The lady justice wears a blindfold for a reason. She is to render judgment based on law and evidence, without regard to the circumstances and personalities of the parties involved --- however controversial they may be. She is to dispense justice without fear or favor.
We all took an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and the laws of the Philippines” and, like lady justice, we are bound to do so without fear or favor.
An impeachment trial is sui generis. Be that as it may, the Bill of Rights stands supreme over all the powers of government, including the power to impeach. And nowhere is this precept more apposite than in this case, where the government has mustered all the resources at its disposal, not only to secure evidence against the Chief Justice but, further, to ensure his conviction.
The crucial issues that have piqued the interest of the Senator-Judges as well as the public were outside the original ambit of the impeachment complaint and have been brought forth only after its filing. Evidence on some of these issues came from “questionable” sources … beginning with the unidentified “little lady” to documents anonymously left on gates and in mailboxes.
At the expense of the sub judice rule, evidence had been presented to the public on several occasions, even before they were formally offered before this Court. Worse, information was grossly exaggerated with the apparent intention to predispose the public mind against the Chief Justice. Notable examples would be the Land Registration Authority report with the discredited list of 45 properties and the unauthenticated AMLC report claiming that the Chief Justice allegedly owned 10 million US dollars.
Still, the Chief Justice sufficiently addressed the accusations against him with regard to the filing of his SALN, and the disclosure of his real properties and peso and dollar deposits.
Relative to his dollar deposits, the Chief Justice believed that he was under no legal duty to declare these deposits pursuant to RA 6426, which affords absolute confidentiality to all foreign currency depositors.
This interpretation of the law is now being publicly criticized as flawed. However, quite a number of public officials construe RA 6426 vis-a-vis RA 6713 in the same manner. In view of the ambiguous situation created by the concurrent application of the 1987 Constitution, the SALN law, and the FCDU law, and absent a determinative judicial pronouncement that resolves the contrary positions on this legal issue, the Chief Justice must be presumed to have acted in good faith. Indeed, it has been held that not all omissions and misdeclarations in the SALN amount to dishonesty.
The framers of the Constitution intended “culpable violation of the Constitution” to mean a willful and intentional violation of the Constitution. “Betrayal of public trust,” on the other hand, was meant to be a catch-all phrase to encompass all acts violative of the oath of office or which render the officer unfit to continue in service.
Both grounds, however, were contemplated to exclude unintentional or involuntary violations, errors made in good faith and honest mistakes in judgment. Granting, therefore, that the Chief Justice violated the SALN law, this certainly does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
We may be faulted for erring on the side of conservatism. But what we are doing is redefining the relationship between branches of government, and when such great affairs of state are uncertain, the resulting instability puts every Filipino’s future in limbo. This is an important, delicate, momentous event and because of that we should tread very lightly.
We must be very, very careful and very, very fair in making this decision because what we do today will reverberate throughout our social and political history affecting generations beyond ours.
When the furor has died down and this political storm has subsided, I know - that like the lady Justice – we shall find solace in the fact that this decision, though maybe not popular, was fair, impartial and just.
On the arguments presented, and on the ground that the presumption of innocence has not been overcome, I vote to ACQUIT the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.