De Lima: Corona pushed for TRO favoring Arroyo

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima says she is troubled by the special role Corona played in issuing a TRO in favor of the Arroyos.

TROUBLED. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she was troubled by the special role Corona played in the TRO in favor of the Arroyos. Photo by Alex Nuevaespana/PRIB/Senate Pool

MANILA, Philippines – For Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Chief Justice Renato Corona played a special role to allow the Arroyo couple to escape charges.

De Lima’s testimony was the prosecution’s opening salvo for Article 7 on Wednesday, February 22.

Article 7 accuses Corona of betrayal of public trust through his partiality in granting a temporary restraining order in favor of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel to give them an opportunity “to escape prosecution and to frustrate the ends of justice.”

In explaining what she called Corona’s special role, De Lima cited incidents mentioned in the dissenting opinion of Supreme Court Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno dated Dec 13, 2011. Sereno is the first appointee of President Benigno Aquino III to the Supreme Court. (For more on the behind the scenes of the Arroyo TRO, read this.)

De Lima said there were 2 examples showing Corona’s special role:

1)   Corona supposedly confirmed the order of Justice Presbitero Velasco to the Supreme Court Clerk of Court not to promulgate Sereno’s dissenting opinion.

2)   Corona supposedly sent his handwritten corrections on the draft SC resolution on the Arroyos’ compliance with the conditions for the TRO. Corona’s version of the resolution said the Arroyos have complied with the conditions, contradicting the discussion in the SC en banc meeting. Corona ordered that his version be promulgated.

Masyado ho akong nabahala na may mga iregularidad at ‘yung mga aspetong nabanggit ko kanina, kagagawan ng Chief Justice,” De Lima told the impeachment court. (I was so troubled that there were irregularities and the aspects I mentioned were the acts of the Chief Justice.)

De Lima narrated the events leading to the issuance of the TRO. She argued that the order was improper because the Supreme Court should have first allowed the government to air its side, and the TRO made the issue moot as it allowed the Arroyos to leave the country.

The Supreme Court issued the TRO on November 15, 2011 on three conditions:

1)   that the Arroyos post a P2-M cash bond

2)   that the Arroyos appoint a legal representative common to both petitioners with the authority to receive legal summons

3)   that the Arroyos inform the embassy or consulate in their destination of their trip

Just hours later that same day, the Arroyos attempted to flee the country but immigration officials barred them upon De Lima’s orders.

The Cabinet Secretary, however, clarified that her knowledge of Corona’s role is based solely on Sereno’s dissent because she is not privy to Supreme Court deliberations.

The Impeachment’s Trigger

In an interview after the trial, De Lima said Article 7 is crucial to the trial.

Dapat maalala ng bayan na ito ang nag-umpisa, kung ano ang mga pangyayari sa consolidated cases na ‘yun, ito ang nag-trigger, proximate cause kung bakit naisip ng overwhelming majority ng House of Representatives na i-impeach ang Chief Justice.”

(The nation must remember that this is the beginning, what happened in the consolidated cases, this is the trigger, the proximate cause why an overwhelming majority of the House of Representatives impeached the Chief Justice.)

Prosecutor and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares told reporters that Article 7 is part of the bigger picture of Corona’s partiality to Arroyo.

Colmenares said Articles 1 and 3 also show instances of this bias: Corona’s voting pattern, and excessive entanglement through the appointment of Corona’s wife to the board of John Hay Management Corporation.

Corona’s lawyers, though, dismiss De Lima’s testimony as hearsay. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile still allowed De Lima to continue, saying the Senate will be able to sift through what is knowledge and hearsay evidence.

Article 3 down to FASAP case

Before the prosecution jumped to Article 7, prosecutors said they are dropping charges under Article 3 except for the case on the Supreme Court’s flip-flopping in the Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines (FASAP) case.

Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao, one of the prosecutors in charge of Article 3, told the court they will no longer pursue the charge on Corona’s excessive entanglement with Arroyo through his wife’s appointment in office, and discussing pending cases with litigants.

Aggabao said the decision was made after Enrile ruled to reject “a pivotal witness,” Philippines Airlines Vice President for Sales Enrique Javier.

Enrile made the ruling on day 21, saying Javier’s testimony is irrelevant because bribery was not alleged in the articles of impeachment.

Aggabao said the prosecution will instead submit a tender of excluded evidence.

The Rules of Court define a tender of excluded evidence as follows: “If documents or things offered in evidence are excluded by the court, the offeror may have the same attached to or made part of the record.”

Unpopular decision vs. impeachable offense

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano raised a question seeking to differentiate what he called an erroneous decision of the Supreme Court or one that people find disagreeable, and an impeachable offense.

Ang dali po kasing humusga dito kasi unpopular si President Arroyo eh …. As senator-judges, we have to make that legal distinction, hindi kami pwede kung anong popular lang, doon kami,” Cayetano said. (It’s easy to judge because President Arroyo is unpopular. As senator-judges, we have to make that legal distinction, we can’t just go with what is popular.)

In response, prosecutor and Deputy House Speaker Raul Daza said Corona’s actions and partiality to Arroyo went beyond an honest mistake to an impeachable offense, betrayal of public trust.

“Certain acts that are stated in the dissenting opinion of Justice Sereno would lend someone to the belief or the conclusion that all of these acts pieced together were synchronized in a manner as to enable to give the former President and her husband an opportunity to escape,” Daza said.

Daza added, “There will be a time for us to put everything together, to present a clear picture of partiality.” – Rappler.com