Corona’s Assets Iceberg
Posted on 28 May 2012.
Posted on 26 May 2012.
But Corona thinks he has the perfect defense. Although the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth (SALN) requires disclosure of all assets, the Foreign Currency Deposits Act (FCDA) states that dollar accounts need not be disclosed. The FCDA states it explicitly, and by adhering only to what is literally stated, Corona has chosen to obey the letter of the law.
The SALN, however implicitly states that all accounts need to be disclosed, and although it’s not explicitly stated, the spirit of the SALN implies that even dollar accounts must be declared.
But what is the spirit of the SALN? The basic idea is that if public officials declare their assets every year, it would be possible to learn how much they’re making from being in public office. If it exceeds the income expected of a person in their position, the excess can be interpreted as potential corruption, warranting further investigation.
For the SALN to fulfill its purpose, it is obvious that both peso and dollar assets must be declared: a corrupt politician who wants to hide ill-gotten wealth *could* and would use dollar accounts if these were indeed exempted from declaration.
I emphasized “could” because having undisclosed dollar accounts does not necessarily mean that a politician has ill-gotten wealth. It is possible for a politician to have undisclosed accounts — both peso and dollar — but still be clean (all their wealth is made honestly).
But the law is blind — it does not assume good intentions. That is, laws that are made to prevent crime do not make exceptions for the innocent — it applies equally to all.
Consider the following. It is illegal to board airplanes with explosives. This is because an explosive can be used to perform other illegal acts which is infinitely more harmful: taking the passengers hostage and potentially killing them all. Note that the bringing of explosives aboard the plane by itself is not harmful at all.
Hypothetically, a genius inventor could create a bomb that would avoid detection, take it on the plane, and fly to his lab in another country to continue development on his invention. Not a single passenger got hurt. But does that mean the inventor did not do anything illegal? No. He broke the law and deserves to be punished.
But he didn’t hurt anyone, right? Would it be better then if we modify the law so that passengers who promise to behave are allowed to board with bombs? Definitely not. Because the mere potential that a person *could* use the bomb for the more harmful act (detonation) is worth making the act of boarding with bombs illegal itself.
It becomes clear then why dollar accounts are not exempted by the SALN. In our analogy, dollar accounts are the undetectable bomb. And although having an undeclared account is by itself harmless, those who wrote the SALN law thought that non-declaration should be in itself an offense because it could be used to hide corruption.
As far as the prosecution is concerned, the legality of how Corona accumulated his wealth is no longer the issue. What’s at stake is whether he violated the spirit of the SALN. And I agree with the prosecution that of this he is guilty.
The most common argument used by Corona’s supporters is that he’s not the only one at fault. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has found that President Noynoy and several cabinet members are potentially guilty of violating the SALN. But even if it is a common violation, it is still a violation, and every one of them who can be proven guilty should also receive the proper punishment.
This, however, does not mean they should all be punished at the same time. It’s Corona’s case that’s being heard, and it’s him that we should focus on. Punishing him for violating the SALN does not mean we can no longer go after other violators. On the contrary, punishing Corona will set a precedent that will be applied to all the other violators. If the senator-judges ignore the spirit of the SALN and acquit Corona, it will mean that Corona’s hypocritical critics are innocent as well.
I don’t think anyone is against fighting corruption. The intent of those who are defending Corona because of the hypocrisy of his accusers — and those who were asking other Congressmen to sign the conditional waiver — is a noble one. But it is misguided and fallacious (for starters see the tu quoque and perfect solution fallacies).
Let’s convict Corona first, send the message that we won’t accept circumvention of the law, and then go after all other public servants who may (or may not) be hiding ill-gotten wealth in illegally undisclosed accounts.
These are my opinions. Filipino Freethinkers does not have an official position on this issue.
Posted on 24 May 2012.
Some of your bishops have challenged Corona’s accusers to sign his waiver. Bishop Pabillo said that “there is really something wrong when they want a person to disclose his dollar accounts but his accusers refuse to do the same or don’t want to be transparent.” Your former president, Oscar Cruz, clarified that your message was to let people “know who have no sin and [let them] throw the first stone.”
You are saying that only those who are blameless can challenge others or throw blame. Since you have challenged Corona’s accusers, you must think that you yourselves are blameless. In the terms of Corona’s waiver, this means you think you have no ill-gotten wealth to hide. But you are mistaken.
