Will Senate question SC TRO?

Ayee Macaraig
Senators may comply with the Supreme Court TRO on Corona’s dollar accounts but only for now.

URGENT CAUCUS. The Senate will decide in caucus what action to take on the TRO issued by the Supreme Court on the Corona dollar accounts. Photo by Voltaire Domingo / Senate pool

MANILA, Philippines – On the eve of a Senate caucus, lawyers of Chief Justice Renato Corona warned against senators defying the Supreme Court’s order stopping the release of information on their client’s dollar accounts. The defense team’s allegations of pressure and bribery from Malacañang have raised speculations on whether or not the Senate will follow the SC order.

But these are not the only options the impeachment court has. 

Constitutional Law professor and Inquirer columnist Raul Pangalangan outlines three scenarios for the Senate:

1)   outright defiance

2)   outright surrender

3)   complying with the TRO in the meantime

In a caucus Monday morning, February 13, the Senate will decide which action to take. Based on their pronouncements over the weekend, senators are keen only on options 2 and 3.

Option 3: Comply and question at the same time  

Critics of the temporary restraining order (TRO) revealed their plans to question it before the high court. Aquino ally Sen Franklin Drilon told the Inquirer that Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile authorized him to ask Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza to prepare to defend the impeachment court.

“We have the right to question it. We can’t just lie down and [sing] Alleluia,” said Drilon.

Drilon added that the Senate already gave the Office of the Solicitor General the records to help it prepare for a possible pleading.

The senator explained, “We can question the jurisdiction of the High Court while we are complying with the TRO.”

The issue of jurisdiction tops the agenda of the caucus. Drilon and fellow Liberal Party member Sen Francis Pangilinan believe the Supreme Court overstepped its authority in issuing the TRO because the Senate has the “sole power to try and decide all cases of impeachment.” This is provided for in Section 3, Article 11 of the Constitution which discusses accountability of public officers.

Drilon and Pangilinan echo the position of Malacañang. Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the Senate should not allow the Supreme Court to emasculate its orders, and to become its puppet.

SKIP DOLLARS? Senators can choose to comply with the TRO while it questions this before the Supreme Court. Photo by Senate pool

What happens if majority of the senators choose this option?

Professor Pangalangan wrote, “The senators will respect the TRO, halt the subpoena on foreign currency deposits, and explain to the Supreme Court why it has no jurisdiction to interfere in the Senate’s discharge of its role as the ‘sole power’ to try impeachment cases.”

Option 2: Just comply

For some senators, the debate is not even an issue. Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago, Joker Arroyo and Francis Escudero call on their colleagues to heed the order of the High Tribunal.

Ni hindi na nga dapat pagbotohan. Dapat automatic ‘yon kapag utos ng korte. Hindi naman tayo namimili ng desisyong susundin,” said Escudero on Friday. (We shouldn’t even vote on it. It should be automatic when the court orders so. We don’t choose which decisions to follow.)

Santiago, a former trial court judge, agreed. She said the Supreme Court has jurisdiction, and the power of the impeachment court is not absolute.

“One branch of government should not be superior. The impeachment court should not be exempted in the checks and balances. The Supreme Court can intervene because it is the supreme interpreter of the law under the Constitution,” Santiago said in media interviews. 

The senator’s stand, however, seems to contradict her past statements. In January, Santiago said the Supreme Court has “absolutely no role to play in this process.” She called the Senate “the High Court of Impeachment.” Watch here:

If the Senate decides not to question the TRO, Pangalangan said it may embolden the Supreme Court to expand the order and stop the trial altogether, possibly resulting in a new scenario.

Option 1: Total defiance

For now, none of the senators expressed any intention to totally defy the TRO. If this scenario happens, bank officials will be torn between the Senate and the Supreme Court.

Sen Alan Peter Cayetano said defiance may result in a constitutional crisis, with the Senate and the Supreme Court already clashing on the interpretation of banking laws.

Cayetano asked, “When does the power of the Senate and the SC overlap and when do they clash? It’s very hard to say.”

Cite Corona lawyers in contempt?

Whatever option the Senate will take, doubts are already cast on its decision due to a defense press conference Sunday night. Citing an anonymous source, defense lawyers said the Palace will release P100-M this week for each senator who votes to defy the TRO.

CONTEMPT? Senators will decide how to respond to the defense's allegations of bribery and pressure from Malacañang.

The reaction of many senators was fast and furious. One by one, they denied getting a call from Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa, and demanded that the defense reveal its source.

In a statement, Sen Panfilo Lacson said, “What the defense team said about the P100 million offer to the senator-judges is pure rubbish and nothing more.”

“It is unfair and even contemptuous to preempt the senators who have yet to discuss the matter in a caucus,” said Lacson.

WATCH OUT. Sen. Pia Cayetano reacts angrily to the defense's allegations in her Twitter account.

Senators will also discuss in caucus whether or not to hold the defense lawyers in contempt. The prosecution thinks the defense’s statement sets the stage for a walkout if the Senate votes to defy the TRO.

Yet it was not just the lawyers of Corona who questioned the credibility of the senator-judges. On Friday, the Chief Justice himself criticized some senator-judges for acting like prosecutors, and converting “what should be an adversary proceeding to nothing more than an inquisition.”  

With the Supreme Court now involved and the defense crying bribery, Monday’s caucus will be the Senate’s most urgent yet. – Rappler.com


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