Defense: Lawmakers acted in ‘bad faith’

Natashya Gutierrez
The intense focus of the impeachment court on the '45 properties' is good news for the defense, who wanted to raise questions on the complaint since day 1

NO POSSESSION. The defense team says the Coronas should have first taken possession of The Columns unit for it to be considered theirs. File photo by Emil Sarmiento

MANILA, Philippines – It seems that the defense’s strategy has been successful.

Before the defense presented its evidence, defense counsel Ramon Esguerra told Rappler that an issue they wanted to hammer home was the impeachment complaint itself. (Read: The defense strategy)

The lawyers of Chief Justice Renato Corona maintain that the complaint is invalid, since it was railroaded by prosecutors, who did not read the verified complaint before signing it. They say it violates Corona’s right to due process.

Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile however prohibited further discussion on the complaint, saying it was too late to raise that concern, and such a debate would be irrelevant. 

But he did allow the presentation of Land Registration Authority (LRA) administrator Eulalio Diaz III, whom the defense called to the witness stand “to prove the motive, the bias, and the bad faith of the complainants.”

The prosecution opposed Diaz’s presentation, saying “the issue of probable cause has already been passed upon by this Honorable Court,” but Enrile turned the argument down and allowed the LRA chief to testify.

Invalid complaint

While the senator-judges harped on Diaz providing an inaccurate list of 45 properties Corona allegedly owned without first verifying it, another issue — perhaps a more crucial one — surfaced: the prosecution only sent the letter to LRA requesting for a list of properties in January.

This was after the prosecution had already filed its impeachment complaint.

And this was exactly what the defense wanted to reveal.

In the words of defense counsel Noel Lazaro before he presented Diaz, the witness would be able to show “that at the time the verified complaint was signed and transmitted to the honorable impeachment court, the complainants were still in the process of gathering evidence.”

The prosecution, however, denied the accusation.

Lead prosecutor Niel Tupas insisted they had known about the titles beforehand, specifically the Corona properties at Bellagio, McKinley, La Vista, Ayala Heights,  and the Columns. 

The list only confirmed it, he said. 

But when asked about why they announced the full list of 45 properties to the media if they had already known about it beforehand, prosecution spokesperson Miro Quimbo responded that it had done so in good faith, having trusted the LRA.

In cahoots with prosecution?

Infuriated senator-judges berated Diaz and the prosecution for the mistake, even implying that Diaz, a former classmate of President Benigno Aquino III and an Aquino appointee, was in cahoots with the prosecution.

Both Diaz and the prosecutors denied the allegation vehemently.

Defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador emphasized that the list and the revelations of Diaz raise questions on the integrity of the prosecution panel.

“If you will present a document, you should believe it completely, you should rely on it, you should be able to prove it thoroughly,” said Salvador in Filipino. “But if later on, it is revealed that there are errors, that affects the credibility of the document and not only the bringer of the news.”

Salvador’s co-spokesperson, Karen Jimeno, said it was clear that the impeachment complaint had political motives, and that the prosecution had no evidence to begin with when they filed the complaint — which is what the defense has been arguing since day 1. 

Delaying trial

The prosecution is not impressed.

It said that Diaz’s testimony is irrelevant to the case, and it had, since the initial list was released, had already narrowed down the list of properties under Corona’s name to 21.

It instead complained that the defense is only delaying the trial by presenting irrelevant witnesses, in order to prevent discussions on more pressing matters such as the unexplained P11-million Basa-Guidote loan on Corona’s statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN), and the contents of bank accounts that the Chief Justice did not disclose before the 5-week long break that starts on Friday, March 23. 

“Why are they further delaying the trial?,”  Tupas said in Filipino. “They are stalling everything. We hope that everything they present is relevant.” 

The prosecution may have a point.

On day 32, Salvador said he was not worried about disproving the alleged discrepancies in properties, but candidly admitted in an interview that the only challenge remaining would be to prove the bank accounts. 

He also acknowledged that the public was waiting to hear an explanation regarding the bank accounts.

 “Itong properties, sa mga kababayan natin, palagay ko maliwanag (These properties, I think are clear to our countrymen),” said Salvador. “Ang palagay kong hinaharap nalang namin ang mga bank accounts. Kung mapaliwanag na namin ang mga bank accounts, medyo maayos (I think what is facing us now are the bank accounts. If we explain these, it’ll be good).”

Successful strategy

Corona’s counsels also denied wasting the time of the public and the court.

Defense spokesperson Rico Quicho said while it offends them that the prosecution has consistently accused them of delaying the trial, he said they would much rather do it slowly and accurately, than rush themselves and make mistakes.

Tingnan niyo naman kung ano ang nangyayari kung ikaw ay nagmamadali, di ba nadadapa ka? (Look at what happens when you rush. You trip, don’t you?),” he said.

Whether it is a delaying tactic or not, the truth is the senator-judges appear to have taken the defense bait hook, line and sinker. 

The defense has again managed to raise questions regarding the complaint — which they aimed to do in the first place — and steer the conversation as it pleased.

There has been no discussion yet about the bank accounts or the mysterious Basa-Guidote loan, the so-called meat of the issue.

The strategy of the defense, so far, is working. –