Q and A: What Corona’s testimony means to the Senate

Chief Justice Renato Corona is testifying. What happens now? Senators weigh in on the Corona trial's grand finale.

THE FINALE. Senators weigh in on the gamechanger that is Chief Justice Renato Corona's decision to take the witness stand. Photos from Senate website and Emil Sarmiento

MANILA, Philippines – The word is out: Chief Justice Renato Corona will take the witness stand to testify in his own impeachment trial. The question is: what happens now?

Corona’s decision to face the impeachment court draws new interest in a trial that has dragged on for 4 months. As a grand finale, the country’s top judge will face a co-equal branch of government to answer allegations he betrayed public trust and violated the Constitution.

TV cameras will roll live and Twitter will go haywire to capture the historic moment. Yet, what exactly did Corona get himself into? Will his testimony further lengthen the trial? How will senator-judges treat Corona, the accused?

We talked to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III and senators Franklin Drilon and Gregorio Honasan on this new development. Here’s how they see it:

Q: Is Corona’s testimony limited to the alleged US $10 million?

The answers are mixed.

Drilon says no. “It cannot be limited to the US$10 million dahil sa kung ano man ang relevant na isyu, itatanong sa kanya (because whatever is the relevant issue, we will ask him).” 

Defense counsel Jose “Judd” Roy said on Tuesday, May 8, that Corona will testify to rebut the allegations of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales and complainants that he has foreign denominated accounts amounting to US $10 million.

Enrile though says it will be up to Corona and his lawyers to determine the scope of his testimony.

“I will not teach them how to defend their client. They cannot control the decision of the court.”

Q: Will Corona answer all the questions?

Drilon says the Chief Justice can choose not to.  

“It’s his privilege. If he says I invoke my right against self-incrimination, nobody can compel him to answer. Certainly, the Chief Justice can invoke his right to refuse to answer the question on the ground it can incriminate him.”

Drilon adds there is no assurance Corona will answer all questions about his bank accounts. He says the Chief Justice and his lawyers have full control of what questions he chooses to answer and ignore.

The senator, however, warns Corona against repeatedly invoking his right against self-incrimination.

“[If he does,] it only means that the evidence presented will remain unrebutted. If he says I invoke my right against self-incrimination, we can’t force him to answer whatever evidence is before the impeachment court. That will stand unchallenged.”

Q: Will Corona’s testimony change the Senate timetable?

No. Senators are unanimous in saying that they want to stick to the May 31 target they set to finish the trial.

Sotto says, “The additional witnesses I think would not take too long. Because some of the testimonies would be merely corroborated, that will only take a short time.”

Sotto is referring to the complainants who filed cases against Corona before the Ombudsman.

He adds, “We want this over as soon as possible. There are many pieces of legislation that are [left] pending.”

Sotto, Drilon and Honasan are willing to extend trial hours until midnight to ensure the trial is over by May 31. Congress will adjourn session on June 7 and resume on July 23.

Honasan says, “We will have a hard time if the trial reaches the next long break. All senators agreed to the proposal of the Senate President who is already 88 years old and he can still do it. It was even he who volunteered to extend. How could younger senators like us object?”

Q: Will the Senate now defy the Supreme Court TRO on the dollar accounts?

This question is raised after chief prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr called on the Senate to revisit its decision to obey a Supreme Court temporary restraining order (TRO) barring the disclosure of Corona’s dollar accounts.

Sen Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III made a manifestation Tuesday, May 8, reversing his vote. With the delay in the Supreme Court decision on the issue, Pimentel now wants to open the dollar accounts.

This changes the vote from 13-10 to 12-11 in favor of obeying the TRO.

The new development will be tackled in a Senate caucus on Monday, May 14.

Sotto says there might be no need to vote again.

“Maybe it will depend on how the respondent will handle his accounts, especially the dollar accounts. If he presents [them] himself, I’m sure it’s no longer necessary to make a new motion to change the vote.”

Honasan says a vote might be needed so the senator-judges can be “updated.”

“My own observation is that the TRO is not definite so the Supreme Court has to decide to avoid tension between two collegial bodies like the Supreme Court and the impeachment court. We must avoid tension between the two chambers.”

The High Court is scheduled to tackle the issue only on June 26. Honasan says the Supreme Court must recognize the urgency of the matter.

Aba, kailangan maunawaan din nila na mahalaga sa impeachment court na maresolba ito. Otherwise baka this will create more future problems than solutions.” (Oh they have to understand that it is important to the impeachment court to resolve this. Otherwise, maybe this will create more future problems than solutions.) – Rappler.com