The defense lawyers of Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice (CJ) Renato Corona made a complete turnaround last Tuesday and announced that the CJ will personally testify in his impeachment trial. With some conditions imposed — from a no-show, the CJ is now a coming soon.
Many Senator-Judges have expressed their views that the CJ should testify. That placed supporters of the CJ in the tribunal in a very difficult position to acquit him. From the way the trial has progressed since the defense team’s presentation started, the perception of most Filipinos is that the points that were raised against the CJ were not convincingly debunked.
To add to the CJ’s woes, the Ombudsman exposed the extent of the CJ’s dollar accounts, presumed factual as this report was reportedly sourced from the Anti Money Laundering Council (AMLC). Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales had asked the CJ to explain how come he has 10 million US dollars in various bank accounts. The amount would seem incoherent with the known sources of income of the CJ and his wife. Unjustified and unexplained, this is then presumed to be ill-gotten wealth. That’s over P400 million that the CJ will have to explain.
Even before this US$10 million development, many Senator-Judges were already saying that the CJ would have to testify, a clear indication that he’s headed for a conviction. The defense team realized that they couldn’t simply dismiss this with their usual dosage of technicalities.
The defense strategy of hiding behind technicalities and press releases had failed. The impeachment trial isn’t an ordinary court case that operates with the standard rules of court and evidence. The impeachment court operates under its own rules where liberality is the buzzword. The question isn’t so much of whether the CJ transgressed but whether he’s fit for the job he’s holding. Being part of a political process, the CJ has to live with public perception. If more than 50 percent of Filipinos intensely feel that CJ Corona must be convicted, the Senator-Judges cannot simply disregard public opinion. In a political process, public opinion weighs heavily if a CJ is to be declared as unfit for the job.
One complicating factor going against the CJ is that we’re entering an election campaign period. In fact, the ‘subtle’ campaigning of several candidates have already started. If somehow the CJ manages to get an acquittal, there will likely ensue a new impeachment complaint that will be filed in December and also very likely he would be impeached anew by the House of Representatives.
That second impeachment complaint would be a far stronger case due to the other pieces of evidence that surfaced during this trial. Better written and with more solid bases, the defense in the second trial might be unable to dismiss many of these new charges. In this current trial, the poorly prepared articles of impeachment aided the defense. Many big issues could not be accepted as evidence because these were not included in the articles of impeachment.
Surely, the last thing the Senators would want is another impeachment trial during the campaign period for the May 2013 elections. Those who supported a CJ acquittal — including those who abstained — will be made to account by the majority who wanted a conviction. Expect the Liberal Party to make this a rallying point in the campaign, something that the UNA (United Nationalist Alliance) wouldn’t want to happen. UNA is shaping up to be the second most formidable political group in the 2013 elections.
Not only for the risk of courting a public backlash, the UNA senatorial candidates and party bosses would not want an impeachment trial that will take away precious time from campaigning. A second impeachment trial in 2013 would also tend to take away a lot of media space and time for promoting the candidates. The UNA will be the most affected political group should there be a second impeachment trial.
During the vote to honor or not the SC TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) stopping the opening of the dollar accounts of the CJ, there were 13 Senator-Judges who voted to honor the TRO. They were: Senator-Judges Joker Arroyo, Miriam Santiago, Ralph Recto, Loren Legarda, Jinggoy Estrada, Chiz Escudero, Koko Pimentel, Bong Revilla, Bongbong Marcos, Manny Villar, Tito Sotto, Gringo Honasan and Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE). Those who voted to reject the SC TRO were Senator-Judges Frank Drilon, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Serge Osmena, TG Guingona, Kiko Pangilinan, Ed Angara, Ping Lacson, Lito Lapid and Antonio Trillanes III.
Your Chair Wrecker foresees that Senators Ralph Recto, Jinggoy Estrada, Chiz Escudero, Koko Pimentel, Tito Sotto, Juan Ponce-Enrile and Gringo Honasan would eventually vote for a conviction. That would transform the 13-10 TRO vote to a 17-6 vote for conviction, one more than the required 16 votes. There’s also no discounting that Senators Manny Villar and Loren Legarda could vote for a conviction too.
It all boils down to this: if CJ Corona would not make the one move, which is to testify, that could best explain his predicament — then why should a Senator-Judge risk political capital acquitting him?
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