No one knows ill-gotten wealth like you do, because you have founded your Church on ill-gotten wealth. Literally. Your organization wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for the billions your predecessors stole from the Philippine government.
In case you’ve forgotten, I’ll remind you. When your former colleagues, the Spaniards, colonized us, they stole lands that belonged to Filipinos and gave it to your friars. These friar lands allowed you to control everything: business, education, politics, etc. So aside from money and property, you also gained power. You used this power to further amass wealth that went beyond the original value of the lands that were stolen.
When the first Philippine Congress was established, one of their first plans was to take back what was rightfully ours — to confiscate the land that was stolen and then redistribute it among Filipinos. But unfortunately, their plans were thwarted by another colonizer: the Americans. They would eventually give us back our freedom, but they didn’t give us back our property — well, not really. Instead, they did what capitalists do best: sell it to us.
Before they could do that, they had to take it back from you. But instead of just taking it away — something they could have done without much difficulty — they again did what capitalists do best: buy it from you. William Howard Taft, the first head of the Philippine Commission, went to Rome to ask your infallible leader for permission to buy the friar lands so that it could be given (i.e. sold) back to us. Your Pope agreed, and in 1903, the friar lands, some 166,000 hectares were bought for $7,239,784.66.
You may have lost your lands, but you got a ton of money in return. Add that to the profit you’d already made on those properties — and the power you consolidated through it — and it’s clear how you’ve become one of the richest and most powerful organizations in the Philippines today.
It’s difficult to put a price on your ill-gotten political power, but the money is another story. For starters, we can calculate how much you got for the sale of the friar lands. According to one CPI inflation calculator, the purchase price of $7,239,784.66 would now be worth $168,259,177.12 (PHP7,235,144,616.16) — if it was purchased in 1913, which is as far back as the calculator goes. Surely it would be more if we could calculate based on the 1903 amount.
Next we can check your investments in publicly registered companies. This has already been done, and conservative estimates put your investments at over P18 billion. We don’t even know how much you’ve invested in private companies, and if Corona has taught us one thing, there’s another way you could’ve hidden enormous sums of money: dollar accounts.
By the time the Americans introduced their currency in our country, you already had considerable wealth, and it’s not unlikely that you’d think like he did: you invested in US dollars. There weren’t big corporations to invest in back then, so you probably converted a considerable amount. And considering how you have nothing against the financial institution — you have PHP18 billion invested in it after all — your dollars are likely deposited safely in dollar accounts: the same accounts you’re challenging congressmen to publicize.
Of course, I don’t have to speculate so much if you’d just sign Corona’s waiver. Now that I think about it, you could take the moral high ground and create a waiver of your own, disclosing not only your dollar accounts but also your public and private investments, business affiliations, everything.
Because as far as I’m concerned, most of your wealth is ill-gotten. Your wealth was built on money that was stolen from the Philippine government by two foreign ones. The theft may be centuries old, but it doesn’t change the fact that a crime is a crime, or in religious terms, a sin is a sin. Even your God does not unconditionally forgive a sin simply because it was done long ago (e.g. Original Sin). So I’m sure you’ll understand that although many have forgotten, you don’t deserve to be forgiven. Not by God, and certainly not by the Filipino people.
You may try you hardest to hide this fact by casting the blame — and the spotlight — on someone else. You’ve long been very active in pushing for agrarian reform. You’ve been preaching the idea that the lands should be taken from illegitimate owners and redistributed among its rightful owners. This is a worthy cause, and I commend you for understanding the idea of rightful ownership.
But why can’t you understand that every single peso of your billions is a peso that belongs to the Filipino people? Not only should you publicize your ill-gotten wealth, you should do the “Christian” thing and give it back as I’m sure Jesus would want you to. Otherwise, you’ll be contradicting your calls for transparency and fairness — not to mention your vow of poverty. You may lose much, but only by doing so can you rightly call yourselves a Church of the Poor.
Posted on 23 May 2012.
After three hours of an emotional roller-coaster that went from balling to boring at every turn, Chief Justice Renato Corona steered the impeachment trial toward an upside down loop that made everyone breathless. He said that he would waive his right to secrecy on all his bank accounts, domestic and foreign, but only under one condition: all of his accusers in Congress should do it with him.
Reactions in the court of public opinion varied. Some thought that Corona was brave, a hero for having the courage to challenge government corruption by putting his own integrity on the line. Others, myself included, thought that far from heroic, the dilatory tactic betrayed cowardice, and by involving others, he revealed his fear of facing justice alone.
