal.net)

 



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Last Updated on Thursday, 24 May 2012 19:34
 

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