by Ma. Lyra Villaruel

Re: LETTER OF MRS. MA. CRISTINA ROCO CORONA REQUESTING GRANT OF RETIREMENT, AM No. 20-07-10-SC, 2021-01-12

Facts:

After a heavily-publicized trial, the Senate declared Chief Justice Corona unfit to hold such a lofty position and removed him from his office due mainly to his act of non-declaration of his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN). The Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, so declared in its final judgment on May 29, 2012:

No objection or a motion for reconsideration was interposed against the judgment of the Senate. Having been dishonorably stripped of his public office and having undergone a most difficult and stressful trial, the Chief Justice's health quickly deteriorated culminating to his death on April 29, 2016.

The widow of the Chief Justice, Mrs. Corona, now pleads for judicial benevolence.

In a letter dated July 13, 2020 now docketed as A.M. No. 20-07-10-

In a letter dated July 13, 2020 now docketed as A.

-SC, Mrs. Corona asserts, albeit unseeking of its reversal, that the Senate judgment removing the Chief Justice from office should be voided for insufficiency of evidence and noncompliance with Section 14, Article VIII of the Constitution.

After the judgment of impeachment was announced on May 29, 2012, tax evasion charges,[32] criminal cases for perjury,[33] administrative complaints for violation of the RA 6713 of the Code of Conduct of Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and a civil case for forfeiture[34] were slapped against Chief Justice Corona in 2014.

These charges, however, were terminated upon his demise.

Issues:

Before the Court is the supplication for the grant of post-employment and survivorship benefits of Ma. Cristina Roco Corona (Mrs. Corona), as the spouse of former Chief Justice Renato C. Corona.

whether retirement benefits, other gratuities, and survivorship pension should be accorded to Mrs. Corona as the spouse of the late Chief Justice Corona despite the latter's ouster by impeachment.

Ruling:

The Court grants the plea of Chief Justice Corona's widow.

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

The working tenets of this case bear tireless repetition. A respondent in impeachment proceedings does not risk forfeiture of the constitutional rights to life, liberty, or property.[

Having been removed by the Congress from office with a lifetime ban from occupying any and all future public posts, but without a proper determination of or even a basis for any recoverable liability under the law due to causes beyond his control, Chief Justice Corona may be considered involuntarily retired from public service.

The requirements are straightforward and have all been satisfactorily complied with by the late Chief Justice. Mrs. Corona recalled her husband's legal career in this wise:

Indeed, the administrative penalty of dismissal shall carry with it the inherent disabilities of cancellation of eligibility, forfeiture of retirement benefits, and the perpetual disqualifications for re-employment in the government service

The following accessory penalties of disqualifications from exercise of political rights, civil interdiction, indemnification, forfeiture or confiscation of instruments and proceeds of the offense, and payment of costs also flow from the criminal convictions of public officers.[44] Article 30(4) of the Revised Penal Code is clear on this: "loss of all right to retirement pay or other pension for any office formerly held" is expressly mentioned as one of the effects of the penalty of perpetual or absolute disqualification. The disparities between the salaries received and the declarations made in a SALN may be considered evidence of ill-gotten wealth during the declarant's incumbency if properly proven in a civil case for forfeiture.

However, whether criminal, civil, or administrative, no court imposed any such liability upon the late Chief Justice. Impeachment is only preparatory to liability.

Since a removal by impeachment does not explicitly provide for forfeiture as a consequence thereof, as opposed to a criminal conviction carrying the penalty of perpetual or absolute disqualification, an impeached official, like former Chief Justice Corona, cannot be deprived of his retirement benefits on the sole ground of his removal.

The same benefits are granted as to justices who have not attained the 20-year service requirement but are compulsorily retired upon reaching the age of 70 years, or were forced to retire due to illness or other causes beyond their control.

