The Prosecution believes it has a slam dunk.
It claims the discrepancy between the CJ’s confirmed bank balances (excluding his dollar accounts and whatever else) and his SALNs (in 2010 the gap was P28 MM) is sufficient to convict him on Article 2. It is so convinced it is shortening its presentation on the other Articles.
I would not be so sure.
The Defense has still to formally present its side. It might go something like this:
In 2001 Basa-Guidote Enterprises, Inc (BGEI), a company supposedly owned by the CJ’s wife Cristina, received P34.7 MM as settlement from land expropriated by the City of Manila. Cristina’s family is disputing the ownership of the company. To protect the company’s cash from her relatives, Cristina parked the money with her husband. The funds were spread over various bank accounts to further fire-wall them. When the CJ was impeached on Dec. 12 2012, as trustee she withdrew the funds as these might be jeopardized by the trial.
Since he was holding the money “in trust for BGEI”, the CJ did not report it in his SALNs. The funds were “off-balance sheet” items that do not require disclosure. Banks do this when recording (or, more precisely, not recording) funds held in trust for clients.
The CJ allegedly borrowed P 11 MM from the “BGEI trust funds” in the early 2000’s to acquire some properties. He disclosed this liability in his SALNs, proof the BGEI money was separately accounted for. The BGEI loan was repaid over time. The profits from his real estate explains his increase in net worth and bank balances over the years.
The CJ did not report his wife’s shares in BGEI because this was still the subject of litigation.
The Prosecution argues the CJ undervalued his real estate properties. The Defense will claim this is just an accounting issue that does not amount to a high crime.
If the Defense can convince enough Senators of this story of sorts, Article 2 is not a foregone conclusion. Many of them, particularly the seven non-Administration lawyers in the group, will require a high standard of wrongdoing to convict. Lawyers will be lawyers.
For the Prosecution to lock down its case, it must present incontrovertible evidence the CJ’s true assets far, far exceed what he has reported. Specifically, it needs to prove the over $700,000 that it claims is in the CJ’s dollar accounts; but this is currently under the SC’s TRO.
The Prosecution still has seven other charges to go but right now it should not assume a done deal. It still needs further drop dead evidence and, most important, public support. The latter is not evident.
Despite all the Prosecution’s revelations and P-Noy’s exhortations, the Filipino seems nonplussed. Why is the public not openly engaged? Here are some possibilities:
One, the Defense has, as is its duty, done a good job of landmining the Prosecution.
Two, the Prosecution has not presented a consistent, simple and compelling message that people can relate to. It often gets lost in the trees. The President is actually better at telling the story.
Three, the trial is starting to bore the country.
Four, P-Noy is doing too good a job as President.
The average Filipino is not overly concerned whether the CJ gets impeached or not. Unlike Erap’s, this trial is not about the Presidency. It is just a spectacle that does not in his mind affect his daily life. His priorities are feeding his family and educating his kids. Even at his best, the Chief Justice has little to do with these. On the other hand, the President does and is seemingly doing well enough at it.
Ironically in a sense P-Noy is a reason people are not emotionally engaged with the impeachment. Whatever its outcome, the average man feels the President will take care of him.
Polls show the CJ is unpopular but unless evidence is presented that is so egregious, so in your face, the people will not take to the streets. This premise will be tested on Feb. 25 when a rally has been called to support the CJ’s impeachment.
Many ask what an acquittal will mean to the country. The good news is the nation is better off for the trial. Public officials will be more circumspect (if nothing else, on their SALNs).
The CJ could return to his post but this seems awkward; or he could resign. Whatever, he would be marginalized especially if Malacanang manages to get at least three Associate Judges to step down or move over, giving the Palace a SC majority.
The Palace will work to make the CJ a dead man walking.