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MANILA, Philippines – The preliminaries are over and the trial is underway. Week 1 of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona yielded copies of his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, a first since he joined the Supreme Court almost 10 years ago. So what next?
The properties of the Corona family will be the crux of the trial when it resumes on Tuesday, January 24. Establishing the link (or the lack thereof) between these properties, the Coronas’ sources of income, and the charges included in Article 2 of the impeachment complaint will be crucial in the case the prosecution and defense teams will make.
By all indications, week 2 holds much drama and possible hiccups still. Key to the outcome are lingering questions on the allegations against the chief magistrate, and his lawyers’ plan to block the testimonies of some witnesses.
Here is what’s in store for the so-called Corona saga week 2:
1. BIR chief: To testify or not?
Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Commissioner Kim Henares will return to the Senate to testify. The impeachment court summoned Henares to bring the income tax returns (ITRs) and tax records of Corona and his wife, Cristina, their daughter Carla, and son-in-law Constantino Castillo III.
Henares was also asked to produce documents on the transactions involving the Corona properties. She appeared at the Senate last week but did not take the witness stand pending the preparation of the documents and authorization from Malacañang.
The Palace said President Benigno Aquino III, who supports Corona’s conviction, will likely give the go-signal.
The prosecution wants to secure the ITRs to cross-check the Coronas’ income with their declared properties. In press conferences, chief prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. and spokesperson Rep. Miro Quimbo said the goal is to prove that the properties were ill-gotten, undervalued, and belatedly declared.
This early, though, the prosecution can expect objections. Defense counsel Tranquil Salvador III said that the defense will protest Henares’ testimony, calling it irrelevant.
Corona’s lawyers argue that the charge of ill-gotten wealth is not in Article 2.
2. Article 2: What is it really?
Both prosecution and defense teams will submit their clarifications on Article 2 this week. This is in response to questions Senators Francis Escudero and Alan Peter Cayetano raised last week.
The title of Article 2 states that the “respondent committed culpable violation of the constitution and/or betrayed the public trust when he failed to disclose to the public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth as required under Sec. 17, Art. XI of the 1987 Constitution.”
Yet Escudero pointed out that in the impeachment complaint, Article 2 mentions 3 separate charges against Corona:
1. failure to disclose his SALN
2. failure to declare all his properties in his SALN
3. allegedly amassing ill-gotten wealth
Article 2 is the bone of contention. The defense argues that Article 2 only involves Corona’s alleged failure to disclose his SALN. Defense counsel Jose Roy III told Rappler in an e-mail interview that the charge on ill-gotten wealth is part of the discussion of Article 2, and not the actual offense.
“Can you validly convict a person for ill-gotten wealth when you merely accused him of non-disclosure of the SALN? Obviously, there is a distant leap that has to be made…“If you argue that the non-disclosure MAY BE intended to conceal ill-gotten wealth, then you are just guessing, speculating, supposing, suspecting or imagining the existence of ill-gotten wealth, but you really have no evidence,” said Roy.
The prosecution insists though that the defense should not just focus on the title, but the entire article.
Spokesperson Erin Tañada said the Senate should be more liberal in admitting evidence on the Chief Justice’s supposed ill-gotten wealth “to satisfy the public’s thirst for truth and justice.”
3. Senators in aid of prosecution? What to do?
Corona’s lawyers are studying steps to address what they say is the partiality of some senator-judges to the prosecution. Even before they can file a motion, Aquino ally Sen. Franklin Drilon already declared he will not inhibit himself from the trial.
Last week, it was Drilon’s questioning that led Supreme Court Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal to admit she brought Corona’s SALNs with her. She eventually turned these over to the Senate.
Drilon also got Taguig Registrar of Deeds Randy Rutaquio to say that Corona acted as the attorney-in-fact of his daughter, Charina, when she bought a condo in the city.
“That is the purpose of the impeachment trial – to find out what is the truth,” Drilon told ANC. The senator is a vice chairman of Aquino’s Liberal Party.
If the defense indeed asks for some senators’ inhibition, the panel is already aware of a possible repercussion.
Lead defense counsel and former Supreme Court justice Serafin Cuevas told reporters of his dilemma last week, “What would be the price of an act of hostility against them? … They would not like it and definitely it might do something bad for us, too.”
4. Objections to Objections
To hasten the trial, Sen. Panfilo Lacson will call on fellow senator-judges to do away with what he describes as unnecessary legal objections. Drilon supports Lacson’s plan.
Last week, Cuevas raised many objections in the prosecution’s line of questioning and presentation of witnesses and evidence. It got to the point that Tupas asked Cuevas to stop lecturing the prosecutors.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, however, is not inclined to side with Lacson. In a radio interview, the presiding officer of the trial said the objections so far are normal, natural and a standard procedure in trials.
“My god, you are dealing with the interest of a fellow human being. You are going to dishonor him. You are going to take his high position in government,” said Enrile. “This is not like buying meat in the market.”
5. Senate to SC: Don’t interfere
The Senate will submit this week its reply to six petitions asking the Supreme Court to stop the impeachment trial. Lawyers have expressed fears of a crisis if the Supreme Court stops the trial and the Senate refuses to heed the decision.
As early as last week, Enrile hinted that the trial must go on.
“We have the sole power to try and decide the case, meaning no one can interfere with us as long as we apply the Bill of Rights, and the principle of due process.” – Rappler.com