Impeachment trial ups and downs
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-01-19
The Senate must be commended for the decisiveness, manner and substance exhibited during the opening last Monday of the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice (CJ) Renato Corona.

Just like it was during the congressional canvassing of the 2010 elections, Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile (JPE) proved to be a sobering, powerful figure of authority. As presidng officer, he dismissed two motions that could have derailed the trial — one motion from the CJ seeking a preliminary hearing to verify the legality of the impeachment case, the other from a lawyer who filed a contempt case against the prosecutors. He didn’t allow CJ counsel, former Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, to impose his seniority and knowledge of the law. Cuevas could have intimidated a presiding officer of lesser caliber — but not JPE.

JPE also established the point that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the Senate in the impeachment trial, effectively sending a stern warning to anyone plotting to seek a Supreme Court TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) to stop the impeachment trial. JPE also clarified that the people should rely on their representatives, the Senators, to conduct a fair impeachment trial.

The prosecution was indirectly advised by JPE to present their evidences to the Senate Tribunal and not to the public and the media. Premature public announcement of the landholdings and condos of the CJ was deplored. It’s one thing for an enterprising journalist to discover these evidences and scoop competitors in disseminating these, and another matter altogether when prosecutors present these to the public first, instead of the Senate Tribunal.

The CJ isn’t guiltless insofar as pandering to the peanutt gallery is concerned. On the morning of the impeachment trial’s opening day, CJ Corona spoke before his usual judiciary rah-rah crowd and pleaded his defense on the 45 properties that he and his wife allegedly own. The prosecutors reacted — saying that the CJ’s speech about his alleged properties (aired live by television) violated the trial rules because it discussed the merits of the case. The prosecutors claimed that they merely informed the public about what they’ll present during the trial.

In his backyard forum, CJ Corona went to the bottom of the pit by raising his conspiracy theory. He named his three top persecutors as someone seeking to prevent the transfer of Hacienda Luisita lands to the farmers, someone who wanted to be a vice president but lost in 2010 and someone who has been raring to become Chief Justice. It doesn’t take a genius to deduce who these three persons are — President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy), DOTC Sec. Mar Roxas and Associate Justice Tony Carpio.

The conspiracy theory may appear to be a diversionary tactic to many, but your Chair Wrecker sees a possible sinister angle. It could be subterfuge intended to divide the coalition supporting the P-Noy administration. This conspiracy subterfuge seems aimed at creating a rift between P-Noy and his vice president – Jojo Binay.

The mere suggestion of Justice Tony Carpio becoming the CJ is perceived by political forces allied with the vice president — not necessarily the vice president himself — to be a plot to tilt the balance in favor of Mar Roxas in his election protest against VP Binay. While P-Noy isn’t involved in this said plot, his administration stands to suffer a major setback with a realignment of forces.
CJ Corona has been conducting his defense like a political election campaign instead of an impeachment trial that should thrive on evidences and legal arguments. Even his supporters sound like an election candidate’s rah-rah team. The Supreme Court has been redecorated last Monday with slogans and iconic posters befitting a proclamation rally. However, it only demeaned the image of the Chief Justice. By his own words and actions, CJ Rene Corona has demeaned the Supreme Court and the Judiciary.

JPE’s setting the right tone on the very first day is very important because that will influence the behavior of prosecutors, defense lawyers as well as the media and the public. A namby-pamby opening day conduct of the impeachment trial could encourage distracting methods and deviant behavior to be attempted. 

After JPE quickly and decisively rejected one his most important defense maneuvers — the motion for a preliminary hearing of the impeachment case — CJ Corona should seriously consider resigning. The dismissal of the motion for a preliminary hearing also indicates the sentiments of the other Senator-Judges.

UE (University of the East) Law Dean Amado Valdez raised a good point last Monday when he appeared as resource person in the PTV-4 coverage. Valdez averred that if one of the high priced properties was transferred to another name and it’s proved to be a cover up, then it’s game over for the CJ. That would establish that CJ Corona is unfit for public office. Valdez and Conrad de Quiros were very enlightening as resource persons of the PTV-4 coverage.

The second day of the impeachment trial proved less interesting. The inadequacy of the prosecution panel was glaring. Senator-Judge Alan Peter Cayetano made a better fight for a point favoring the prosecution, which Chief Prosecutor Niel Tupas previously surrendered. The prosecutors shot themselves in the foot again by failing to convincingly justify why they should start the presentation of evidence with Article 2, only to bungle on their very first evidence.

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