But while people were split on Corona’s conditional waiver, his subsequent walkout, and the drama that followed, practically brought supporters and critics to a consensus. Guilty or innocent, Corona should have known better than to walk out of an ongoing hearing, and for an acting Chief Justice his actions were just too unprofessional.
But I believe “unprofessional” would be putting it too kindly. The walkout, and everything that led up to and followed after it, deserves a different description, another adjective that Corona would surely disapprove of — childish.
Even before the consensus on the unprofessionalism of Corona’s walkout, people agreed that Corona was anything but a public speaker. He spoke like a university freshman, sometimes even worse than a high school student, and his communication skills — or lack thereof — did not suit someone who was supposedly the greatest judge of the land. How could someone embody all the complexities of justice when he couldn’t even articulate simple sentences well? And his ineptitude knew no borders — he spoke poorly as much in English as he did in his native tongue.
His sophomoric skills at communication was consistent with his argumentation skills, and as language books invariably teach, sloppy speaking is a symptom of sloppy thinking. For starters, Corona’s speech was so unnecessarily long that he resembled a student struggling to find fillers for his essay to reach a minimum wordcount: “Mr. Corona, in 10,000 words, why should we acquit you?”
His speech so closely resembled the papers of so many seatmates I peer-reviewed in composition classes. More than building a defense that rested on facts, his speech was like the all-too-common “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” assignment, complete with long and cliche descriptions of characters that was only appropriate in the context of a classroom.
And discovering that his speech would not save him from conviction, Corona used one of the most common tactics a student resorted to in front of a teacher who failed him — crying. I’m sure he was under a lot of mental and emotional stress, but I expected more from the way he so confidently spoke about what he’d do before the hearing. And I don’t think it’s too much to set a higher standard of dignity and decency from a chief justice.
As I’ve said, opinions are still split on Corona’s conditional waiver. If you think it’s such a dignified idea, I hope to change your mind by showing you how childish Corona’s move actually is. Think of two brothers who each have a dirty room. Mom is trying to discipline them by assigning them the cleaning as a chore instead of leaving it to a helper like she usually does.
Unfortunately for the younger one, big brother is having his summer vacation at camp, and he would have to be the first to taste this bitter medicine. Just doing it despite the perceived unfairness would no doubt make Mom and Dad proud, but the boy is just not there yet. At his level of maturity, it would not be unexpected to hear him say something like this:
“But mom, it’s so unfair! Kuya is having the time of his life while I’m stuck here, and worse, you’re forcing me to clean my room!”
Mom and Dad try to convince the boy, offering him to remove his grounded status — earlier the boy did not tell his parents that his uncle gave him some cash, breaking the promise that he’d tell them if such a thing happened. Excited about the possibility of going out to play, the boy reluctantly agrees to clean his room but only under one condition: he would only do it once Kuya got back, and they would have to do it together.
It would take a couple of months before Kuya got back from camp, which meant that the parents would have to live with two messy rooms instead of one. Mom and Dad would have none of it, and it showed in their faces. So the boy, wanting to avoid an argument against grownups he just can’t win, stormed out of his folks’ room, trying to rush outside the house. Too bad for the boy: his parents used the intercom to tell their security guard to lock the gate.
The boy would now surely get the talking of his life, and knowing this, he resorted to one of the all-purpose tricks that got him out of school or homework: he pretended to be sick. Mom and Dad had barely resisted the boy’s babyface as he made his conditional offer, but now he was a babyfaced boy whose asthma was acting up, a condition he’s had for a long time. The parents just could not resist their child, and it would border on child abuse to force him to speak despite his sickness.
I’m sure you’ve made all the connections necessary to relate this to Corona’s behavior, and the logic of the boy, at least in terms of manipulating his parents to get the result that he wanted is surely commendable. But in Corona’s case, a commendation is not in order for one simple reason: he’s chief justice of the Philippines, not some bratty boy.
To make our analogy fit more closely, we can add one detail to the story of the boy with the messy room: the parents are the progressive kind that would respect their children’s privacy, allowing them to not only keep the doors locked but also to keep the bedroom keys. For the parents to check whether the chore has been done, the boy would have to unlock his room to reveal it.
In this version of the boy story, the parents don’t know whether any of the rooms is messy, which is why they wanted to find out. The boy is still grounded for the summer, with big brother in camp, and the revelation of a clean room would grant him his freedom. All he has to do is unlock his door.
