Day 25: Highlights of Corona Impeachment Trial- Of tapes, chips & a gridlock

by Wilfred Avila

Going to the Senate that day was an ordeal. As early as last night, some people started to arrive at Luneta to camp out and sing songs. In the early morning dawn, buses by the hundreds were lining up the stretch of Roxas Boulevard to drop their precious load of thousands of people. Soon after, jeepneys from every town and city of Metro-Manila and outlying areas started to arrive. From the Coastal Road coming from Cavite and from the NLEX and SLEX they arrived non-stop! The lines of vehicles that carried our Kapatids stretched from Intramuros all the way to the Coastal Highway.

There was nothing that MMDA could do. The major thoroughfare of Roxas Boulevard turned into one giant parking lot on both sides. Even the service roads were turned into more parking lots. Only one lane of Roxas Boulevard on both sides was used for slow, very slow tarffic! All the MMDA could do was report the situation. C5, Kalayaan, Airport Road was also lined with jeeps parked on the side road ready to roll to Luneta on a signal. It was a total gridlock!

The Senate Hall was like a ghost town. Not too many VIPS. The VIP Section seated only about 10 people led by the former Senator Francisco Tatad and a mixing of the Prosecution Team. Unlike regular days, not too many members of the House were present when the prosecutors announced their decision. It would seem that they already knew what was coming.

Everybody seemed to wait for the last minute before entering the hall. Both the prosecution and the Defense were slow to trickle in. Notably was the absence of the Lead Defense Counsel Serafin Cuevas.

The hearing started at a little after 2:00 pm with Sentator-Judge Allan Peter Cayetano leading what sounded like an evangelical prayer. There were 15 Senator-Judges present.

The traffic gridlock caused by thousands of members of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) trooping to the Luneta grandstand to attend affected even the Senate hearings. A majority of the defense lawyers, including lead counsel Serafin Cuevas, arrived late!

Defense Lawyer Joel Bodegon notified the Impeachment Court that Cuevas was coming in late due to the the traffic where he was stuck with the other lawyers.

“Hardly is the table for the defense filled. Most of our lawyers are stuck in traffic and our chief defense counsel is on his way,” Bodegon said.

It was indeed a sight to see. Only defense counsels Bodegon, Rico Paolo Quicho and Karen Jimeno were seated in the area designated for the defense panel inside the session hall. Later defense counsel Ramon Esguerra said he was stuck in traffic for hours at the corner of Buendia and Makati avenues, prompting him to just go back to his office.

Representing Cuevas, Atty. Bodegon requested for a one-hour break at the start of the impeachment proceedings yesterday since many of the lawyers were somewhere en route due to the big rally of the INC. Instead of suspending the hearing a consensus was arrived at. The Impeachment Court moved to suspend the cross-examination of ABS-CBN cameraman Edmon Losalla and allowed other witnesses to be presented by the prosecution.

The Prosecution called their next witness, Elenita Gatbonton, of the Malacañang Records office. They said that they would prove Corona’s ties with former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Gatbonton proceeded to identify documents pertaining to Corona’s appointment as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. There was no cross examination since all this was of public knowledge. Gatbonton was discharged from the witness chair.

Danny Piedad, another ABS-CBN cameraman was called next to the stand. Presiding Judge Juan Ponce-Enrile took over the questioning from prosecution. The witness recalled that he shot the video of former President Arroyo upon her arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on November 15, 2011.

The showing of the video shot by ABS-CBN cameraman Danny Piedad is previewed. It showed the former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroya as she arrived at the NAIA. It also showed the chaotic and almost surreal events duting the coverage.

Defense Lead Counsel Serafin Cuevas finally arrived at the Session Hall. He apologized to the Court for his late arrival and JPE waved it aside saying that it was understandable. “May I extend my apologies to the entire court, your honor. I wanted to fly but I could not,” Cuevas quipped.

Cuevas questioned the authenticity of material on DVD presented by the prosecution and asked to postpone cross examination of Piedad who seemed nervous about the whole ordeal.

The prosecution then called the head of the ABS-CBN News Library, Rochelle Mendez, and she took the witness stand.The witness was asked to testify on the authenticity of the material on the DVDs presented in the hearings earlier and yesterday.

Cuevas cross examined witness Rochelle Mendez. Cuevas clarified whether Mendez herself labelled the DVDs that were presented. Also, Cuevas asked if she was, in fact, already with the network when these DVDs were created and whether she knew that the transfer itself was faithful to the actual footages that were taken. To all these, she replied in the negative.

The lead Consel then resumed his cross examination of ABS-CBN cameraman Edmond Losalla. othing new to Losalla’s testimony. The witness was excused.

