Top Philippine judge fired for not declaring $2.4M
Senators fired the Philippines' Supreme Court chief justice for failing to declare $2.4 million in bank accounts in a politically colored trial that has reinvigorated President Benigno Aquino III's campaign to clean up the government.
Chief Justice Renato Corona was appointed by Aquino's predecessor, who is under hospital arrest in a vote-rigging case, and he has called the effort to oust him a threat to democracy. He said his omission was not an impeachable offense and that a 1974 bank privacy law protects foreign deposits from disclosure.
Corona is considered fired and barred from public office after senators voted 19 to 3 to convict him on charges of betraying public trust and violating the constitution. The last speaker, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, was still due to vote Tuesday.
Corona testified last week that it wasn't only him who is on trial and challenged all 188 lawmakers who impeached him to disclose their dollar accounts - but there were few takers.
The nationally televised 5-month-long proceedings gripped the nation like a soap opera with emotional testimonies, political grandstanding and a sideshow family drama.
Prosecutors, most of whom are Aquino's allies from the lower House of Representatives, argued that Corona concealed his wealth and offered "lame excuses" to avoid public accountability.
Corona said that he had accumulated his wealth from foreign exchange when he was still a student. Rep. Rodolfo Farinas, one of the prosecutors, ridiculed the 63-year-old justice, saying he "wants us to believe that when he was in grade four in 1959 he was such a visionary that he already started buying dollars."
"It is clear that these were excuses and lies made before the Senate and the entire world," Farinas said in Monday's closing arguments, adding that Corona had declared in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth less than 2 percent of what he actually owned.
Addressing not only the senators but a public hungry for transparency in a country where corruption is endemic, the rich and powerful rarely prosecuted and a third of the population of 94 million lives on $1 a day, prosecutors sought to discredit Corona's defense with references to a lifestyle beyond the means of most of the people.