MANILA, Philippines – A week before the start of the impeachment trial against Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona on January 16, two members have withdrawn from his legal team.
Sources told Rappler that retired Court of Appeals Justice Hector Hofileña had informed the defense lawyers that he had offered to withdraw and that he has yet to receive a formal reply.
Private lawyer Ernesto Francisco also said on Monday, January 9, that he is no longer with the defense team but that he has yet to formalize his withdrawal.
Hofileña wanted to avoid a conflict of interest situation, given that one of the lawyers for the prosecution, Mario Bautista, is a partner of one of his sons in a private law firm, Poblador Bautista & Reyes. Bautista cofounded the law firm on Oct 1, 1994, with lawyers Alexander Poblador and Gilbert Raymund Reyes.
In a phone interview in December 2011, Francisco said he volunteered and was also “invited” to join the team in December. He said he wanted to defend Corona because he does not want to see the executive “control” all branches of government.
Francisco is expected to formally withdraw from the defense panel on Tuesday, January 10.
Francisco’s decision to be one of Corona’s lawyers raised not a few eyebrows, as the Ateneo graduate has been known to be a fierce critic of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Arroyo appointed Corona to the SC as associate justice in 2002 and as chief justice in 2010. Arroyo’s “midnight appointment” of Corona in May 2010 is among the 8 articles of impeachment.
Francisco said though, that his crusade against now Pampanga Rep Arroyo is separate from his work on Corona’ team. “Let me be clear that I will continue to pursue the cases I filed against Arroyo,” he said.
Francisco filed a case against Arroyo before the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the aborted $329-million NBN-ZTE deal.
But Francisco’s take on the impeachment of the Chief Justice as an attack against the whole judiciary has always been his stand. In 2003, it was Francisco who questioned the impeachment proceedings against then Chief Justice Hilario Davide before the high court.
Corona’s team includes:
- retired SC Justice Serafin Cuevas
- Jacinto Jimenez, a faculty member of the University of Santo Tomas
- former Pamantasan ng Maynila law dean Jose “Judd” Roy III
- Eduardo de los Angeles, senior partner from the Romulo, Mabanta, Buenaventura, Sayoc & De Los Angeles law firm
- Dennis Manalo and German Lichauco II, partners from the Siguion Reyna Montecillo Ongsiako law firm – Rappler.com
UPDATE: Former CA Justice Hofileña sent this press statement in reaction to news reports concerning his withdrawal from the Corona legal team:
ABS-CBN carried my name today as one of the three lawyers who withdrew from the legal team of Chief Justice Corona, without stating the reason why I withdrew. It gives the impression that I have deserted or abandoned the Chief Justice.
Actually, my reason has already been published by the article of Purple Romero in yesterday’s issue of the Rappler. I offered to withdraw from the Corona legal team out of delicadeza, when I read that Atty. Mario Bautista has been appointed as the lead private prosecutor on the impeachment case. A son of mine is member of his law firm. And although my son assured me that will have no participation in the case, I wanted to avoid any suspicion of disloyalty on either his or my part by reason of such circumstance..
But this does not mean that I have deserted or abandoned the cause of the Chief Justice. I continue to support him, not only because I believe in the justice of his cause, but also because I believe that the Independence of the Judiciary, and the Rule of Law are inextricably interwoven with this case.
January 10, 2012.
HECTOR L. HOFILEÑA
Retired Justice, Court of Appeals