Day 26 #CoronaTrial Highlights: The face-off, Sleeping beauty and the long week off!

by Wilfred Avila

A quarter past two in the afternoon, the Senator-Judges filed into the Senate Hall to being the 26th day of the longest impeachment trial ever. Well, to be precise, the only impeachment trial ever in Philippine historywith Senator-Judge Pia Cayetano leading the prayers for a wisdom filled afternoon. Twenty Senator-Judges were present for this hearing.

As the trial began, Minority Floor Leader Sen. Alan Cayetano stood first and said that he undertook some research related to immunity of Supreme Court Justices. He wanted the Senate, as a body, to further discuss the Supreme Court’s resolution barring employees from testifying in the Impeachment hearings and releasing of documents required in the deliberations. He further said that he prepared a legal study based on cases he researched. He ended by stating that this could be taken up in a caucus.

Senator-Judge Pia Cayetano stood next and informed the prosecution that there’s was no testimony given to prove that the Supreme Court office hours were extended. “We spent minutes trying not to fall asleep to watch video (that were presented from the testimony of the ABS-CBN network) but no testimony on the time,” she said! The prosecution tried to rectify this mistake by stating the time for the actual press-conference and delivery of the bond of the Arroyos but Cayetano rebuttted that there was no actual time given to the court.

Presiding Judge and Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile addressed both the defense and the prosecution. He strongly reminded them not to make sweeping statements outside the court claiming victory. He further said that a winner has yet to be decided and that the SenatorJudges themselves, as a Court, would render the judgment. He deliberately said that when the outcome of the trial has been decided, that the losing party not to accuse the Senator-Judges of being bribed to vote a certain way. The web has been filled with stories of monies being exchanged for the Senator-Judges to vote one way or the other.

The postponed cross-examination of ABS-CBN cameraman Danny Piedad was continued by Lead Defense Counsel Justice Serafin Cuevas. Piedad said he was already feeding stories back to ABS-CBN from his coverage earlier in the day through the network’s Filed Unit Van and thiught that his day’s chores were over when ABS-CBN reporter Zen Hernandez informed him that they might need to stay on at the NAIA for another coverage. Piedad said he did not know GMA was leaving and where she was going and that, in fact, turned out to be their new coverage assignment. Cuevas asked additional details of the assignment but merely to clarify the time of the events as they transpired at the airport. No further questions and the witness was released by the court.

Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor Santiago took to the podium and said that the prosecution’s dropping of more than half the Articles of Impeachment was unprecedented. “You are prejudging the case. What are you doing, conducting trial by publicity?” She accused the prosecution of misleading the court. “Ang yayabang ng nagsasalita ng ganyan, gago naman.” This is where I noticed that most of the members of the prosecution belonging to the House of Representatives were not seated at the Prosecutions table but at the VIP Section of the hall. Most of those who sat at the prosecution table were the private prosecutors and Prosecutor Representative Colmenares who led them on Article 7.

Santiago then turns her anger from the prosecution to a recent University of the Philippines survey. Addressing the University, she said, “Please do not try these little dirty tricks on us. We are old people here.” She added, “People who machinate the press releases on the UP survey should be kicked out! Shame on the university.”

Not known to Santiago was the fact that one of the private prosecutors deliberately covered his ears and seemed to be mouthing invectives at her was being feasted on by all the networks. The contrast in the video was very powerful. On the one hand was the Senator-Judge in her usual feisty mood and on the other, a private prosecutor who seemed so immersed in his own thoughts which one could deduce as being not so nice towards Santiago. Finally, Senator-Judge Santiago ended her rant asking the Senate Secretary to put on record that she said the word, “Wah!”

“Yesterday, we were struck by a lightning bolt. I have never heard where the lawyer suddenly says to the judge, ‘I’m sorry I made a mistake.’ In my entire career as judge, I’ve never seen a lawyer withdraw a case. This is unprecedented!” Santiago said. “What are you doing? Ano kayo naglalaro? Now all of a sudden there’s a complete turnaround?! Nagbibiro ba kayo?”