But the boy, despite all that he could gain from such a simple action, refused to do so unless his big brother faced the music of a possibly messy room with him. Tell me. Do you think little CJ has a clean room?
Note: I think little CJ’s room is messy — and so is big brother’s — but this is my personal opinion; the Filipino Freethinkers do not have an official position on the Corona trial.
Posted on 27 February 2012.
When Senator-Judge Enrile (still our hypothetical presiding officer) is asked about it, he explains that like the other Senators, he, too, was convinced that Corona should be convicted. However, Enrile explains, conviction was impossible.
Why? Because if Corona is guilty, it would mean that Ex-President Arroyo made a mistake in appointing him Chief Justice. And if Arroyo made a mistake, it means that presidents aren’t perfect. And if presidents aren’t perfect, then democracy is doomed. Therefore, Corona is not guilty.
Unless you are a Corona cultist, you’d think that such a verdict is insane. Corona himself would admit guilt instead of letting such a mockery of the legal system stand. (OK, maybe not.) In any case, you’ll surely admit that no one would find such insanity reasonable.
Yet many find insanity reasonable when done in the name of religion. This is what happened when Pope Paul VI confirmed that contraceptives were evil.
In the early 60s, many Catholics started suspecting the innocence of an old teaching: the evil of contraception. They expressed dissent so strongly that Pope John XXIII (and later Pope Paul VI) formed a commission to investigate the original teaching’s innocence, so to speak.
After 6 years on trial, the commission reached their verdict:
The commission had found evidence — from Scripture and Tradition to Science and Experience — to conclude that the original teaching on contraception was wrong; contraception was not always evil.
The commission submitted their official report, and Pope Paul VI agreed with it — contraceptives were not inherently evil. I emphasize “official report” because a small group of conservatives unofficially submitted what is now called (mistakenly) the minority report. Regardless of its official standing, the other report contained the argument that changed the Pope’s mind.
While the official report was comprehensive and complex — arguing from different perspectives, providing both traditional and modern evidence — the other report was simple and single-minded. It relied primarily on an old (yet relatively recent) Catholic teaching: that Popes can’t be wrong when it comes to faith and morals because Jesus magically protects them from the mere possibility.
All the rational and scientific arguments of the official report were trumped by the other one’s appeal to the miraculous. And the writers of the unofficial report were unashamed of resorting to this defense:
If we could bring forward arguments which are clear and cogent based on reason alone, it would not be necessary for our Commission to exist, nor would the present state of affairs exist in the Church… The Church could not have erred through so many centuries, even through one century, by imposing under serious obligation very grave burdens in the name of Jesus Christ, if Jesus Christ did not actually impose these burdens.
As one minority member put it, if the original teaching is wrong, what will happen to all those Catholic souls the Church previously sent to Hell ? To this a member of the majority had the perfect response: “Father Zalba, do you really believe that God has carried out all your orders?”
Pope John Paul II, then a Cardinal who was also part of the conservative minority, argued as follows:
If it should be declared that contraception is not evil in itself, then we should have to concede frankly that the Holy Spirit had been on the side of the Protestant churches in 1930 (when the encyclical Casti Connubii was promulgated), in 1951 (Pius XII’s address to the midwives), and in 1958 (the address delivered before the Society of Hematologists in the year the pope died). It should likewise have to be admitted that for a half century the Spirit failed to protect Pius XI, Pius XII, and a large part of the Catholic hierarchy from a very serious error.
This would mean that the leaders of the Church, acting with extreme imprudence, had condemned thousands of innocent human acts, forbidding, under pain of eternal damnation, a practice which would now be sanctioned. The fact can neither be denied nor ignored that these same acts would now be declared licit on the grounds of principles cited by the Protestants, which popes and bishops have either condemned or at least not approved.
When he became pope, he explained why infallibility was crucial to Catholicism:
I am convinced that the doctrine of infallibility is in a certain sense the key to the certainty with which the faith is confessed and proclaimed, as well as to the life and conduct of the faithful. For once this essential foundation is shaken or destroyed, the most basic truths of our faith likewise begin to break down.
In short, the conservatives used logic similar to that of our hypothetical Corona case:
Of course, other arguments were used in the so-called minority report. But those were the same arguments that had already been refuted by the commission. In the end, infallibility was the only argument left unanswered.
