‘Why hire private prosecutors?’

Lawyers of Chief Justice Renato Corona question the hiring of private prosecutors for his impeachment trial

MANILA, Philippines – The defense team of impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona may question the hiring of private prosecutors before the Senate. Corona’s lawyers said the inclusion of lawyer Mario Bautista in the prosecution panel violates rules of the House of Representatives.

In an interview on ANC, defense lawyer and former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas said House rules state that “the House of Representatives shall be the sole prosecutor in the trial in the Senate.”

Former Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas and Rep. Romero Quimbo on 'ANC Presents: Chief Justice on Trial'

Bautista is the lead private prosecutor. He was also a private prosecutor during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada and is known for presenting star witness Clarissa Ocampo.

“The way things are going now, apparently the representatives of Congress are under the supervision of the private prosecutor,” Cuevas said.

In the same interview, another Corona lawyer, Dennis Manalo argued that the prosecution’s decision to hire private lawyers is questionable. Manalo said that in the rules of criminal procedure, there are requirements that must be met before private prosecutors are allowed to appear in court.

“First, that the workload of the fiscal is already too much. Second, there must be a private interest involved. In other words, there is a private party that was injured. In this particular case, who is the private party that has been damaged? There is nobody so what is a private prosecutor doing?”

Prosecution panel spokesperson and Marikina Rep. Romero “Miro” Quimbo said the debate on hiring of private prosecutors has already been settled during the Estrada impeachment trial. He added that hiring private prosecutors is allowed under the Senate rules.

“The Senate rules expressly say that the House, the public prosecutors may avail of private counsel on the condition that they work under the direct supervision of the public prosecutors.”

Corona lawyers former Justice Secretary Serafin Cuevas and Dennis Manalo with House prosecution spokesperson Romero Quimbo on 'ANC Presents: Chief Justice on Trial'

‘Amusing argument’

Quimbo also clarified on the ANC interview that while Bautista is the lead private prosecutor, Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. is the chief prosecutor “so everybody works under Cong. Tupas.”

The prosecution’s spokesman denied that the congressmen are working under Bautista. “The 11-man prosecution team has been working day and night, practically skipping their Christmas vacation. That’s completely unfounded. That statement is baseless and completely hearsay.”

He added that he found the defense’s argument against the private prosecutors amusing.

Nasa kanila na nga lahat ng abogado. Hirap kaming makakuha ng abogado na lumaban sa Chief Justice. Ang hanapbuhay ng bawat abogado ay nandoon sa Korte Suprema so hirap ang mga tao para mag-volunteer noong una dahil nga natatakot sila. Nakatali na nga ang kaliwang kamay namin, gusto pa nilang kunin ang kanang kamay namin.” (They already have all the lawyers. We had a difficult time finding lawyers for the prosecution who will stand up to the Chief Justice. Lawyers’ business involves the Supreme Court so it’s hard to get people to volunteer because they are afraid. Our left hand is already tied, they even want to get our right.)

Corona’s lawyers are described as a powerhouse team. Aside from Cuevas and Manalo, the defense team includes retired Court of Appeals Justice Hector Hofileña, former Ateneo Law School dean Eduardo delos Angeles, and former Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila dean Jose “Judd” Roy III.

P5-M and Quimbo’s resignation

Cuevas said that the apprehension over the private prosecutors stems from reports that the prosecution is spending P5 million to hire private lawyers, and that House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte supposedly said the amount will be raised to P10 million.

“Are we in conformity with that kind of a set-up, putting P10 million to be given to these people,” asked Cuevas.

Quimbo categorically denied Cuevas’ statement, saying the P5 million budget of the prosecution is used mainly for logistics like photocopying documents. He said that Belmonte only offered to raise the budget to P10 million if needed.

He clarified that all the private lawyers offered their services for free.

“If that allegation [that the P5 milion will go to the private prosecutors] will be proven true, I will resign from Congress,” Quimbo said in Filipino.

The Marikina representative added, though, that there is no price tag to the impeachment trial. “The process involves the Chief Justice. If you want to discuss a price tag, how about the 1,400 PAL flight attendants who lost almost P2 billion in backpay when the Supreme Court reversed a final judgment? If you want to put a price tag, that’s the price tag that people are interested in.”

The Supreme Court’s flip-flopping on the Philippine Airlines flight attendants case is included in the third of eight articles of impeachment against Corona.

Manalo said the defense team is also working for free. “Pro bono. Ang nangyayari nga sa amin, puro abono.” 

Defense spokespersons known soon

Quimbo will soon have his counterparts in the defense panel.

“We have been scouting for [a spokesperson] and within a couple of days, we’ll come out with the announcement,” Cuevas said. – Rappler.com