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MANILA, Philippines – Former special prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio has been “silently helping” the prosecution panel in the impeachment trial against Chief Justice Renato Corona.
“They’re asking if I could also give them some pointers. I said, why not? I also helped them prepare for the impeachment trial of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez,” Villa Ignacio told Rappler. Gutierrez resigned before the trial even started.
Villa-Ignacio led government lawyers in prosecuting former President Joseph Estrada for plunder. They succeeded in convicting Estrada in September 2007, but he was pardoned by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo a month later.
On Wednesday, January 25, Villa-Ignacio already joined the prosecution team in its regular briefing before the start of the impeachment trial at 2 pm.
This week, Villa-Ignacio was spotted on television huddling with both the prosecution and the defense panels. He established ties with the congressmen when he helped them prepare evidence against Gutierrez. Villa-Ignacio and Gutierrez were not in good terms when they were together in the Office of the Ombudsman.
The defense lawyers, on the other hand, are his colleagues at the Ateneo Law School, where he also teaches.
Prosecution spokesperson Lorenzo Tañada III welcomed Villa-Ignacio’s addition to the team. “He has a very good litigation practice…He is very valuable. He will be giving advice,” Tañada said.
Different from plunder case
The plunder case against Estrada was filed after his impeachment trial was aborted by an EDSA Dos type of protest in the streets. It was a criminal case, which he said, is totally different from the impeachment trial.
“The plunder case was a criminal prosecution. This is impeachment. It is neither strictly criminal nor civil, nor administrative. It’s quasi-legal and quasi-political,” Villa-Ignacio said.
“The defense panel is expected to give the prosecution a hard time. Give it to them, they will try all the tricks available to serve the interest of their client. But it’s not true that proof beyond reasonable doubt is required,” he added.
Went against Enrile, Honasan
So far, Villa-Ignacio has only been giving advice. The prosecution panel is yet to decide if they will let Villa-Ignacio present evidence in the impeachment court.
There are concerns about how Villa-Ignacio’s being part of the prosecution team will sit with Senator-juror Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, the son of former President Estrada.
During the presidency of Corazon Aquino, Villa-Ignacio also helped in the rebellion case against then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce-Enrile and then Army Col. Gregorio Honasan, now both senator-jurors. Enrile is presiding officer of the impeachment court.
Villa-Ignacio had spent more than half of his life in public service. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported years back that he served as prosecutor of the Department of Justice, was a military trial court lawyer, and presiding judge in regional trial courts in Makati. According to Villa-Ignacio, an impeachment trial is “quasi-political.” – Rappler.com