Is the Ombudsman a hostile witness?

Carmela Fonbuena

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This is a potentially a contentious issue when the Ombudsman testifies at the Chief Justice's impeachment trial

Corona vs the Ombudsman: What is at stake?

MANILA, Philippines – Is Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales a hostile witness of the defense panel?

This is a potentially contentious issue when the Ombudsman takes the witness stand in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. It will define the type of questions that the defense and the prosecution will be allowed to ask her.

Morales has been subpoenaed to appear before the impeachment court on Monday, May 14.

Lawyer Theodore Te said questions about what type of witness she would be may prompt the impeachment court to take a vote. 

“I think Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile will act a bit more carefully here. There will probably be a vote on this because the Office of Ombudsman is also a constitutional office,” Te said in an e-mailed response to our questions. He is currently in New York finishing a masters course.

It was the defense panel on Day 36 of the trial that requested the court to subpoena the Ombudsman and several complainants against the Chief Justice. In making the request, defense lawyer Judd Roy III referred to them as “hostile witnesses.”

But lawyers say this is a legal matter that will require the ruling of the Senate.


“She will come in as an ordinary witness. But the general public perception is she has adverse position against us (defense panel) because she already made a letter requiring us to explain [the purported US$10-million deposits of the Chief Justice],” said defense spokesperson Tranquil Salvador III.

Te disagreed. He believed there’s no basis in declaring the Ombudsman a hostile witness. “Any investigative power is simply in performance of duty or a good faith belief thereof. The burden is on the defense to show personal animus or adverse interest,” he said.

Members of the prosecution panel claim they have no information on the alleged Ombudsman investigation on Corona’s foreign deposits. They maintained that they already have sufficient evidence to convict Corona.

Leading questions

The Senate ruling on the issue will set limitations on the questions that the defense and the prosecution panels may ask her.

A hostile witness is one who has an “adverse interest, unjustified reluctance to testify or mislead the party calling him to the stand,” explained Te.

“If the defense convinces the Senate that the Ombudsman is a hostile witness, then the defense may consider her as witness of prosecution. And proceed as if she is on cross examination,” he explained further.

It would mean that the defense could ask the Ombudsman “leading questions.”

Morales however appears ready for it.

Lawyers previously interviewed by Rappler said the the defense panel’s move to put the Ombudsman on the witness stand could help build the defense of the Chief Justice on two fronts: 1) by tainting her image as an independent public official, and 2) by weakening the credibility of her investigation.

Corona has repeatedly said that the Aquino administration is retaliating against him because he voted in favor of the distribution of his family’s sprawling sugarcane plantation, Hacienda Luisita.

The President has been as vocal about his confidence in Morales as much as his disapproval of Corona.

In the same story, former senator Rene Saguisag said the testimony of the Ombudsman will impact public perception. If the defense can show that she is acting merely upon Aquino’s wishes, the public may buy the “conspiracy” line.

The prosecution may still ask the Ombudsman their questions after the defense. But the lawyers will be limited.

“Effectively, it is as if cross came before the direct—at least for the hostile witness. Prosecution cannot ask leading questions even if technically it is on cross because of the declaration that witness is hostile,” Te said. –



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