MANILA, Philippines – As one of them said, “It struck us as lighting.”
The ruling of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Tuesday, February 21, barring a prosecution witness from testifying and in the process admonishing the prosecutors—in very strong words—forced the team back to the drawing board.
Overnight, big decisions were made.
One, the team decided to drop charges related to the Article 3 of the impeachment complaint, which accuses Chief Justice Renato Corona of betrayal of public trust for allegedly committing actions that question his probity, integrity, and independence. These include questionable decisions issued by the High Tribunal on cases handled by lawyer Estelito Mendoza, such as the Philippine Airlines’s (PAL) labor dispute with its pilots.
“We have concluded the presentation of evidence yesterday with the [tender of excluded evidence] made by the private prosecutor yesterday in light of the ruling by this court that a pivotal witness may no longer testify,” prosecutor Giorgidi Aggabao told the court at the start of the trial on Wednesday, February 22.
The “pivotal witness” is PAL executive Enrique Javier, who was supposed to testify on the flight perks that Chief Justice Renato Corona received from PAL. Enrile said this was not alleged in the complaint.
Two, the lawmakers decided to end their silence on the supposed failure of senator-jurors to grant them “inter-parliamentary courtesy.”
“We are not trying to influence them (senator-jurors) to vote in our favor. No, that’s far from our mind. We agree to disagree, pero we have to maintain some modicum of respect. Iyan lang ang aming panawagan. Para na kaming mga hindi congressman nito eh, iyon lang,” said House majority floor leader Neptali Gonzales II.
“Masakit ho talaga sa amin yun. Ang feeling ng bawat miyembro ng prosecution. Sinampal ka na nga, tinadyakan ka pa habang nasa baba ka. Kasi sinabi na hindi ka na pwedeng magpresent ng ebidensya, sinabihan ka pa na bobo ka,” added prosecution spokesperson Juan Edgardo Angara. (Each member of the prosecution was hurt by what happened. We were not only told that we could not present evidence. We were also told that we’re stupid.)
In an obvious attack against the defense panel, Angara added: “Tinatanggap namin yun alang-alang sa respeto namin sa Senado. Ang mahalaga dito, hindi po kami iiyak sa Supreme Court. Hindi kami magsasabi ng mistrial. At hindi namin sasabihing tumanggap ang mga senador ng P100 million.” (We accept these decisions. At least we have no plans of going to the Supreme Court to seek relief, we don’t threaten a mistrial, and we don’t accuse senators of accepting P100-M bribes)
Wrap it up?
Third, there’s an initial discussion – a most crucial one – on whether or not to rest their case after Article 7. The impeachment court is now hearing Article 7.
If they decide to rest their case after Article 7, this would mean dropping the 5 other articles in the impeachment complaint and cut short the trial. Under this scenario, the defense can present their counter-arguments as early as the first week of March.
The prosecution panel has declared its confidence in presented evidence for Article 2, Corona’s alleged failure to declare his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
Various properties of the Chief Justice appeared undervalued. Corona’s 15 peso bank accounts with PSBank and one with Bank of the Philippine Islands were divulged, too. They showed that as of December 31, 2010, Corona had at least P19-million deposits but he only declared in his SALN P3.5 million in cash and investments.
What charges were dropped in Article 3? These are the allegations that:
1) The respondent created an excessive entanglement with Mrs. Arroyo through her appointment of his wife to office
Aggabao maintained the charges are important, but they decided to drop them for several reasons.
One, they want to avoid another tongue-lashing from Enrile.
“We cannot afford another rebuke from the impeachment body. Yesterday, we were turned down. If we were turned down again, it may not look good for the prosecution,” Aggabao said.
Two, they fear that the court will oppose them the way it opposed the testimony of the PAL executive.
And three, they want to shorten the trial.
For several days, the prosecution panel has been vocal about this. They’ve set a timeline to finish the trial before Congress takes a break for the Lenten Season
“It’s a decision we made and partly also to abbreviate because people are waiting. We are also sensitive to comments being made by the people that this has been dragging on,” said impeachment manager Rep. Jun Abaya.
Earlier, the prosecution panel was entertaining the option of submitting evidence through deposition. They can keep the other charges without having to call witnesses to the court. But Enrile also ruled against their moves to depose evidence.
It’s definitely not the first time that the prosecutors got strongly worded admonitions from senator-jurors over the supposed problems with their impeachment complaint.
They have been embarrassed many times before the court. In social media, the prosecution panel has been intensely criticized as inept.
Previously, the prosecutors would only complain quietly over the senators’ lack of “inter-parliamentary courtesy.” But on Wednesday, the team couldn’t keep quiet any longer.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr himself told the media before the trial started that Enrile’s ruling and his language to the congressmen hurt him.
Quimbo even recalled how Senator Miriam Santiago literally lectured on Niel Tupas Jr. on trial proceedings.
“It may sound funny for some but it’s not also proper when a member of Congress is treated like a student and is given a specific scolding in that manner. If there’s any positive intention, well and good… Members of Congress also have families. We are the least onion skinned hrere. Pero tingin natin meron din mga boundaries,” he said.
He lamented how the defense panel got a mere slap on the wrist for dragging the senator-jurors in bribery allegations and for questioning the very authority of the court when they filed before the Supreme Court a motion to stop the impeachment proceedings.
The prosecution would have wanted to pursue Corona’s supposed “unlawful use of judicial funds” because “that will resonate with the people.”
In an earlier request for subpoena, the prosecution claimed that Corona drew P100,000 from the Supreme Court funds to pay for his Christmas gifts, and reimbursed his barong worth P25,000 and a wedding gift worth about P60,000.
They already have the receipts for the barong and the wedding gift, but they need the SC auditor to show that Corona actually reimbursed them.
“We are sure there will be an argument. It clearly alleged in the complaint, but it was not alleged in the caption,” said Abaya. It will delay the trial, he added. – Rappler.com