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Philippines chief justice ousted by senators

According to Filipino senators, Chief Justice Renato Corona was voted out of his post Tuesday for not declaring millions of dollars in bank accounts.

By Hrvoje HranjskiAssociated Press / May 29, 2012

In this Jan. 16 file photo, beleaguered Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona acknowledges a crowd of mostly lawyers shortly after addressing them at a flag-raising ceremony, at the Supreme Court in Manila.

Bullit Marquez/AP/File

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Manila

Senators fired the Philippines' Supreme Court chief justice Tuesday 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.

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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, while prosecutors argued the constitution mandates a full declaration of assets for someone in his position.

Corona is considered fired and barred from public office after senators voted 20 to 3 to convict him on charges of betraying public trust and violating the constitution.

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.

Reacting to his conviction, Corona said that he was innocent and that "bad politics' prevailed in his trial. But he suggested he was ready to accept his fate.

"I have not committed any wrong," he said, but added that "if this will be for the country's good, I am accepting the difficulties we're going through."

The nationally televised, five-month-long proceedings gripped the nation like a soap opera, with emotional testimony, 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 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 the fourth grade 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 Filipinos.

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