A prosecution walkout – 11 yrs ago

Carmela Fonbuena
The impeachment trial brings together old characters in a previous exercise

MANILA, Philippines – It’s like history playing its little game.

Eleven years ago, on January 16, 2001, a House of Representatives prosecution team walked out of a Senate impeachment court that was trying a former president. On Monday, January 16, another House prosecution team walks into the same chambers to try to convict a chief justice.

It’s most interesting for Rep. Raul Daza, who will go full circle in this case.

In 2001, he was a senior defense counsel for President Joseph Estrada when members of the prosecution team walked out of the Senate chambers in protest of the vote against the opening of the now infamous “second envelope” that supposedly contained important evidence against his client.

The walkout was the final trigger that led to the Edsa People Power 2 that ousted Estrada and installed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as president.

On Monday, Daza returns to the Senate as prosecutor of the impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona for betrayal of public trust, graft and corruption, and culpable violation of the Constitution.

More of the same

A lot of things are different now, but a lot of things are also quite the same.

Daza will walk in with a different team, but he will be facing familiar faces from Estrada’s impeachment trial. Particularly, he will face Sen. Joker Arroyo, who was one of Estrada’s prosecutors.

A third of the jurors that he faced in the Estrada trial are the same jurors he will be encountering in Corona’s trial. They are Senators Franklin Drilon, Loren Legarda, Juan Flavier, Sergio Osmena, Miriam Santiago, Juan Ponce Enrile, Vicente “Tito” Sotto, and Gringo Honasan.

Seasoned litigation lawyer Mario Bautista will also make a comeback as private prosecutor. In the Estrada trial, he was the lawyer who presented key witness Clarissa Ocampo. Then executive of Equitable Bank, Ocampo testified that she was a foot away from Estrada when he signed as “Jose Velarde” in bank documents.

Lightweight?

Then and now, the prosecution teams share a handicap. Many of them are no match to the litigation experience of the seasoned defense lawyers.

“We feel we are underdogs. Ang mga abogado nila, hasa sila.  But it’s okay,” said prosecution spokesperson Quezon Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III. The Constitution bars lawmakers from practicing law and appearing before the courts.

“Attorney Serafin Cuevas will surely assert his seniority and his experience. But the prosecutors are ready,” added Cavite Rep. Jose Emilio Abaya, manager of the prosecution team.

But that’s not to say that the 11-person prosecution panel has nothing to boast of in terms of legal qualification and experience.

Three of the members are Bar topnotchers.

Daza ranked 11th in the 1957 Bar exams; Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao was 10th in 1980; and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas was 8th in 1978. Private prosecutor Bautista is also a Bar topnotcher, ranking 6th in the 1979 Bar.

“The prosecutors also practiced law before becoming congressmen,” said Tañada.

The other members of the 11-person prosecution panel are lead prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., Akbayan Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, Pangasinan Rep. Marilyn Aggabas, Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, and Cibac Rep. Sherwin Tugna.

A total 59 private prosecutors will also assist the prosecution team.

Aside from Tañada, Marikina Rep. Ramiro Quimbo and Quezon Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara are also spokespersons.

Public opinion

They play a crucial role.

After all, Abaya said the impeachment court is not your regular trial court and the senator-jurors are not your regular court judges.

Unlike a regular criminal trial, public opinion is important in an impeachment trial.

“We have two audiences: the senator jurors and the people. We will make sure that the prosecutors are conscious of this,” Abaya said.

It is only right to involve the public, said Abaya. “Impeachment is a constitutional process. Our mandate comes from the people. We are their representatives,” Abaya added.

On Saturday, January 14, Tañada found time to be in Butuan province in Mindanao to speak before a group supporting the ouster of Corona.

“It’s a chance to get people interested. The impeachment trial is one way to show the people that even high officials in government should also be accountable,” Tañada said.

2013 elections

The impeachment trial also comes amid preparations for the 2013 senatorial and local elections.

Estrada’s impeachment trial stressed to politicians the importance of being on the side of public opinion.

Many of the pro-impeachment congressmen and senators were elected in the election that followed the 2001 botched Estrada impeachment.

On the other hand, the anti-impeachment senators at the time lost. Some of them were unable to return to the national political scene.

At least 6 of Corona’s jurors are re-electionists.

At least 2 of the prosecution panel-spokespersons, Tañada and Angara, are reportedly eyeing the Senate. – Rappler.com

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