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The horrible style of Article II

(Article published in the Feb 01,2012 issue of Manila Standard Today) 

The heading of Article II of the Impeachment Complaint against Chief Justice Renato Corona, in all caps and in bold, states: “RESPONDENT COMMITTED CULPABLE VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION AND/OR BETRAYED THE PUBLIC TRUST WHEN HE FAILED TO DISCLOSE TO THE PUBLIC HIS STATEMENT OF ASSETS, LIABILITIES AND NET WORTH AS REQUIRED UNDER SEC. 17, ART. XI OF THE 1987 CONSTITUTION.”

The body, on the other hand, has four paragraphs: Par. 2.1 recites Article XI, Section 17 of the Constitution; Par. 2.2 alleges failure “to disclose to the public his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth as required by the Constitution”; Par. 2.3 alleges that “it is reported that some of the properties of Respondent are not included in his declaration of assets, liabilities and net worth, in violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act; and Par. 2.4 asserts that “respondent is likewise suspected and accused of having accumulated ill-gotten wealth, acquiring assets of high values and keeping bank accounts with huge deposits.  It has been reported that Respondent has, among others, a 300-sq. meter apartment in a posh Mega World Property development at the Fort in Taguig.  Has he reported this, as he is constitutionally-required under Art. XI, Sec. 17 of the Constitution in his Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Networth (SALN)?  Is this acquisition sustained and duly supported by his income as a public official? Since his assumption as Associate and subsequently, Chief Justice, has he complied with this duty of public disclosure?”
 










     

Obviously, Article II was not drafted by one who took and passed the Legal Writing class I used to conduct at the Ateneo Law School when I, then young and full of hope, began teaching law. While an astute reader would have been able to discern, albeit with not a small measure of difficulty, the substance of what the excerpt was trying to say, still the writing style, if I may use the politically correct language now used in primary schools when evaluation cards are sent to parents for their signature at the end of grading periods, needs improvement.

All that Article II tried to say was that “Chief Justice Renato Corona, while associate justice and then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, illegally acquired wealth, consisting of high value real estate (e.g. 300-sq. meter apartment in a posh Mega World Property development at the Fort in Taguig) and bank accounts with huge deposits, all which could not be explained by his income as a public official.  He did not disclose his ownership of said assets in his SALN, contrary to what he was supposed to do under applicable law.  All these --illegal acquisition of the assets and not disclosing them in his SALN despite being legally obliged to do so-- indicate that he has betrayed the public trust and culpably violated the Constitution.”  Therefore, as the complaint concludes, Chief Justice Renato Corona ought to be removed from office.

In contrast to such straight forward narration, Article II went about its way in a circuitous manner.  Par 2.1 recites the law.  This is, at the very least, unnecessary since what is needed in a complaint is not statement of the law but of the facts. What the law is, rightly or wrongly, is supposed to be known by the judges.  What the judges need to be informed about (hence, the term “information” given by Section 4, Rule 110 of the Rules of Court to accusatory instrument that is subscribed by the prosecutor and filed with the court) are the facts constituting the offense being charged.  Telling the judge what the law is, in fact, courts the ire of the judge who might feel insulted by the unintended implication that he does not know (or has forgotten) the law, hence the need to tell him.

Par 2.2 is vague. The phrase “as required by the Constitution”, hanging there as it does at the end of the sentence, does not indicate whether what the writer means is that (a) there was no disclosure at all, despite the fact that disclosure is mandated by the Constitution, or (b) there was some disclosure but such disclosure was not in the manner that the Constitution mandated, or (c) there was a disclosure in the manner required by the Constitution but the disclosure was not made to the public but to some other entity or group.  Actually, not too many know that only for a select few officials (which include members of the Supreme Court) is the “disclosure to the public” of the SALN required by Article XI, Section 17, and that the manner by which such disclosure is made is to be laid out in a statute, hence the phrase, “in the manner provided by law.”

Par 2.3 is a narration of fact, alright; but the fact narrated by Par 2.3 is the fact of it being reported that some of Renato Corona’s assets were not included in his SALN.  The truth or falsity of the contents of report is not stated as a fact.  The mere fact, however, that there is a report does not ipso facto make what the report says true.  Hence, in that light, Par 2.3 is, in legalese, mere surplussage.

Par 2.4 takes the cake.  The first sentence, like Par 2.3 is factual only with respect to the fact of Chief Justice Renato Corona being “suspected and accused” of owning ill-gotten wealth, acquiring property of high value, and of maintening bank deposits, presumably containing ill-gotten money.  But Par 2.4 does not assert as a fact that the wealth was indeed ill-gotten. And instead of stating whether or not Chief Justice Renato Corona did in fact commit an act that was prohibited or omit an act that was required, the last three sentences pose questions instead.  The questions are rhetorical, sure; but rhetoric has no place in a complaint. 

          All told, if Article II were submitted to me by one of my early students as his or her work product, my obvious evaluation of its style would definitely result in the lowest mark of “5” and a suggestion that the writer consider shifting from law to journalism, major in, perhaps, column writing.

     

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