Corona’s waiver challenge merits a closer look

first published on Blogwatch

In a suprising move, Chief Justice Renato Corona, speaking on the witness stand on Tuesday, said he would submit a signed waiverauthorizing agencies to probe and disclose all his peso and dollar accounts on condition that the 188 congressmen who hastily signed the impeachment complaint plus adminstration Senator Franklin Drilon would sign their waivers.

Corona may not be in the moral standing to pose such bold challenge. Up to day he took the witness stand, the chief magistrate failed to squarely answer all the allegations hurled against him. He instead indulged in a three-hour mix of diatribe, call for unity and personal story-telling which only further weakened his stance. Worse, he raised the challenge with the condition attached, and ended his opening statement with a walkout that brought the session hall into brief disarray.

But the waiver challenge is sensible and valid nonetheless. It merits a closer look.

The challenge at hand is actually an opportunity for the President Aquino and his allies to confer legitimacy to the impeachment process, which he said is part of the crusade for transparency and good governance. It is an opportunity to demonstrate his sincerity to expose the crooks and thieves in government, and to reassure the people’s trust in the trappings of “democracy” which he claims to uphold. That opening is ironically laid out by his nemesis, Chief Justice Corona.

As articulated by lawyer Jules Garcia Matibag of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL):

“If the signatories to the impeachment complaint (188 House members) and Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon (and even President Aquino) would execute a waiver of confidentiality for their peso and dollar accounts, as challenged by the Chief Justice, it would confer a solid sense of legitimacy to the impeachment trial — that prosecuting the Chief Justice is indeed a genuine effort towards transparency, accountabiliy and good governance.”

In fact, Aquino can expand the waiver challenge to cover all public officials – his Cabinet secretaries, other justices, even senator-judges and the Ombudsman – as a clear testament to his administration’s resolve to expose the corrupt in government. He can say that public officials will executive their waivers not as precondition for Corona’s waiver, but as an independent manifestation of their willingness to come under the banner of “Daang Matuwid”.

But quite oddly, President Aquino, who has consistently bannered transparency and good governance in his speeches, have yet to personally comment on Corona’s dare. We certainly miss his (snide) remarks on the sidelines of the impeachment trial. Now that a brilliant opportunity is there to initiate a simple yet concrete affirmation of his commitment to transparency, why is Aquino not taking the lead?

Perhaps he is aware that he failed to fulfill a campaign promise upon election into the highest post of the land. Barely three months before the 2010 elections, Aquino, along with two other presidentiables, pledged to waive his rights under the Bank Secrecy Law and disclose all his accounts to public if elected as president. That waiver is similar to what is being dangled by Corona sans the condition. Now, two years into his presidency, Aquino has yet to sign his waiver. You decide whose waiver qualifies more as a publicity stunt.

Some observers say that for public officials to execute a waiver is like biting into Corona’s ploy. But what grand scheme is there to save Corona from conviction? Will signing waivers really give Corona elbow room to execute more tricks? I don’t think so. The spotlight will not leave Corona even if the 189 lawmakers sign their waivers, especially now that judgment day looms. At this point, the waivers are already immaterial as far as Corona’s acquittal or conviction is concerned. As it appears, most of the senator-judges have already made up their mindson the case.

While the waivers are irrelevant to the verdict, they are nonetheless relevant to public interest. In fact, public officials should be urged to execute their waivers even after the impeachment trial. What’s in store for the people? Maybe bigger cans of worms. Maybe more tales of circituous money flows. Maybe more dizzying Powerpoint presentations that all attest that political power is intertwined with economic power. Maybe more dumbfounding figures of ill-gotten wealth of public officials which prove that bureaucrat capitalism, as national democrats call it, is still alive and kicking under President Aquino. And maybe, these are the reasons why our lawmakers are not keen on signing their waivers.

We can only presume based on their inaction. That is why public officials should open their accounts to the public in the spirit of transparency and public accountability. And no one else should be taking the bold lead other than the President, who has for so long brandished the sigil of the House of Daang Matuwid. Otherwise, we are merely paying respects to institutions teeming with hypocrites.

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