Why that sudden JPE inconsistent ruling on PAL perks?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-02-23
Many folks found it puzzling why Senate Impeachment Trial Presiding Officer Juan Ponce Enrile (JPE) disallowed PAL (Philippine Airlines) Vice President for Sales Enrique Javier from testifying last Tuesday and presenting the alleged perks that trial respondent, Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice (CJ) Renato Corona, had been getting from the airline while it has a pending case in the High Court.

In the light of the acceptance of the CJ’s pricey properties at the Bellagio, Columns and Bonifacio Ridge for Article 2 of the impeachment complaint, JPE’s reasons for disallowing the PAL perks to be presented seemed arbitrary and inconsistent. It stood out like a sore thumb from the many previous decisions JPE had been making in this impeachment trial.

These alleged perks would have established consideration and motive on the part of the CJ for what the prosecution is seeking to prove – that CJ Corona favored PAL over the FASAP (Flight Attendants and Stewards Association of the Philippines) case. Consideration and motive determine the differences between homicide and murder. How can consideration and motive be irrelevant and immaterial to the issue at hand?

Is JPE being overly accommodating to the defense, at the expense of the prosecution? Just log the amount of time he allows lead defense lawyer Serafin Cuevas to have the floor and you’ll see the disparity. JPE should be concerned that this impeachment trial is becoming more like a Cuevas show. Is it because JPE looks up to Cuevas? Has Cuevas managed to subconsciously influence JPE? Of course, the many fumbles of the prosecution and the inferior quality of its panel compared to that of defense is a contributory factor to the making of these impressions.

When the Solar TV legal resource persons led by Dean Amado Valdez discussed this sudden turn of events, they raised some valid observations. They wondered if JPE was placed in an uncomfortable defensive position by the opening remarks of Senator-Judge Miriam Santiago and the mere mention by Cuevas of “mistrial” after Santiago spoke. Cuevas may have premised the dropping of “mistrial” as something the defense wants to avoid but it certainly goes deeper than that. It’s also believed in legal circles that JPE led the tribunal to respect the SC TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) on the CJ’s dollar accounts to prevent the defense from exploiting the mistrial factor.

The perks that CJ Corona was allegedly enjoying from PAL had to be summarized by the prosecution through a proffer of proof, which isn’t the same as having presented it as evidence. The prosecution sought to establish that these were the reasons why the SC, upon the alleged prodding of CJ Corona, reversed the FASAP ruling on the mere letter of PAL counsel Estelito Mendoza, an irregularity by itself.

The following were presented in the prosecution manifestation:

CJ Renato Corona’s PAL trips abroad
• Manila-Guam (April 20, 2011), Guam-Manila (April 24, 2011)
• Manila-Singapore (April 15, 2011), Singapore-Manila (April 19, 2011)
• Manila-Honolulu, Hawaii (Dec. 25, 2010), Honolulu, Hawaii-Manila (Dec. 30, 2010)
• Manila-Hong Kong (December 20, 2010,) Hong Kong-Manila (Dec. 21, 2010).

Mrs. Tina Corona’s foreign and domestic PAL trips
• Manila-Jakarta, Indonesia (July 10, 2011), Jakarta, Indonesia-Manila (July 15 2011)
• Manila-Guam (April 20, 2011), Guam-Manila (April 24, 2011)
• Manila-Singapore (April 15, 2011), Singapore-Manila (April 19, 2011)
• Manila-Bangkok, Thailand (March 4, 2011), Manila-Bangkok, Thailand (March 7, 2011)
• Manila-Honolulu, Hawaii (Dec. 25, 2010), Manila-Honolulu, Hawaii (Dec. 30, 2010)
• Manila-Hong Kong (Dec. 18, 2010) Hong Kong-Manila (Dec. 21, 2010)
• Manila-Bacolod (July 28, 2011), Bacolod-Manila (July 28, 2011)
• Manila-General Santos City (June 3, 2011), General Santos City- Manila (June 4, 2011)
• Manila-Cebu (March 18, 2011), Cebu-Manila (March 19, 2011)
• Manila-Tagbiliran (March 22 and 24, 2011), Tagbiliran-Manila (March 24, 2011)
• Manila-General Santos City (March 2, 2011), Manila-General Santos City (March 3, 2011)
• Manila-Cebu (Feb. 15 and 16, 2011), Cebu-Manila (Feb. 16, 2011).

Other than free tickets in First or Business Class, at any day or time they wish to board a PAL flight, the Coronas enjoyed unlimited baggage allowance that came with being a PAL Platinum Card holder.

The core issue would have been the impropriety on the part of the CJ in accepting the alleged perks from an airline firm that has a pending case in the SC. It doesn’t matter if the sum total of these PAL benefits might not be commensurate to the granting of a SC favorable decision. The point is a CJ shouldn’t accept these freebies at all. Impeachment trial conviction is earned by acceptance of both small bribes and big bribes that would suffice as plunder. This cuts deep into the fitness of Renato Corona to stay on as CJ or hold another public office in the future.

It’s hoped that JPE and the other Senator-Judges would reconsider the earlier ruling to disallow the PAL testimony. The inconsistency with previous rulings of the tribunal on the prime properties has spawned reactions that reflect badly on the tribunal. The Senator-Judges should ask their staff to monitor public opinion on Facebook and other social media and see how many folks found it odd that no Senator-Judge appealed JPE’s ruling.

If JPE sees this impeachment trial as his swan song, he should be concerned if this ruling will end up as its most remembered controversy.

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