Is this trial a ‘sham?’

Natashya Gutierrez

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The defense panel plays by the book

TECHNICAL DEFENSE. The defense team of Chief Justice Renato Corona plays by the book. January 17, 2012. Photo by Natashya Gutierrez.

MANILA, Philippines – To the defense team backing Chief Justice Renato Corona in his impeachment, the main idea is simple: the trial is being conducted in a legalistic manner.

In the eyes of the defense, it is not difficult for a lawyer to understand. The trial should not be a matter of public opinion or public will. It is a trial  – in the words of the oath taken by senator-judges – “in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the Philippines.”

This core issue is what guides the defense in their arguments, objections and strategies. They will remain legal, and they will remain technical.

“We are always on guard for unexpected matters being brought to the trial,” Corona counsel Jose “Judd” Roy III told Rappler.

Among these are the subject matter of the allegations, the constitutionality of the trial itself, and the right of the defense to raise objections despite complaints of how doing so is delaying the process.

‘An evil that the law abhors’

A continuing objection of the defense is that Article 2 does not allege anything more than Corona’s failure to disclose his SALNs. They say that given this accusation, it is illegal to convict the Chief Justice for ill-gotten wealth when he was only accused of non-disclosure.

It is a constitutional right of the individual to be informed of the charges against him, argues the defense.

They also believe that the evidence being subpoenaed by the prosecution proves that they are merely fishing for evidence.

“You cannot subject a person to trial and hope that evidence will come out about his guilt,” Roy explained. “This is an evil that the law abhors. What the law requires is that the accuser must already possess evidence against the person accused.”

Otherwise, he said, it would be easy – yet unconstitutional – to accuse someone, and call them into court.

According to the defense, if the prosecution’s complaint was a valid charge, the 188 lawmakers who signed the impeachment complaint should all have personal knowledge of the accusations, and therefore, should be willing to testify.

“What is astonishing is that there are 188 congressmen – we’re not talking about vagrants – we’re talking about congressmen, who swore they have personal knowledge of these accusations,” said Roy. “I guarantee you none of them is going to testify, because none of them have personal knowledge.”

The fact that the prosecution does not have 188 witnesses, Roy said, highlights the fact the trial itself is questionable.

“That’s why it’s a sham. That’s why its a waste of time,” he said.

SC still an option

While the defense does not plan to challenge the Court’s decision on the issue of the trial’s constitutionality again, Roy believes it is a lingering question that will continue to haunt the proceedings. The defense may be viewed as being too technical, but they are not apologetic. Law is a noble profession, said Roy, and it is their job.

“I am commanded by law to raise every defense for my client – all of us lawyers [are],” said Roy.

The defense’s strict adherence to the law is another reason why turning to the Supreme Court is not out of the question, in case the impeachment court disregards their argument against the validity of the ill-gotten wealth issue.

“Going to the Supreme Court is something any lawyer in my position would consider. It would be foolish not to,” Roy said. “I think that’s something many people take for granted. The Chief Justice should have any means of defense. That’s the only way this whole thing can be credible.” – Rappler.com

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Natashya Gutierrez

Natashya is President of Rappler. Among the pioneers of Rappler, she is an award-winning multimedia journalist and was also former editor-in-chief of Vice News Asia-Pacific. Gutierrez was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders for 2023.