I did not comment on the on-going impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona except for the blog-entry on the G-word [see <https://bongmendoza.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/four-letter-words/>].
My reasons: I did not have anything new to say or a novel spin on the developments even if the impeachment was the news of the day for three months running. At many instances, I got bored with the proceedings when most of the business of the day was marking of exhibits and as the defense resorted to technicalities that a non-lawyer like me cannot follow. Of course, I also had work to do.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago
This reminds me of the Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s admonitions against non-lawyers making commentaries on the impeachment proceedings. At one point, she argued that the law is a body of technicalities. For these reasons, it requires one to go through four years of law school and a year to prepare for and pass the bar examinations. So there!
However, to our amusement and consternation, both the prosecution and defense panels resorted to several schemes which could be best considered as fool-hardy.
We Filipinos have a sensible warning: Do not pick up a huge stone only to fumble and the stone drops on your foot.
Gambits are risky and can go both ways. They could pay off big time or could land people hard on their back-sides.
Let’s consider the prosecution. At the heart of its Article 2 of the Articles of Impeachment is the charge that Chief Justice Corona under-declared his assets (particularly peso bank deposits) in his sworn statements of assets and liabilities and net worth (SALNs). If the prosecutors alleged this misdeclaration, it meant that they had prior access to Corona’s bank records even before they were able to prepare the Articles of Impeachment. During the impeachment of then President Joseph Estrada, the House prosecution was allowed by the Senate to issue universal subpoenas for banks to submit bank records of Estrada and his alias–Jose Velarde.
Lead prosecutor Rep. Niel Tupas Jr.
This time, the Senate allowed the issuance of subpoenas only pertaining to specific peso bank deposits of Corona. The prosecutors complied by specifying the account numbers. However, they found they needed to explain how they were able to obtain such information. They needed some defense against the ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ doctrine; that if the evidence was obtained illegally, then it would be inadmissible in court.
Rep. Rey Umali
Rep. Rey Umali (Oriental Mindoro) tried to convince the senators he got an envelop containing the bank documents from a “small lady” within the premises of the Senate. However, footage from the building’s CCTV cameras did not support Umali’s story. So it was Rep. Bolet Banal’s turn to make his best shot. Banal claimed he found the documents left at his house’s gate. One senator (I cannot remember who) asked him if there were CCTV cameras outside his house. I could claim he sorrowfully said there were none.
Rep. Bolet Banal
As things stand, the prosecution’s gambits paid off. The Senate ruled (with three not voting) to accept the evidence submitted regarding Corona’s peso deposits.
The defense panel, headed by former Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas, had their share of gambles. The first was relatively minor: a charge that lead prosecutor Tupas was himself building a P50 million mansion in Quezon City. It did not gain traction since it was Corona who was on trial. Representatives are not impeached; they must win elections otherwise they cease to be representatives.
Then, in the middle of February, the defense panel clad in red shirts (but with Cuevas absent) gave a week-end press
conference and accused Malakanyang of offering P100 million for each senator to defy the Supreme Court’s order to keep Corona’s dollar deposits secret.
The defense took a calculated risk. The senators were predictably incensed and several took the defense to task for making the accusation and was asked to name names–a usual demand in Philippine politics. Atty. Roy of the defense apologized profusely and explained that it was not their intention to tarnish the reputation of the honorable senators but only to warn of the Palace’s intentions.
It also appears that the defense’s gambit paid off. During that same Monday, the Senate voted to uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling on Corona’s dollar deposits. The apparent subtext is: if you voted against the Supreme Court, then you were reached by the Palace!
Other ploys of the defense did not meet as much success. It wanted anti-Corona senators such as Senators Franklin Drilon and Kiko Pangilinan to inhibit themselves from the impeachment proceedings. Suntok sa buwan ito! It is clear that President Noynoy Aquino wants Corona impeached and as loyal members of the ruling Liberal Party, Drilon and Pangilinan are expected to support the President. Even if that involves assisting a clearly-ill prepared prosecution panel.
Senator Franklin Drilon
The defense could have gained greater credibility if they also asked for the inhibition of clearly pro-Corona Senators such as Defensor-Santiago. That is, they want an impartial court. In contrast, the prosecution panel (save for the Vitaliano Aguirre incident) takes Santiago’s tongue-lashing and tirades in stride.
In the past days, Corona himself went on a media blitz and implicated two senators in a seeming plot to unseat him as Supreme Court Chief Justice.
First, he claimed Sen. Teofisto Guingona III, also of the Liberal Party, asked him to share his term as chief justice with Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the man believed to be acceptable to President Noynoy. Guingona dutifully denied Corona’s story and insisted they only met for dinner with other people.
Senator Teofisto Guingona III
Then Corona said that a male senator approached him and asked him to resign as chief justice. He declined to name the said senator because supposedly it will make the latter ‘angrier’. He added that senator knew that Corona was referring to him and that he will name him in due time. Feeling alluded to, Drilon denied Corona’s allegations and challenged the former to name the so-called senator immediately.
What is Corona’s game? Why is he riling some senators who will judge him?
I believe he is guided by the number of senators required to convict him. At present, there are only 23 senators because the vacancy created by the election of Noynoy Aquino as President was not filled. Be that as it may, 16 senators must vote in favor of his conviction. If only 15 senators do so, he is acquitted and remains Supreme Court Chief Justice. Put in another way, if 8 senators vote against his conviction, he is acquitted.
If indeed he (and his defense panel) is riling Drilon, Pangilinan, and Guingona, he probably believes that the former will vote against him no matter what. And the purpose of the propaganda offensive is to convince the public that the three will vote against him simply upon the bidding of the Palace. One must remember that his chief battle cry is to maintain the judiciary’s independence.
The defense will present its case tomorrow. The arguments of the defense will be the subject of future blog entries.