The enactment of R.A. No. 9946 in 2010 introduced more changes to R.A. No. 910, more importantly the amendments to benefits granted to the surviving spouses of justices and judges: (1) Retirement Benefits; (2) Death Benefits; (3) Lump Sum Retirement Benefits; (4) Survivorship Pension Benefits; and (5) Automatic Pension Adjustment,... Mere eligibility for optional retirement at the time of death, not actual retirement, suffices to grant survivorship benefits upon the bereaved surviving spouse of a deceased magistrate.

Principles:

The House of Representatives accuses and the Senate, sitting as an Impeachment Court, decides

The effects of a judgment on animpeachment complaint extendsno further than to removal fromoffice and disqualification fromholding any public office.

The ultimate goal was to refine and make effective the separation of powers.[8]

By sharply distinguishing a criminal prosecution from an impeachment, the Framers had made it clear that impeachment is not the means intended to redress and punish offenses against the state, but rather a mere political safeguard designed to preserve the state and its system of laws from internal harm.

The 1987 Philippine Constitution:ARTICLE XIAccountability of Public Officers... x x x xSECTION 2. The President, the Vice-President, the Members of the Supreme Court, the Members of the Constitutional Commissions, and the Ombudsman may be removed from office, on impeachment for, and conviction of, culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust. All other public officers and employees may be removed from office as provided by law, but not by impeachment. (Emphasis supplied.)SECTION 3. (1) The House of Representatives shall have the exclusive power to initiate all cases of impeachment.x x x x

(7) Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than removal from office and disqualification to hold any office under the Republic of the Philippines, but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to prosecution, trial, and punishment according to law.

Father Bernas elucidated on the matter:The object of the process is not to punish but only to remove a person from office.

It touches neither his person nor his property, but simply divests him of his political capacity." Put differently, removal and disqualification are the only punishments that can be imposed upon conviction on impeachment.

No legally actionable liability attaches to the public officer by a mere judgment of impeachment against him or her, and thus lies the necessity for a separate conviction for charges that must be properly filed with courts of law.

The nature and effect of impeachment proceedings is so limiting that forum shopping or alleged violation of the right against double jeopardy could not even be successfully invoked upon the institution of the separate complaints or Information.

Thus, forum shopping exists with the concurrence of the following elements: (a) identity of parties, or at least such parties as represent the same interests in both actions; (b) identity of rights asserted and reliefs prayed for, the relief being founded on the same facts; and (c) the identity of the two preceding particulars, such that any judgment rendered in the other action will, regardless of which party is successful, amounts to res judicata in the action under consideration.[

Res judicata refers to the rule that a final judgment or decree on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction is conclusive of the rights of the parties or their privies in all later suits on all points and matters determined in the former suit.[26] Impeachment being sui generis, its final culmination, whether a dismissal or a conviction, would not constitute res judicata for the basic reason that the principle of res judicata does not find application in purely political processes.

The criminal law principle of double jeopardy also finds no application against an impeached public officer.

An impeached public officer whosecivil, criminal, or administrativeliability was not judiciallyestablished may be consideredinvoluntarily retired from service.

Retirement is the termination of one's own employment or career, especially upon reaching a certain age or for health reasons.[35] To retire is to withdraw from one's position or occupation, or to conclude one's active working life[36] or professional career.

Old age is the usual ground that retires one from work. It is not, however, the sole reason therefor.

Retirement then may be voluntary or involuntary.

An impeached public officer whose civil, criminal, or administrativeliability was not judiciallyestablished is entitled to theretirement benefits provided underRAs 9946 and 8291.

a judgment of liability in a separate legal proceeding is a resolutory condition after a verdict of ouster by impeachment has been rendered, in that the impeached official retains all the post-employment privileges already earned unless otherwise declared by the competent tribunals.

Until his liability under the law is so established before the courts of law, retirement eligibility and benefits have properly accrued to Chief Justice Corona when he was removed by impeachment on May 29, 2012. There being no such determination of liability, his entitlement thereto subsisted.

Retirement laws are liberally construed and administered in favor of the persons intended to be benefited, and all doubts are resolved in favor of the retiree to achieve their humanitarian purpose.[45] One such humanitarian purpose is to provide financial means once life continues on but without a salary to support the retiree and his/her family.

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