The Senator-Judge further accused the House panel of misleading the court and falsely declaring a “victory.”

“You’ve been misleading the court! I’m very concerned that the prosecution has been in bad faith all along. You’ve been saying to media, ‘Panalo na kami.’ Kami ang magdedesisyon niyan, hindi kayo. Ang yayabang niyo! Mga gago naman!” Santiago said. “You are prejudging the case! Are you conducting trial by publicity? This is not a direct democracy and we are not in Athens! The people are not going to decide this case. It is the Senate alone!” she added. Santiago rebuked that even if the prosecution is intending a trial by publicity, the Senator-Judges will not be swayed. “The entire capacity of tsunami waves at Manila Bay can fall upon this court but we’ll not be affected by what you say in public!”

“When I heard this news, I felt like creeping back into bed and adopting a fetal position. I no longer know what universe I’m in. I have never seen such a parody of justice in my entire adult life. I want to leave a legacy that when presented with this anomaly, in trials like this, I rose to condemn it,” she stressed. Santiago concluded her manifestation saying, “I request the secretary to record in journal that I said ‘Waah!’”

Lead Prosecutor Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., however, clarified that their claim on winning the case is just a “stand for their advocacy” and not a prejudgement of the case.

Meanwhile, Senator Francis Escudero noted that the withdrawal of the five articles of impeachment is equivalent to amending the complaint. “Did prosecutors consult with complainants of the case? This is a substantial amendment. It’s not purely prosecutorial decision to just drop the five articles of impeachment,” Escudero told the prosecution.

“We did not have a formal consultation with the 188 signatories but we consulted with the House speaker and majority leader,” Tupas replied. He also stated that while they were terminating the presentation of evidence, they have not as yet received a formal reply from Supreme Court Justice Sereno and would like to reserve their right to present her as a witness if she agrees should she accept their invitation to come to the Impeachment hearings to testify on her dissenting opinion and the actual deliberations on the TRO issued against the Department of Justice.

Presiding Judge and Senate President Enrile immediately interjected that the prosecution could not close presentation of evidence if they still wanted to present a witness. The proper thing to ask is for a continuance, he added. Tupas submitted. When JPE asked him to clarify whether they were going to ask Justice Sereno to still testify, “no more,” Tupaz replied with finality. He then continued to ask two days to file formal offer of evidence. This was granted.

Enrile went further and gave the Defense five days to accept or reject the offer of evidence. “We will work to make a quick ruling on offer of evidence so be ready. Both sides must be ready everyday for trial,” he added. Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto II announced that the resumption of trial would be on March 12, 2012.

Senator-Santiago took to the floor again. She rebuked the prosecution another time and asked them why they needed time to file offer for evidence. “What’s the big deal? It’s clerical.” She reminded everyone that they should be ready all the time. More shots of the private prosecutor covering his ears were shown on television.

Prosecutor Representative Rodolfo Fariñas asked the Senate to strike out the term “gago” used by Senator-Judge Satiago from the records and Presiding Judge Enrile agreed as Santiago did not object. “Baka pwede matanggal yung salitang ‘gago’ sa record. Ang pangit kasi na tatawagin ang prosekusyon ng ganoon,” Farinas said.

Senator Jinggoy Estrada castigated private prosecutor Aguirre who was caught covering his ears while Senator Santiago was speaking. Aguirre responded that Senator-Judge Santiago’s voice was painful to listen to. Sen. Santiago takes the podium and said that, “you cannot make contemptuous gestures and get away with it.” Tired of Santiago’s tirades against the prosecution, Aguirre covered his ears while Santiago was at the podium.

“Totoo po ‘yon sapagkat nasasaktan ang tenga ko,” Aguirre told Senator Jinggoy Estrada who admonished the prosecutor for covering his ears while Santiago was speaking.

“Mula nang tumayo at natapos si Senator Miriam sa pagsasalita ay nakatakip ang inyong tenga. Kabastusan ho iyon,” Estrada said.

Santiago then took the stand and moved to cite Aguirre for contempt, “You cannot make those contemptuous gestures and get away with it!”

