Thursday, December 16, 2010

Betrayal of Public Trust

Ten years ago on 07 December 2000, at the opening of the Impeachment Trial of Pres. Joseph Ejercito Estrada which was presided over by the Supreme Court Chief Justice & with the Senators as judges, Congressman Raul M. Gonzalez gave an opening speech as one of the lead prosecutors of the House of Representatives. Below are excerpts:
"Your Honors, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, President of the Philippines, willfully, consciously & maliciously violated his sacred oath by his acts of bribery, graft & corruption, betrayal of public trust & culpable violation of the Constitution.
"I am assigned together with Cong. Oscar Rodriguez, to prove that Pres. Estrada betrayed public trust....
"The Senate will have the singular privilege, never tested in our nation’s history, which hopefully future generations of Filipinos will read with pride, to show that during the 11th Congress the Senate rose to the occasion &, guided only by duty, conscience & truth, left partisan loyalties behind & decided against the President on the basis of evidence that established guilt.
"None of us in this hallowed hall relishes the task before us. But we did not choose to be involved in such reckless & unbridled misconduct of which Pres. Estrada is accused. It is thus duty, though a painful one, to find judgment against the President. Indeed, the impact of the Constitution must be felt: if the President has committed any or all of these charges against him, the Constitution & our people must be served. Hence we are here to do our respective duties: we, to present the case against Pres. Estrada, & you, to rule under your best lights....
"On Sept. 6, 1999, Pres. Estrada ordered a quasi-judicial agency, insulated by law from political pressure & influence, to desist from performing its legitimate function. He issued a directive to the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) to prevent one of its departments from conducting investigations without prior clearance from the Commission en banc.
"Pres. Estrada’s crony businessman, Dante Tan, became owner of the controlling stocks of a company called BW Resources Corporation at a time when the stock price of the said company was undergoing a surge never before seen in the history of the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE).
"In January 1999, the price of a BW share was about two pesos (P2.00). By Oct. 10, 1999, the price surged to a high of P107.00 per share. When Dante Tan first bought BW shares in 1998, the price was only 80 centavos per share. BW shares rose from the 16th most heavily traded stock in the PSE in January 1999 to the 1st among the top twenty companies by June 1999 with a total value turnover of P7,139,972,175.00.
"Later, the PSE would report that Dante Tan earned a profit of some P820 million from January to May 1999 alone. By October 1999, the total value turnover of BW shares was P20,619,175,725.00, a record that will not likely be surpassed decades into the future!
"After Oct. 10, 1999, the price of BW shares underwent an abrupt & ignominious fall within a week. BW share price plunged to a low of P22.00 per share.
"These dramatic events of course alarmed responsible officials of the PSE & the SEC, which oversees the former. Both bodies undertook separate investigations that necessarily examined whether the meteoric rise & fall in the price of BW shares was dictated by market forces or by illegal schemes of manipulation by stock traders & others persons.
"While these investigations were being carried out, Pres. Estrada made several questionable phone calls to the heads of both institutions & made representations in favor of Dante Tan. Through not so subtle suggestions, the President applied pressure on the chiefs of the PSE & the SEC to shield Dante Tan from any unfavorable findings that the said agencies might come up with. The President would constantly remind these officers that Dante Tan was his friend.
"'Dante Tan is the victim, not the culprit,' the President would repeatedly say, like a mantra, in these calls. The President interfered with the discharge of the duties of these officials by repeatedly suggesting the exoneration of Dante Tan.
"When the investigations were concluded, all evidence that the PSE & SEC had gathered pointed to the culpability of Dante Tan for insider trading & price manipulation. Pres. Estrada said that Dante Tan was a victim. The evidence showed that Dante Tan was the culprit. The President showed interest in Tan’s immediate exoneration & obstructed the course of justice. Why? Did he have, as evidence seems to suggest, pecuniary interest in BW Resources which went beyond mere cronyism?
"It will be noted that both the PSE & the SEC reports were partial & incomplete, in the sense that the reports did not cover all individuals & persons who might have been involved in the illegal transactions, or benefited therefrom, but were confined to a few brokers. The President’s obstruction of justice prospered because he succeeded in cutting short the investigations, in striking fear in the SEC & PSE officials. He succeeded in confining the reports to incomplete results. He succeeded in covering possible damning evidence against himself, his mistress Guia Gomez, his favorite son JV Ejercito & his other relatives & friends.
"In a country where a majority of the people live in abject poverty, while a small middle class struggle to survive, allowing the few to amass billions of pesos in profits through manipulative schemes further widens the disparities between the few rich and the many poor.
"Stock price manipulation & insider trading seem sophisticated & technical when compared with joblessness, hunger & displacement from farm lands, which are all concrete symptoms of a deep crisis that the President exacerbates by staying in office & imposing himself upon a nation that has withdrawn confidence in his administration & policies.
"I pray to God that our labors, as mandated by the Constitution, will bear fruit that the nation will accept. Let it not end up like a reminder from Phaedrus’ fables: 'A mountain was in labor, sending forth dreadful groans, and there was in the region the highest expectation. After all, it brought forth a mouse.'
"Permit me to close my piece by quoting a noted authority in Constitutional Law:
'It is now, we believe, considered that impeachment is not confined alone to acts which are forbidden by the Constitution. The better sustained & modern view is that, the provision for impeachment applies not only to high crimes & misdemeanors but also to those which are not defined as criminal but which affect the public welfare. Thus, an official may be impeached for offenses of a political character & for gross betrayal of public interests...for a breach of public duty by malfeasance or maleficence, including conduct such as drunkenness, when habitual or in the performance of official duties, gross indecency, profanity, obscenity, or other language used in the discharge of an official function which tends to bring the office into disrepute.' (W.W. Willoughby)
"Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. Thank you honorable members of this impeachment tribunal. God bless the Philippines."