Day 22 Corona Impeachment Highlights: Selective justice…impeaching a man for the “sins” of 8

by Wilfred Avila
Originally posted at Noisy Minority

A pleasant sight to see at the Senate Halls yesterday as they did The Defense Chronicles were Leslie Bocobo and Camille Zamora. They added color to the otherwise drab black and white colors we normally see at the hearings. They seem to have found their niche in producing the The Defense Chronicles. Congratulations to you both and, of course, the many silent people behind the project. It is truly enlightening.

Of course, my friend Bel Belinda Olivares-Cunanan is a daily fixture at the Senate keeping track of the events as they unfold. The same goes for former Senators Kit Tatad and Ernesto Maceda. What is interesting to note is the diminishing number of people who attend the hearings. I am speaking here of the highly visible number of Congressmen who attend the hearings daily. Could the call of Representative Mitos Magsaysay have anything to do it? It will be recalled that she called on her fellow Representatives to do their job in the house and stop being mere spectators at the Senate. Noteworthy is the number of High School and College students who flock daily to the Senate for the hearings. A learning experience indeed.

Meanwhile, the minority bloc in the House of Representatives said Wednesday it is considering filing an ethics complaint against Oriental Mindoro Representative Reynaldo Umali and Quezon City Representative Jorge Banal for possessing bank documents of Chief Justice Renato Corona. Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez, the Minority leader, said they will firm up their decision in a caucus on Monday.

“We are considering that. They practically violated the laws on bank secrecy by mere possession of the document, and as lawmakers, they carry the reputation of the House and it’s not good for the House,” Suarez said in a phone interview. Umali told the Senate impeachment trial that a “small lady” whose existence he admitted he could not prove handed him the bank documents in an envelope. Banal, on the other hand, claimed his copy was slipped under the gate of his home.

The bank records were used by the prosecution team in the ongoing impeachment trial of Corona as evidence that he was not truthful in his declaration of his wealth in the Statement of Assets Liabilities and Net worth. Asked for his reaction, Umali said it is the minority’s prerogative to file a complaint. “That would be unfortunate but that’s within their prerogative. I hope they will not violate my right and damage my integrity or credibility because they may be made liable therefore under Article 19 of the Civil Code among other laws,” Umali said in a text message.

Now, here’s a man who talks of HIS rights and quite nonchalantly forgets the rights of others. Is this selective justice?

Today’s hearings started at 2:30pm with 20 Senator-Judges in attendance.

As soon as it started, Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago spoke on the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. She was particular about the Impeachment Court’s denial of the presentation of the Philippine Airlines’ Vice-President’s testimony.

Santiago underlined that she supported the court’s denial of the testimony of the PAL VP. She reminded everyone that the accused should be informed of the accusations against him, and that the court cannot admit testimony or evidence of any witness regarding an allegation not in the complaint. She drew parallelism between this trial and that of former president Joseph Estrada’s impeachment hearings in 2001. We noticed that Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada was all ears as the feisty lady senator was speaking.

Prosecutor-Congressman Representative Giordigi Aggabao took the floor and manifested on the “proffer of proof” and continued to say that PAL VP for sales was the last witness in connection with the FASAP case covered in Article III.

Aggabao announced that they will no longer be presenting evidence and witnesses related to the three remaining charges in Article III: The “excessive entanglement” with former president Gloria Arroyo; the alleged use of public funds for personal use; and the alleged discussion of cases with litigants. He clarified that the prosecution was “waiving, excising” the said portions of the article since there was no longer need for them.

Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo asked whether the private Prosecutor during the previous day’s trial was present and was told that he wasn’t. We failed to note the importance of this. He further asked whether that private prosecutor as, in fact, the FASAP lawyer as well.

Senator-Judges Francis Escudero and Santiago asked whether the prosecution was dropping all other charges and actually closing Article 3 of the complaints. Prosecutor-Aggabao reiterated the prosecution’s position and said that Article 3 was closed with finality. Aggabao informed the court that they were ready to move on to Article VII – that the respondent betrayed the public trust through his partiality in granting a temporary restraining order in favor of former President Arroyo even without life and death urgency and even without all conditions set by the Supreme Court being met.

Senator-Judge Enrile also clarified what the prosecution will do with Articles IV, V, and VI, and Representative Niel Tupas reiterated the earlier proposed sequence submitted by the prosecution and agreed to by the court.

Prosuctor Representative Neri Colmenares laid the “road map” for Article VII. Lead Prosecutor Serafin Cuevas objected to the manifestation but Presiding-Judge Enrile clarified that the prosecution was only laying a summary of what they will be presenting in Article VII.

Prosecutor Representive Raul Daza handled the chores for the prosecution and called their first witness, Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima who arrived at the Senate grounds with a phalanx of security guards.

