SC grants ex-CJ Corona’s retirement pay via ruling

The Supreme Court has granted the plea of the family of ousted Chief Justice Renato Corona for the release of his retirement benefits and allowances after ruling that his ouster by the Senate—sitting as an Impeachment Tribunal—as chief magistrate in 2012 did not disqualify him and his widow from receiving them.

In an en banc decision dated January 12, the high court granted the request of Corona’s widow, Maria Cristina, to release the retirement benefits equivalent to a five-year lump sum of the salary and allowances he was receiving at the time of his removal on May 29, 2012.

“Chief Justice Renato Corona is hereby declared entitled to retirement benefits and other allowances under Republic Act No. 9946 equivalent to a five-year lump sum of the salary and allowances he was receiving at the time of his removal by impeachment on May 29, 2012,” the high court ruled.

After the impeachment hearing, 20 senators, representing at least two-thirds of all members of the Senate, found Corona guilty of the charge that he failed to declare his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, an impeachable offense, in May 2012.

Corona later faced several charges including tax evasion, perjury and violation of the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees as well as a forfeiture case.

However, these cases were terminated upon his death due to cardiac arrest on April 29, 2016.

“The effects of a judgment on an impeachment complaint extends no further than to removal from office and disqualification from holding any public office,” the high court ruled in granting the plea of Corona’s widow.

The decision written by Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando also said “an impeached public officer whose civil, criminal or administrative liability was not judicially established may be considered involuntarily retired from service.

“The Court deems Chief Justice Corona to have been involuntarily retired from public service due to peculiar circumstances surrounding his removal by impeachment, without forfeiture of his retirement benefits and other allowances.”

The high court noted that there had been no law mandating the automatic cancellation of Corona’s post-employment benefits and other privileges.

Corona served as an associate justice of the high court from April 9, 2002 until his appointment to the top judicial post in May 2010.

“The late Chief Justice practically lived and died a public servant and thus [was] entitled to retirement benefits, which the Court finds no rhyme or reason to withhold from him,” the high court said.

“Chief Justice Corona was not so sentenced by a judicial tribunal. No evidence in any quantum of acceptable evidence had ever been proffered before the regular courts of law to hold the former Chief Justice liable for acts or crimes that would warrant the automatic denial of his entitlement to the emoluments that has already justly accrued to his name.”

The high court also said the SALN of public officials and personnel should be viewed as a tool for public transparency and not as a “weapon for political vendetta.”

“The Filipino people live, toil and thrive in a democracy, but the rule of law should not stand parallel to the rule of the mob. Toe this line, and the nation may eventually behold the laws that the courts have forever sworn to uphold battered and bent,” the Court said.

The high court also cited the explanation of the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who said at the time that she adopted a “very high” standard of evidence when it came to impeachment because its penalty could ruin someone’s life.

“A staunch supporter against the removal of Chief Justice Corona, Senator Defensor Santiago phrased the unanswered question as a seeming rhetoric: “[d]oes omission in the SALN belong to the same class, as for example, treason, bribery…?” the high court said.

Legal observers linked Corona’s ouster to the high court decision in November 2011 that took away the ownership of the vast Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac from then President Benigno Aquino III’s relatives and placed the sugar estate under the government’s agrarian reform program.

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