MANILA, Philippines – On Day 23 of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Presiding Officer and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile declared for the first time, “We must remember that we are not trying a criminal case, we’re trying an impeachment case.”
As such, the impeachment trial need not hew to the stricter standards of criminal proceedings.
The trial is not strictly criminal in nature because, according to Enrile, “Although there’s a penalty, the only penalty is not loss of freedom or infliction of an economic burden, but the removal of the respondent from his position and his disqualification.”
The prosecution welcomed the ruling after several days of taking a beating.
Prosecution spokesperson Romero “Miro” Quimbo said, “We saw some light today with something we had always been arguing from the beginning, on the very nature of how an impeachment proceeding should be.”
“I’m very happy at what happened,” said deputy lead prosecutor Rep Rodolfo Fariñas. “The Senate President for the first time made it categorical this is not a criminal trial.”
The prosecution has maintained that the impeachment court is not akin to a criminal court.
Enrile’s statement came after the defense moved to strike out the testimony of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, a witness for the prosecution for Article 7. Article 7 accuses Corona of partiality to former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which constitutes betrayal of the public trust.
Lead counsel Serafin Cuevas said that De Lima was not present when the Supreme Court decided on the issuance of a temporary restraining order, allowing Arroyo to leave the country despite a Department of Justice watchlist order against her.
De Lima merely read to the court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s dissenting opinion.
Enrile, however, allowed De Lima’s testimony to stay on record. In his ruling, Enrile cited a book written by Harvard University law professor Raoul Berger, who has extensive knowledge on impeachment.
“The hearsay rule contained in the rules of evidence do not apply strictly in impeachment cases,” said Enrile. “It’s true that in a strictly criminal case, the hearsay rule is very strictly adhered to as a rule of evidence but not in an impeachment case.”
The prosecution team interpreted Enrile’s statement to mean proof beyond reasonable doubt is not necessary.
“Proof beyond reasonable doubt is not needed…just any proof that any of the judges are willing to accept,” said Quimbo.
The defense disagreed.
Defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno said that Enrile has not yet ruled on the type of quantum of evidence the court is looking for — whether it be proof beyond reasonable doubt, substantial evidence, or preponderance of evidence.
“What JPE said is that it isn’t a criminal procedure,” said Jimeno. “Wala pa yang kinalaman on what quantum of evidence is needed.” (It doesn’t have anything to do yet with what quantum of evidence is needed.)
Co-defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador III also emphasized that Enrile’s statement is not all encompassing.
“Ang tingin namin ay personal na opinion pa lamang iyan ng Senate President,” said Salvador. “Although hindi natin maaalis na 23 sila, may kanya kanyang view sila kung ano ang quantum ng evidence.”
(We believe that this is the personal opinion of the Senate President. Although there are 23 of them, they have their own individual views about the quantum of evidence needed.)
Salvador also said that the prosecution’s claims on having proven their charges beyond reasonable doubt, show that they themselves recognize that this is the standard needed to convict or acquit Corona.
He also said that even if De Lima only read Sereno’s dissenting opinion, she was allowed to testify as a form of “paggalang” or a sign of respect. – Rappler.com