It was then that counsel Serafin Cuevas requested for permission to cross examine ABS-CBN cameraman Piedad in the next hearing citing that he missed his testimony. With some objection from the prosecutor Representative Colminares, this was granted by the court.

Colmenares then asked to be informed of the Impeachment court’s decision on summons for employees of the Supreme Court. It will be recalled that there was an instruction for the IC Clerk of Court to go to the SC Clerk of Court to see about the decision of the Supreme Court regarding the request to be allowed to call in witnesses from the SC.

The Clerk of Court read the reply denying permission to have employees and staff of the Supreme Court from appearing at the Impeachment Court. Colmenares sarcastically asked: “May tinatago ba ang Supreme Court sa hukumang ito?”

Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada asked the prosecution whether they had more witnesses to present for Article 7. Lead prosecutor Representative Niel Tupas said that they were done presenting witnesses. Sen. Estrada then smilingly asked the prosecution, “after this, are we done?” Tupaz coyly answered that they had a manifestation to deliver after all the questioning.

Senator-Judge Kiko Pangilinan manifested that the SC decision to prohibit employees from testifying puts into question the sole power of the Senate to try the case.

The Presiding Judge, Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile then replied: “To be fair to everybody, this chair will humbly state for the record, the SC has no jurisdiction over the trial and the decision the Senate will make. This is not indicated in the action of the SC. The SC is the guardian of the constitution. They know the sovereign will of the people repose in this Senate the sole power to try and decide this case. The SC
cannot decide it. What happened was that we issued a subpoena and the internal rules of the SC, which is a co-equal department with us, says we have our own internal rules on this matter and we do not allow judges, justices and employees to be subpoenaed by the Impeachment Court. That is another matter. It does not deprive us of our jurisdiction to try this case. They are not impeding us from continuing this trial and deciding on this case, based on the evidence we have at hand.”

Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon quickly moved to tackle the matter in a closed-door caucus. This was allowed by JPE with no objections.

Senator-Judge Loren Legarda took the podium to ask from the prosecution for some clarifications. She said that she wanted to undestand if there really was a herculean effort, powers were utilized to pay the cash bond. A discussion ensued as to the exact timing of the delivery of the bond payment to the SC and the terminolgies used by the prosecutor in yesterday’s presentation of the tape given by Lasalla.

Lead prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr. said the prosecution was terminating its presentation of evidence for Articles 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 and would rely solely on what they presented for Articles 2, 3 and 7 to secure a conviction of Corona.

He manifested that, “On Jan. 30, 2012, on day 8 of the impeachment trial, we manifested that the House panel will present its case within a reasonable time as we believe that this is the best for the nation. We do not wish to prolong the proceedings and impose upon the time of this honorable tribunal, the respondent and that of the public that we serve.”

“It is our humble submission that we have already presented a strong case and the evidence that we have laid down suffices for the removal from office of Chief Justice Renato Corona for betrayal of public trust with the presentation of Articles 3, 7 and especially Article 2,” he continued.

Tupas enumerated that the prosecution had presented 17 witnesses for Article 2, one witness for Article 3 and seven witnesses for Article 7 for a total of 25 witnesses. He continued saying that the prosecution has marked 166 documents for Article 2, another 16 for Article 3 and 65 for Article 7 for a total of 397.

Tupas underlined that their presentation for Articles 3 and 7 already proved Corona was guilty of betrayal of public trust. For Article 2, Tupas underlined that they have shown the Chief Justice was guilty of both betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.

Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile directed Tupas to file a formal notice to the court that it is withdrawing and, in effect, canceling the five other articles contained in the Articles of Impeachment against the Chief Justice.

He further clarified whether they were sure. Tupaz affirmed that they would no longer pursue the other articles and that they would no longer present more witnesses. Enrile stated that based on their decision, “You will stand and fall on your case against the respondent based on the three articles.”

Again the Presiding Judge clarified whether the prosecution was dropping other Articles of Impeachment, particularly Articles 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8.(#1, #4, #5, #6 and #8) Tupaz clearly answered that the prosecution was withdrawing these articles. That was final!

In making his manifestation, Tupas said the prosecution reserved its right to present additional evidence on the dollar accounts of Corona at the Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) that are the subject of a case filed before the Supreme Court by the bank itself. The Presiding Judge declared, “I want a formal notice of your clear stand on this matter,” and banged his gavel!

In a press conference immediately after the dropping of the five articles against CJ Corona, the Defense Spokepersons showed that the entire complaint is weak and constitutionally infirm from the very beginning. “This development only bolsters our belief since the beginning that the complaint is weak on its face,” Corona’s lawyer Ramon Esguerra said.