De Lima was asked about her duties as DOJ chief and her specific functions in implementing hold departure orders and watchlist orders. The DOJ chief explained the circumstances surrounding the watch list orders she issued against the former president, as well as the denial for the lifting of the Hold Departure Orders.

She further testified on the incidents surrounding the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Supreme Court against the hold departure orders issued by the DOJ. She testifieds that the Supreme Court issued the Temporary Restraining order on November 15, 2011, which restrained her and the Commissioner of Immigration from enforcing Circular No. 41 and the watchlist orders. The TRO had three condtions: posting of P2 million bond, appointment of legal representative common to both the former President and the First Gentleman and reporting to the various consulates/embassies in her stated destinations.

She continued to enumerate to the court that they received the TRO on November 16, but the SC, through its spokesperson Justice Midas Marquez, (whom she called Mr. Marquez) said in a November 15 press conference that the TRO was immediately executory. She also expounded on the TRO voting.

Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas stated that De Lima’s testimony is beyond the purpose and scope of the impeachment complaint. However, Enrile clarified the DOJ chief was called to narrate the events surrounding the watchlist order, TRO, and that the Senator-Judges couldn discern what is knowledge and hearsay.

Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile then asked her a few questions. He zeroed in on whether CJ Corona acted on his own in any instance related to the case? De Lima uncomfortable replied that there was none but added that in a dissenting opinion of Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno “that there were matters woth looking into”.

Cuevas again tried to object and manifested that the matters being dealt with were confidential and violated etiquette. Enrile overruled his objection and demanded that De Lima read the pertinent entries in Justice Sereno’s dissenting opinion.

This took a long 10 minutes. Paper upon paper was presented to her. De Lima read the part of Sereno’s dissent where the SC justice recounted Corona’s supposedly telling SC Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco not to promulgate the Sereno dissent. She continued to read from Sereno’s account that the Chief Justice sent handwritten corrections to the Clerk of Court on en banc stipulating that version be released.

She proceeded to testify on the events surrounding the attempted departure of the Arroyo couple on November 15. She clarified that they did not follow the TRO because the department of Justice they did not receive an official copy as of that time.

Continuing, she explained the DOJ’s position, and reiterated that the TRO was improper. She opined that a TRO is suppose to prevent issues from being moot. The main issue, she clearly stated was if they should allow the former president to leave the country despite pending cases?

Senator-Judge Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. asked Secretary De Lima if anyone asked her for the issuance of the watch list (implying Malacanang and the president). She replied that she did it on her own volition. Revilla continued to ask about Circular 41 and the DOJ’s receipt of the TRO. The DOJ secratary replied that they never received the TRO since she was in Malacanang awaiting the results of the SC’s decision! So. why wait in Malacanang? Was the SC suppose to deliver it there? Reminded gently by Revilla that she once served with former president GMA and asked whether she liked it and she replied that she indeed had and was grateful for the opportunity to serve as Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights!

Senator-Judge Alan Peter Cayetano wanted clarification on a few things from the prosecution. He asked as to when is the moment that a SC decision is simply erroneous and when is it an impeachable offense? Daza answered for the prosecution. I realy have difficulty with Cayetano. He goes about in a round about way of asking his questions and people have to reformulate his questions to a more concise fashion to understand them.

Lead Counsel Serafin Cuevas took his turn at the podium. He pointed out that SC decisions could not be reversed. De Lima, reiterated that they were questioning the propriety of the TRO because it went against the “essence of what a TRO is.”

She was also asked whether she felt that the departments under the Executive felt they were higher than the Supreme Court and she enunciated clearly that the Executive and the Judiciary were equal and that Departments, being under the Executive, could be seen as co-equal to the Judiciary.

Other questions were asked on the “conspiracy” of the justices and Corona’s control over the court. This was objected to Prosecution Daza but Cuevas reformulated the question. He asked whether eight justices voting one way constituted a conspiracy and she replied to the negative. She, however, clarified her answer that there were attenuating circumstances such as the Serena and Carpio dissents.

Cuevas then requested to continue cross examination on the following day due to the lateness of the hour. This was granted. Majority Leader Sotto stated that several Senator-Judges were also lined up to question the DOJ Secretary.

What did we gather in today’s hearing. Simply stated we have selectibe justice in this country where the so-called “sins of 8” can be the cause of the impeachment of one man!

In toto, the DOJ Secretary’s testimony left a lot of people wondering why she focused on the dissenting votes of Justices’ Sereno and Carpio and not concentrate more on the premise of the en banc decision itself. How did she get copies of the dissenting opinions of Serena and Carpio to defend her thesis and not the Supreme Court’s decision itself as a body? Just asking.

Photo source: Philippine Senate