MANILA, Philippines – Private prosecutor Mario Bautista, who played a key role in the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada, made a comeback to the Senate on Wednesday, January 18.
This time a private prosecutor in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Bautista was off to a rusty start.
He was rebuked at least thrice by Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile for his supposed tendency to “impeach” his own witness, Enriquetta Vidal, the Supreme Court clerk of court. As clerk of court, Vidal has custody of the Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALNs) of Supreme Court justices.
The prosecution started to present evidence for Article 2 of the impeachment complaint: the failure of the Chief Justice to disclose his SALN. Finding at least 45 properties supposedly owned by the Chief Justice and his family, they also seek to show that he has unexplained wealth.
In 1989, the Supreme Court issued a resolution on the guidelines governing the release of the SALNs.
At one time, Enrile, who presides over the trial, told Bautista, “You cannot impeach your own witness.”
A second time, after continued examination by Bautista, Enrile again told him, “You’re tending to impeach your own witness.”
A third time, he said that impeachment trial rules prohibit leading and misleading questions, “except on cross-examination.”
Bautista replied, “With due respect, I don’t believe my questions are leading questions.”
Bautista wanted to establish that Vidal was under the direct supervision of the Chief Justice himself.
“The SALN law requires not just the mere filing. [It also requires] that these SALNs be made publicly accessible. Witness has testified that she is under the direct control of the chief justice,” Bautista said during the hearing.
In doing so, Enrile found Bautista’s questions “leading” and tending to “impeach” Vidal. Vidal is so far considered a prosecution witness, not a hostile witness. Enrile asked Bautista if he wanted to declare Vidal a hostile witness. Bautista said no.
Vidal has been with the Supreme Court for 36 years. She became clerk of court in September 2010. She has since been in charge of keeping the SALNs of SC justices.
Former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas of the defense, on the other hand, was reprimanded for challenging the questions that Bautista posed to Vidal.
Enrile stopped Cuevas from doing so. “We have an intelligent witness. She can answer the questions propounded to her,” Enrile said. –
Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tanada, also a spokesperson of the prosecution, said Bautista’s questions were important. “He did well in laying the predicate,” Tanada said.
When Vidal admitted that she brought with her the SALNs of Chief Justice Corona, senator-jurors who included Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Aquilino Pimentel III, pushed her to give them to the court.
She asked for time to get authorization of the Supreme Court to release it. The senators debated over the request, and in the end, the Senate court ordered Vidal to turn over the SALNs without authorization from the High Court.
Approached by the defense
Bautista was first approached by the defense panel, particularly by lawyer Eduardo Delos Angeles, to join their team.
In the Estrada impeachment trial, it was Bautista who presented star witness Clarissa Ocampo, a banker who testified that she personally saw the former president sign a check as “Jose Velarde.”
“He was approached by the defense counsel first. He refused,” prosecution spokesperson Romero “Miro” Quimbo told Rappler. He said the defense offered Bautista to become “co-lead counsel.”
“When we (prosecution) talked to him (Bautista), he had talked to the defense already,” Quimbo added. Quimbo used to be a junior lawyer in Bautista’s law firm.
“He was hesitant at first. He took it because he believed in it,” Quimbo said.
Bautista agreed to become lead private prosecutor shortly before Christmas 2010. “It was when we were desperate to find a prosecutor,” Quimbo added. – Rappler.com