In defense of Corona

Purple S. Romero

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Corona's team is led by a man unfazed by public opinion

MANILA, Philippines – Packed with seasoned lawyers, the defense team of Chief Justice Renato Corona believes that the prosecution has a weak case against him.

But it is the court of public opinion that they are up against. The lawyers fear that the public is already being conditioned to condemn Corona.

“It’s an uphill battle,” conceded Tranquil Salvador III, one of Corona’s lawyers, in a January 14 interview with Rappler managing editor Glenda M. Gloria. “But let’s stick to evidence, not just public opinion.”

Ramon Esguerra, general counsel of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and one of the members of Corona’s defense team, is not new in this game.

As early as 2003, Esguerra already raised alarm over what the news media is capable of vis-a-vis chief justices. At that time, then Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr was the subject of an impeachment complaint in the House.

In an interview with the Philippine Star in 2003, Esguerra had warned that some “well-funded” media companies would demolish Davide. Nine years after, Esguerra is saying the same thing, this time as a member of Corona’s defense team.

Although he did not say that they are being paid, he has told reporters that news organizations writing against Corona show a pattern of harassment against the Chief Justice, all intended to demonize him.

Lead: Serafin Cuevas

Serafin Cuevas
But Corona’s legal team is headed by a man who does not seem to be fazed by public opinion, given the controversial nature of his former clients.
Former SC Justice Serafin Cuevas was the lead defense counsel of then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, whose impeachment trial was aborted in early 2011 after she resigned.
Cuevas is a member of the religious organization Iglesia ni Cristo(INC), widely believed to have supported Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in her bid for the presidency in 2004. INC however backed the candidacy of President Benigno Aquino III in the 2010 presidential race.

The influential bloc also pushed for the candidacies of several senators who now sit as judges in the impeachment court.
This is the third impeachment case to be handled by Cuevas. He lost in the first one, while the second one — which involved Gutierrez — did not proceed.

Cuevas was one of the lawyers of deposed President Joseph Estrada during his impeachment trial in 2001. Cuevas worked then with Jose Flaminiano, now one of Arroyo’s lawyers.

Cuevas was appointed justice secretary by Estrada but was later replaced by Artemio Tuquero.

The 82-year-old lawyer also counts as one of his cliens, Benito Araneta, one of the cousins of Mr. Arroyo.

Cuevas became a High Court magistrate under then President Ferdinand Marcos. He was designated by then Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro as chairman of the SC committee that drafted the trial court manual.

Villar’s friend

Two lawyers have left Corona’s original legal team, but 4 new members were added to the group that would defend him.

Retired Court of Appeals Justice Hector Hofileña and lawyer Ernesto Francisco withdrew from the team in early January. Hofileña quit to
avoid a conflict-of-interest situation, while Francisco said he  decided to leave because one of the senator-judges, Sen. Manuel Villar,is involved in an ethical complaint that the lawyer helped expose.

But in an interesting twist, one of Corona’s new lawyers has worked closely with Villar, a senator-judge.

Joel Bodegon

Joel Bodegon
On January 12, reports came out that Joel Bodegon, a former partner of the high-profile law firm Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz law offices would be part of the defense team. Bodegon is a lawyer of the Nacionalista Party as well as top entertainer Willie Revillame, who endorsed Villar’s candidacy in the 2010 presidential race.

Bodegon is also a director of Property Holdings Corp., one of Villar’s companies.

The former ACCRA partner is a member of the Sigma Rho fraternity, and hence a fraternity brother of SC Justice Antonio Carpio, said to be Corona’s rival for the chief justice post in 2010. Bodegon finished law in the University of the Philippines in 1974.

He served as chairman of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, which also supported then Chief Justice Reynato Puno in his Moral Force Movement.


Ramon Esguerra

Ramon Esguerra
Ramon Esguerra has backed Corona in the controversy over the High Tribunal’s recall of its decision ordering the Philippine Airlines to reinstate the 1,400 employees it allegedly retrenched in 1998. That was in October 2011.

Now, the said flip-flopping of the Court on the FASAP case and other cases is part of the articles of impeachment against Corona.

This is not the first impeachment case that Esguerra will handle though, as he was also part of the defense team of then Chief Justice Hilario Davide, who was accused by lawmakers primarily from the Nationalist People’s Coalition of misuse of the Judiciary Development Funds in 2003.

Esguerra, a former undersecretary of the Department of Justice, has Anthony and Erwin Genuino, brothers of former Philippine Gaming and Amusement Corp. chairman Efraim Genuino, as his clients.

Esguerra is a member of the Alpha Phi Beta fraternity, to which Sen. Francis Escudero, also a lawyer, belongs. 

Three of Corona’s lawyers are from the Romulo Mabanta Buenaventura Sayoc and De Los Angeles law office. They are also all members of the Fraternal Order of Utopia, a fraternity for law graduates from Ateneo.
Tranquill Salvador Jacinto Jimenez Eduardo De los Angeles

Tranquil Salvador III chairs the firm’s environmental law department. He has an economics degree from the University of Santo Tomas (UST). He
taught in Ateneo, Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Far Eastern University and was former dean of the law school of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Pasay.

Jacinto Jimenez is a professor in UST. He is said to be a noted constitutionalist. According to a published profileJimenez has represented both foreign and local clients in various dealings before the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Eduardo De los Angeles, a senior partner of the Romulo, Mabanta, Buenaventura, Sayoc & De Los Angeles law firm,  is a former president of the
Philippine Stock Exchange. He was dean of the Ateneo law school from 1984-1990. De los Angeles was a private prosecutor during Estrada’s impeachment trial.

One of his high-profile clients is the Philippine International Air Terminals Inc (Piatco), which built the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3. The SC nullified the contract with Piatco in 2003 because it was marred with irregularities.

In 2008, a disbarment complaint was filed against De los Angeles by Maxicare president Jose Pastor Puno. According to a Manila Standard report, De los Angeles refused to surrender Maxicare’s stock and transfer book to the new corporate secretary even after his group lost a case involving the sale of 60% of Banco de Oro’s stake in Maxicare Health Corp.
De los Angeles was critical of the SC during the time of Chief Justice Andres Narvasa. In an interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) in 1997, he said that Narvasa had not taken “concrete” steps to reform the judiciary.
The PCIJ also reported in 1997 that De los Angeles and lawyer Ricardo Romulo filed a letter-complaint against SC Justice Rodolfo Nocon, Cour of Appeals (CA) Justice Manuel Herrera, and lawyer Bobby Yuseco, brother-in-law of Narvasa.

They alleged that Nocon — in his capacity as CA justice — assigned a case to Herrera upon Yuseco’s request instead of having the case raffled off.

Narvasa’s former aide
In Corona’s impeachment trial, De los Angeles will be working with Narvasa’s former chief of staff, Jose “Judd” Roy III.

Dennis P. Manalo
A former law dean of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, Roy is also a graduate of Ateneo law school, and was the commissioner and executive director of the Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reforms (PCCR).

Tasked to study necessary amendments to the 1987 Constitution, the PCCR was formed by Estrada in 1998.
Dennis Manalo
Two lawyers are from the Siguion Reyna, Montecillo and Ongsiako law firm: Dennis Manalo and German Lichauco II.
The 2 are graduates of the Ateneo Law School. Lichauco is a member of the Aquila Legis fraternity. Their respective profiles in the law firm’s site described Lichauco as an expert on intra-corporate disputes, while Manalo specializes on criminal and labor litigation.

The lone female spokesperson, Karen Olivia Jimeno finished law in UP and took up her masters degree in law at Harvard. She used to be part of the Quisumbing Torres law office.  –



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