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MANILA, Philippines — The defense desk looked rather lonely on Day 13.
Chef Justice Renato Corona was represented by lead counsel Serafin Cuevas as always, but his usual allies were absent from the session.
Missing from the roster were defense counsels Jose Judd Roy III, Ramon Esguerra, Noel Lazaro, Jacinto Jimenez, German Lichauco, Dennis Manalo, Noel Lazaro and Eduardo de los Angeles.
Not including the defense spokespersons, only Cuevas and lawyer Joel Bodegon were present of the prominent members of Corona’s team. Bodegon sat in front with his usual bow-tie, flanked by two unknown lawyers.
The absence was initially disturbing as it is the first time the usually united defense team was noticeably incomplete. It was especially curious as it comes the day after prosecutor Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas blasted the defense, arguing that lawyers are not allowed to appear pro bono on behalf of the Chief Justice.
Fariñas said that the lawyers working for free is a violation of Republic Act 6713, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, that prohibits public officials to accept or solicit “any gift, gratuity, favor, entertainment, loan or anything of monetary value.”
“They come from big law firms and they have pending cases before the Supreme Court,” said Fariñas. “Bawal po sa isang public official na tumanggap ng regalo na nagkakahalaga ng malaki. De Kampanilya ang mga abogado niya. Mahal ang rates. Binibigay nila [serbisyo] nila ng libre.”
Defense spokesperson Karen Jimeno, however, denied their absence had anything to with Fariñas’s statements.
She said most counsels were absent because they were working on their regular jobs, and gave assurances they would be back. She also disagreed that the lawyers’ services could be considered as gifts and said that none of the lawyers received anything in return for representing Corona.
Esguerra told Rappler that the absence of the defense counsels and Fariñas’s tirades were “coincidental.”
“I [have been] sick since yesterday,” he said. “Most are teaching. Besides, we are assigned to draft certain pleadings in connection with the impeachment.”
The defense preparing thoroughly for Day 14, February 8, is not out of the question, though.
In arguably their first major setback, the court denied the defense’s motion to oppose the request of the prosecution to subpoena a US$700,000 account with PSBank and local currency accounts from the Bank of the Philippine Islands allegedly owned by the Chief Justice. Officials from these banks were commanded by the court to appear on Day 14.
The decision was crucial and controversial and is continually being challenged. Senator-judge Miriam Defensor Santiago filed a motion for reconsideration challenging the court’s resolution, while the defense filed a motion to quash the subpoena on Tuesday, January 7.
Tuesday’s hearing was also expected to be a slow day with the prosecution only presenting one witness.
When asked why he wasn’t in the Senate, Roy had a different answer from the rest of the defense team. He replied good-naturedly with a text message.
“Beach, playing volleyball.” – Rappler.com