Justice to testify in impeachment trial?

Rappler.com
Prosecution to subpoena SC Justice Presbitero Velasco over the confusion about an order that favored former President Arroyo

MANILA, Philippines – Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr. may be summoned to the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice to shed light on allegations that the latter manipulated an order to favor former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

This was revealed on Monday, Dec 26, 2011, by Bayan Muna Rep Neri Colmenares, a member of the House prosecution team, claiming he would ask the Senate to subpoena Velasco and SC Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal to testify at the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

“I will ask the Senate to subpoena Justice Velasco to shed light on the irregularities detailed in Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno’s dissent regarding the promulgation of a resolution Velasco issued on November 28 explaining the Court decision on the TRO allowing [former] President  Gloria Arroyo to travel abroad,” Colmenares said in a statement.

In a scathing opinion published last week on the Supreme Court Web site, Associate Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno accused Corona of altering the Court’s decision on Mrs Arroyo in her favor.

Despite the justices’ agreement that the Arroyo camp had not fully complied with the requirements attached to the temporary restraining order (TRO) it issued on the travel ban, Corona reportedly ordered Justice Velasco to issue a resolution stating that the TRO was still in effect. (Read the key issues related to Sereno’s revelations in this blog)

Confusion over TRO

Colmenares said this could be “one of the strongest charges” of the prosecution against Corona.

He explained: “The charge that Chief Justice Corona fundamentally altered the Court’s decision declaring the TRO effective even if the Court has just decided by a vote of 7-6 that the TRO conditions have not been substantially complied with, is serious and could be used as additional evidence to prove CJ Corona’s partiality to protect Gloria Arroyo and allow her one more chance to escape for abroad.”

The conclusion that could be drawn from Sereno’s dissent, according to Colmenares, is that while the Court “decided that the TRO is not effective until its conditions are met, the Chief Justice through Justice Velasco declared the TRO effective.”

This was the basis of media confusion over the effectivity of the TRO at the height of the Arroyo controversy in November. By a vote of 7-6, the High Tribunal declared that the Arroyo camp had yet to comply with one of the requirements attached to the TRO, which was to formally assign a separate counsel each for Mrs Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel. At the time of the verdict, Mrs Arroyo was already being held under hospital arrest at the St Lukes Medical Center.

In her dissent, which she claimed was initally suppressed by Corona, Sereno said it was to the understanding of the majority of the justices that non-compliance already meant that the TRO was not in effect. Yet SC spokesperson Midas Marquez clarified later that the SC in fact ruled that the Arroyo camp had “substantially” complied with the TRO even if they ordered Arroyo’s lawyer to produce a power of attorney that would prove that they are representing the couple.

Colmenares is the lead prosecutor of Article VII of the impeachment complaint against the Chief Justice for “betrayal of public trust through his partiality in granting a temporary restraining order (TRO) in favor of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel Arroyo in order to give them an opportunity to escape prosecution and to frustrate the ends of justice.”

Velasco’s silence

The lawmaker noted that Velasco did not contest Sereno’s assertions but merely claimed that her allegations are “confidential.”

Velasco’s response “is certainly disturbing,” Colmenares said. “I hope he will not persist in using confidentiality and ‘privileged communication’ in the Senate as ‘secrecy’ is certainly not a good way of convincing the people and the Senate of the innocence of the Chief Justice. In fact people will look at that as an admission of guilt. He should remember the ‘confidential’ envelope that led to EDSA II and that the impeachment is not a judicial proceeding.”

He added that the Clerk of Court, Enriqueta Vidal, should also be asked to explain her admission, as stated in Sereno’s dissent, that it was Corona, through Velasco, who stopped her from issuing Sereno’s dissenting opinion.

“I have never heard of a Supreme Court censorship of a dissenting opinion,” Colmenares said. “With more pieces of evidence and witnesses coming out, we may have a fast impeachment trial and finally rid the country of an Arroyo Supreme Court,” Colmenares said.

Corona is expected to submit his response to the impeachment complaint on Monday.

With the votes of 188 lawmakers, the House of Representatives impeached Corona on allegations he violated the Constitution, betrayed public trust and committed graft and corruption. – Rappler.com