To this day, the Catholic Church still stands by its anti-contraceptive stance, and on the doctrine of infallibility that defended it. If the same kind of insane defense were to clear Corona’s name, an EDSA III would not be unlikely. Although surveys show that many Filipinos have already lost interest, I’m sure such an attack on common sense would motivate even the most apathetic to action.
Regardless of how the actual impeachment trial turns out, Filipinos should already be thankful for one thing: our public officials — unlike Catholic doctrines — are impeachable.
Posted on 15 February 2012.
Sin number 1: My productivity is much diminished these days because I am addicted to watching the impeachment. Every boring detail. I seethe at every bone-headed move by the prosecution, at every legal victory of the defense. I think Juan Ponce Enrile is a vampire. He can’t be that good. Especially as I hated him during martial law. I think Serafin Cuevas is brilliant. But I don’t like his bombastic oratorical style. It reminds me of all those men thundering at us during the dictatorship, chief among them, macho Marcos himself.
And so, I am now in search of my ideal man, one with the soft rhetorical style of Neil Tupas and the competence of Cuevas. My ideal man would have argued that nothing prevents the Senate from conducting the impeachment more like a fact finding mission or a truth commission and less like a court.
Sin number 2: I am obsessed with the reproductive health (RH) bill and see connections between the impeachment efforts and the effort to pass the RH bill. I may have imbibed the conspiracy theory paranoia of the religious fanatics who keep claiming pro-RH people are drug company and imperialist lackeys.
I hope that Renato Corona is convicted. (Parenthetically, those who accuse me of not abiding by the rule, “innocent until proven guilty” are to be condemned to 20-minute tongue lashings by Miriam Defensor Santiago. That rule is meant to regulate the police power of the state. It was not meant to substitute for individual discernment and not meant to prevent the social disgrace of scoundrels. Taking that rule out of context would mean that citizens should not be concerned with graft and corruption since very few people get convicted anyway.) I believe Corona is an ally of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who would uphold all her leanings including her refusal to pass an RH bill during her term. It was during GMA’s term that the Supreme Court junked the petition of 20 affected women to invalidate Lito Atienza’s egregious order banning contraceptives in Manila. From the anti-RH camp, even from some of the legislators we hear it often: “if the bill passes we will take it to the Supreme Court”. They say it with confidence.
So, long before the impeachment, I knew something had to be done to uphold the independence of the Supreme Court. It must be freed not just from GMA’s influence, but also from the unholy alliance of the Catholic Church and GMA.
The GMA-Catholic Bishop’s Conference of the Philippines connection on the RH bill has bothered me endlessly. Ricky Carandang decided to resign from the Catholic Church when he was still a journalist. He had interviewed CBCP’s Melvin Castro who, in so many words, said it would not condemn a corrupt politician as much as it would condemn a pro- RH one.
Thus I was not surprised when the Bishops agreed to mediate the escalating war of Pres. Aquino against Chief Justice Corona. The rest of the nation was going, “go, go, go Pnoy!!!!” while the CBCP was admonishing towards dialogue.
And so, while the CBCP called rallies against the corruption of Pres. Estrada, the Pontifical University of Sto. Tomas gave Corona a PhD in a manner I would describe as “wala lang.” Asked whether the CJ had earned his degree properly like the rest of us plodders, the public got less than satisfactory answers, and an argumentum ad hominem against Marites Vitug.
“To everything there is a season” according to Ecclesiastes. Except that while most of us are in the season of justice and retribution— the CBCP is in the winter of contradictory morality.
I am thinking, if the RH bill finally comes to a vote, all this tension between Pnoy and the CBCP would lessen. I am thinking, that for the sake of my Catholic friends, perhaps the Church no longer needs to go on its moral fugues once we can unstick the RH bill from its craw.
Sin number 3: I am guilty of extreme pettiness. I am upset at Corona’s cooptation of the color purple. Those who consider him innocent him are asked to wear purple. He just made my wardrobe defunct. My cabinets are full of purple things because, dear Chief Justice, THAT HAS BEEN THE COLOR OF PRO-RH ADVOCATES. As my friend and colleague Jonas Bagas says, “kung dilaw ka, dapat purple ka rin.”
Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a fellow of AER. She is a medical doctor and a PhD in Psychology. It would be her pleasure as an official of the University of the Philippines to show to Marites Danguilan Vitug the written rules and guidelines for attaining these degrees at the time these were conferred in order to remove any doubt that she earned them on her own merits.
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