MANILA, Philippines – Will an impeachment trial begin on Monday at the Senate? Or will Chief Justice Renato Corona be allowed to question the validity of the complaint filed against him by 201 lawmakers?
Lawyers from both sides expect fireworks.
“We owe it to the public to show how flawed the complaint is,” said Tranquil Salvador III, one of Corona’s defense lawyers, in a January 14 interview. “We’re put in a corner, and we have to protect that space. So, yes, we expect fireworks.”
Corona has asked the Senate to dismiss the case against him immediately, or, if not, then at least give his counsels a chance to present lawmakers, including Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, and grill them about how they endorsed the complaint.
The 23 senators who will sit as judges will be holding a caucus at 1130 am Monday to discuss whether they would allow this, among other motions filed by the defense and the prosecution.
The House prosecution expressed the hope that the Senate would grant it good faith and proceed with the trial immediately.
“I hope [the Senate] will not grant [Corona’s motion] to summon the Speaker,” said Cavite Rep. Joseph Emilio Abaya. “That’s degrading the Speaker. It will affect not just the 15th Congress but future congresses.”
Sources from the defense team said that to strengthen their point that the complaint was rushed, they are ready to present 2 witnesses, lawmakers from the House of Representatives.
In their motion, the defense asked the Senate to summon, aside from Belmonte, the following: chief prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr, Deputy Speaker and Cavite Rep. Crispin Remulla, Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, Navotas City Rep. Tobias Tiangco, and House secretary-general Marilyn Barua-Yap.
Remulla told Rappler that defense lawyers asked him to testify on Monday, but he turned it down. “I cannot go against Congress,” he said.
But if the Senate summons him, he would have no choice but to appear in the Senate court. “But I don’t think so. There’s a parliamentary courtesy,” Remulla added.
Whatever the decision after the caucus, the Senate convenes as an impeachment court at 2pm on Monday.
The Philippines’ second impeachment in just a span of 11 years will be covered live in all media platforms — radio, TV, online.
PNoy leads charge
In December 2000, the Senate convened as a court to hear the case against impeached President Joseph Estrada.
Exactly 11 years ago today, the prosecution panel walked out of the Senate to protest a decision that they deemed unfairly favored Estrada, triggering mass protests that eventually led to his ouster 4 days later.
This time, no less than President Benigno Aquino III is at the forefront of the move to oust Corona, who was appointed Chief Justice on May 17, 2010 by outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The move, made 7 days after a presidential race that Aquino won, was deemed a “midnight appointment” by critics.
Ms Arroyo, now a Pampanga representative, is under hospital arrest at the Veterans Medical Center in Quezon City over an electoral sabotage case. Prior to this, the Supreme Court allowed her to seek treatment abroad, a decision that angered President Aquino and which prompted him not only to defy the Court but also to order his allies to impeach Corona.
Corona was impeached on Dec. 12, 2011 by 188 lawmakers. In the 8 articles of impeachment, they accused him of violating the Constitution, betraying public trust and committing graft and corruption.
The Chief Justice is banking on the support of key sectors and lawyers who believe that Malacañang’s move against him is an attack on the independence of the judiciary. Sen. Joker Arroyo, who sits as one of the impeachment court’s judges, described it as an indication of President Aquino’s “dictatorial tendencies.”
But Aquino’s political allies and some nongovernment organizations assert that the issue is all about transparency and the accountability of the head of a branch of government that has been spared public scrutiny.
A key issue is how the Chief Justice tripled his wealth in the 9 years that he was in the Supreme Court. Our investigation showed he has no other means of income, and that he was on a buying spree of properties starting in 2003.
The prosecution has asked the Senate to already subpoena Corona and his entire family to testify on the so-called Corona properties.
And in a stinging report, the World Bank, which granted more than P900-M in loan to the SC in 2003, criticized the High Tribunal for its careless financial transactions and the unauthorized use of the loan package for the travels of its officials. The multilateral institution likewise asked the Tribunal to return P8.6-M. Read our full story here. When the loan was granted, Corona was just an associate justice; the SC was then headed by Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr.
While the WB report is not covered by the impeachment case, prosecution lawyers believe that it is an indictment of Corona’s management. The camp of Corona has said it has not received a copy of the report.
Based on interviews we’ve had with lawyers and sources from both sides, the following appear to be the strategies of the prosecution and defense.
The defense will exert all efforts to delay the actual trial of Corona. They’re not ruling out the possibility of bringing the case to the Supreme Court, a scenario that some lawyers dread.
The prosecution is apparently aware of this, thus their aggressive push for the disclosure of Corona’s alleged unexplained wealth that involves his family — even before the start of the trial.
“He will be so badly bruised in this trial,” said one of the lawyers assisting the prosecution but who spoke on condition he is not identified.
Salvador, one of Corona’s counsels, told Rappler they’re prepared for that scenario.
The defense team in fact met with Corona several days ago to ask him if he was still bent on going through a trial that would drag his entire family.
“I could be bloodied with very few friends, but I have discussed this with my family,” Salvador quoted the Chief Justice as telling his defense lawyers. “We will fight to the end,” Corona reportedly told them. – With reports from Glenda M. Gloria and Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com