Debate on Article 2: what could happen at today’s caucus

Purple S. Romero
Senate may choose to let evidence on alleged ill-gotten wealth be presented first

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate is set to tackle one of the most contentious issues raised so far in the impeachment trial against Chief Justice Renato Corona: whether they would entertain prosecution allegations on Corona’s ill-gotten wealth.

The defense has argued that the issue of ill-gotten wealth is not a proper component of Article 2 of the impeachment complaint, which states that Corona failed to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

The prosecution has insisted that that the stipulated accusation is covered by Article 2. The prosecution argued that Corona, given his salary as a sitting magistrate, could not afford high-end condominiums in premium locations such as Taguig and Makati. The prosecution argued that Corona’s purported failure to disclose other sources of income in his SALN falls under Article 2.

On Tuesday, January 24, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said that they could resolve the issue in a caucus to be held before the resumption of the trial the following day. 

Allow evidence to be shown

This is what could happen in the caucus, according to Ateneo School of Government Dean Antonio La Viña: the senators could vote to allow the presentation of evidence without prejudice to their ultimate decision on whether the question of if ill-gotten wealth is covered by Article 2 or not. 

La Viña echoed what Santiago earlier said in the trial on January 24, that the senator-judges, barring technicalities and stringincies in ordinary judicial proceedings, could just admit evidence and later rule if these are sufficient or not to let the allegations of ill-gotten wealth stand.  

“The liberal styles of admission of evidence is justified,” La Viña said.

The prosecution plans to include Corona’s income tax returns – analyzed vis-a-vis his SALN – as evidence that he accumulated ill-gotten wealth as a magistrate of the highest court of the land. Revenue commissioner Kim Henares is expected to testify before the impeachment court and submit the income tax returns on January 25.

He added that if the “evidence is meaningful, then that would have a bearing on the case.” Otherwise, the senator-judges could just decide after all pieces of evidence have been presented that the allegations of ill-gotten wealth do not hold water. 

He added that the incorporation of ill-gotten wealth into Article 2 or alleged non-disclosure of SALN would be ruled on separately. “You rule on it as a ground at the end,” he said.

Amend information

On the other hand, lawyer Trixie de los Angeles said the Senate could also do one of the following:

a. strike out the allegation of ill-gotten wealth, if found insufficient to form a charge

b. order the prosecution to amend the information or complaint

c. rule that allegation of ill-gotten wealth is reasonably contained in the charges

De los Angeles added that the prosecution could also file a motion to amend the information. She explained that in criminal proceedings, for example, the information could be amended to have the charges changed from homicide to murder if circumstances warrant such.

La Viña, however, said that an amendment “is a new ground” already, hence, the prosecution would be forced to go back to square one – have the amended complaint signed by lawmakers again and submitted to the Senate thereafter. This however, is prohibited already as ruled by the SC in 2003 because only one impeachment complaint could be filed against the same official in a year. – Rappler.com