Defense lawyers Tranquil Salvador and Rico Paolo Quicho also welcomed the move, saying this would speed up proceedings. “The defense is ready from Day One as shown by what CJ stated in his answer to the complaint. We have witnesses for all the three articles. We are likely to present evidence even on the other five articles,” Esguerra added.

Esguerra added that the defense will present evidence that the impeachment complaint is “constitutionally flawed and fatally defective.”

“We will soon present our witnesses, too, on our affirmative defense that the complaint is constitutionally flawed and fatally defective for violation of due process and the requisite verification,” he said. This will also allow the defense the earlier opportunity to present their evidence and controvert the prosecution he added.

“It was their call. But to be clear, they are terminating their presentation of evidence after only three out of eight. The court asked them to write this in a formal written submission. They will still ask time to make a formal offer of their almost 400 documentary exhibits. We will be given an opportunity to file our objections and comments to such exhibits,” Esguerra continued. The Senate will still have to decide which exhibits will be made admissible.

“A ruling on whether or not some or all those exhibits are admissible will be made by the Court. A period of about ten days may be needed for this aspect of the trial. Then the defense will start presenting its evidence,” he said.

This also “strengthens our view that they actually have no evidence from the start which they started gathering only during the trial,” Salvador quipped. The prosecution was only able to present about 25 witnesses out of the 100 possible witnesses they listed in their memorandum to the impeachment court.

Sen. Joker Arroyo, who served as a prosecutor during the impeachment trial of former President Joseph Estrada, said it was the privilege of the prosecution panel to withdraw the other Articles of Impeachment. “If they file the notice informing the Senate that they are no longer pursuing the five articles, so be it and that’s it,” Arroyo said.

Lead prosecutor Tupas said the decision to withdraw the five other articles of impeachment came about after more than two weeks of continuous discussions among the members of the prosecution panel in consultation with Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II. Tupas said that for the past two weeks, the prosecution panel had been meeting nightly on the issue and the final decision was reached only last Monday. He said a majority of the prosecution panel members wanted to end its case as early as the completion of presentation of Article 2.

However, they had to consider the preparations made by the prosecutors for all Articles of Impeachment before making their decision, he continued. Tupas said the decision to withdraw the five other articles was unanimous upon determining that they already had enough evidence to convict Corona.

Tupas said that the prosecution would start its offer of evidence to the court today to include the information on the accounts of Corona in PSBank, a major part of their case in Article 2.

However the defense panel has filed a motion to suppress because they felt this was illegally acquired evidence. if this is done, Tupaz countered that the prosecution would file an opposition to that motion because “this is clearly admissible as evidence.”

Senator Judge Aquilino Pimentel III said in a televised interview that the prosecution took a risk in that decision. “It’s their judgment call. We are ready to hear all articles. If they are withdrawing 5 and it will shorten the entire proceedings, that’s okay. But they will have to live with the outcome. Win or lose, they will have to live with the outcome,” he underlined. “We’re excited to hear the defense’s story,” he added.

On the other hand, Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas said they were not threatened by the prosecution’s announcement on Tuesday. “We had long been hearing that they are dropping charges. Pero hindi namin alam kung kelan,” he continued.

Cuevas also dismissed the prosecution’s claim that Article 2 is a strong case against Corona. “What bank accounts and properties? They have not yet offered (as evidence). They’ll have to formally offer that. We will be allowed to object and then the court will make a ruling. Kung disallowed lahat yun, e di balewala ang ebidensya nila,” said Cuevas.

The defense panel filed on Monday a motion asking the court to disregard the bank accounts of Corona on the basis that it was obtained illegally. They cited testimonies of PSBank officials declaring prosecution’s photocopy of Corona’s bank records as “fake” or “spurious.”

But prosecutor Representative Fariñas dismissed the motion. They are not threatened, he said. He continued to say that it’s the time for Corona to fulfill his promise that he will open his bank accounts. “We’re not yet happy because we should have a conviction verdict. We still have a job to do during the presentation of defense,” Tupaz said.

“We are preparing right now. Me, the deputy lead prosecutor, and our senior lawyers are preparing already for cross examination. We are studying list of witness and reviewing our rules,” Tupas said.

Another tapes, accompanied by DVD and a chip was added to the Library of the Senate while on the other side of Roxas Boulevard, the show was just about to begin, a much bigger show! What was rushed to the Senate led by wang-wang sirens to even hasten the filing of the Impeachment case against the Chief Justice may very well end up in a dead end! With no way to back up, we have a gridlock!