Chief Prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr. should be replaced
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-01-26
The impeachment trial prosecutors from the House of Representatives fail to compare in legal savvy and courtroom acumen with the lawyers of the defense panel. From your Chair Wrecker’s point of view, the prosecutors look like a UAAP basketball team tangling with an NBA team. It’s like Far Eastern University led by RR Garcia versus the Miami Heat led by Lebron James.

If that’s not bad enough, the prosecutors are led on the floor by Representative Niel Tupas Jr., an underperformer. If Serafin Cuevas of the defense is likened to the NBA’s Lebron James, Niel Tupas could be likened to the UAAP’s Emman Monfort. It’s a mismatch and this was clearly demonstrated during last Tuesday’s resumption of the impeachment trial, after a four-day lull.

In last Tuesday’s exchange between Chief Prosecutor Tupas and lead defense lawyer Cuevas, Tupas was totally outclassed. To support his arguments, Cuevas had the provisions of law at his fingertips. Tupas hardly presented any strong legal fact to bolster what the prosecution panel wants to accomplish — the liberalization of rulings regarding the acceptance of evidence and the admission of the ill-gotten wealth provisions of Article II of the impeachment case. 

The defense submitted last Tuesday their urgent motion pleading non-admissibility of the ill-gotten wealth portions of Article II. Again, Cuevas relied on the rules of court and the rules of evidence as applied in a regular criminal or civil case. Presiding Officer, Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile (JPE), rejected the prosecution’s request to submit their counter motion, pleading acceptance of the ill-gotten wealth portions of Article II, on Thursday. JPE gave the prosecution a Wednesday, 10 a.m., submission deadline. The prosecution promised to comply.

It took Senator-Judges Miriam D. Santiago and Alan Peter Cayetano to bring the impeachment trial on track — the point that the rules of court, criminal or civil, are only suppletory and cannot be adopted wholly. Santiago reinforced what JPE said on Day 1 that the impeachment court isn’t compelled to follow the rules of court and isn’t subject to Supreme Court interference.

It should have been the task of Tupas to argue and sell the liberal parameters on evidence. Tupas hardly made any effort to do that. Instead, Tupas delved into matters that were off tangent, or of little importance to the prosecution cause. He appeared to be a babe in the woods — exposed as a legal chick competing with legal eagles. It would not surprise your Chair Wrecker if Tupas raised the blood pressure of many folks who followed the impeachment trial in real time on broadcast media.

It’s bad enough that Tupas was operating like a kid’s prattle — he committed the mortal sin of not recognizing that Senator-Judge Santiago had inadvertently won the prosecution’s pleadings for a liberal interpretation of the rules. He should have kept his mouth shut after Santiago established the parameters for the tribunal. Oh no! Tupas just had to grab the microphone again and subsequently made the monumental blunder of antagonizing JPE by making it appear that JPE was making things hard for the prosecution to introduce evidence.

When JPE asked Tupas for specific guidelines on how the Presiding Officer could be more liberal, Tupas could not offer any specific suggestion. JPE asked Tupas if he wants the Presiding Officer to admit hearsay, allow argumentative cross-examination of witnesses and so forth — Tupas said no. Now what do you call a man who asks for something that’s important and vital to his cause and could not exactly describe what it is exactly that he wanted?
It got so bad that JPE — long said to be pikon (easily miffed) — thought that Tupas expressed what perhaps many of the Senator-Judges were also thinking. He had to. He lives as primus inter pares because that’s the pleasure of the majority of his Senate peers.

JPE reminded the Senator-Judges that at any point when he makes a ruling, they could always argue against it and let a division of the house decide the issue. This protocol was followed when Senator-Judge Alan Cayetano raised an objection to the ruling that the family of Chief Justice (CJ) Rene Corona will not be summoned to appear and testify. A division of the house settled that issue.

It didn’t have to get to this point where JPE had to ‘bare his chest’ before the Senator-Judges. JPE’s performance of his duty as Presiding Officer of the impeachment trial is widely regarded as fair and very competently conducted. It got to that point only because Tupas did not know when to keep his mouth shut. It got to that point and Senator-Judge Manny Villar had to take the floor to reassure JPE that he enjoyed the full confidence and trust of the Senator-Judges and that to them he was doing a superb job. Villar proved to be the right man for that job. He did a splendid job of putting the impeachment trial in the right perspective.

George Bernard Shaw wrote in St. Joan words to the effect that it’s bad not to know when you’re defeated but worse when you don’t know when you’re victorious. Chief Prosecutor Niel Tupas, Jr. should think about that.

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