Aguirre pointed out, “This is the first time I’ve experienced in my 40 years of practice that a judge lectures lawyers. Hindi po tama yung ganun.” “Kung ayaw mo pakinggan, umalis ka sa korte!” Santiago told Aquirre.

“Aalis na nga po ako eh,” the prosecutor replied, to which the senator agreed, “Go ahead!”

But Aguirre continued debating, “Kung nagdedemand ka ng respeto, dapat respetuhin mo rin yung mga abogado. Walang ng human dignity…”

“Now you’re lecturing me? Naghahamon ka talaga eh!” an irked Santiago answered. Immediately thereafter, Santiago proceeded to the lectern occupied by Aguirre and had a face-off and a stare down with the equally vehement Aguirre. It totally reminded me of a Manny Pacquia championship fight in the ring!

Santiago, who has hypertension, was then led to her seat by her co-Senators as she tried to regain calm. Aguirre was meanwhile led outside the hall to the prosecution’s waiting room.

Try as he might, Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile could not pacify the two. He even suggested that everyone keep calm so as not to disrupt the proceedings. Yet, Aguirre further asked to continue and said that he did what he did on purpose because it was true that the voice of Senator-Judge Santigo was shrill and was hurting his ears. He continued to say that the lowly prosecutors find that respect was the most important and if the Senator-Judges required respect they, too, should give respect.

This prompted JPE to suspend the trial and with the resumption of the hearing he decided to hold Aguirre for contempt. Enrile said they will discuss Aguirre’s penalty in a caucus. “I cannot tolerate disrespect of this court and to any member of this court. If you do not believe in the dignity of this court or jurisdiction over you, if you think you’re better than us, you are entitled to your opinion but we’ll enforce rules of procedure,” Enrile commented.

Prosecutor Representative Fariñas rose on behalf of the prosecution and apologized for Aguirre. Presiding Judge Enrile ordered him not to interrupt the Chair and to sit down. After finishing his comment, Enrile said that the Impeachment Court accepted the apology but will continue to enforce respect for the Court.

Immediately the Presiding Judge banged his gavel for adjournment without any of the usual niceties. See you all on March 12, the continuation of the trial. It was truly, at least to this poster, the most exciting day of the 26 day hearings by far.

In a later television interview Senator-Judge Santiago said, “In hindsight, it appears that the lawyer who committed contempt by covering his ears and later directly attacked me by his remarks on the floor, might have been part of a deliberate plot to provoke me. The provocation could have been intended to raise my hypertension to an even higher level, precipitating either a stroke or a heart attack. Or, the provocation could have been intended to make me deliberately lose my temper and make a spectacle of myself. According to my office staff, that particular private prosecutor was always seated, not with the prosecution panel, but in the gallery. Every time I spoke, he would sneer at me very loudly, intending to make him heard by those around him.”

“All of a sudden, today, he sat smack dab in the middle of the front row of the prosecution panel. He very conspicuously raised each hand against each ears. The TV news service of a TV station known to be partial to the administration deliberately panned over this lawyer so that he could be seen on nationwide TV. With these tactics, the usual suspects are up to their dirty tricks. I very humbly submit that I have been effective in educating the public whenever I make a comment on the proceedings. Therefore, to assure conviction of the defendant I have been specifically targeted for character assassination and other forms of self-destruction by the culprits. The more my enemies try to persecute and intimidate me, the more I will continue with my present mode of behavior in the impeachment court. Today, all my colleagues in the Senate have unanimously supported me, and I take heart,” she ended.

There was a face-off, Aguirre vs. Santiago. There was a stare down, Estrada vs. Aguirre and now we, have a long week off courtesy of Sotto and Enrile.

There is one thing to look forward to in any case. The defense is next up and with that, we pray to see the entire picture of this case unfold. So far, we have been feasted by the case presented by the Prosecution based on the complaint of 188 Congressmen collectively known as the complainants.

Lead Counsel Serafin Cuevas is now expected to take his defense to a new level as he presents counter evidence to defend his client Chief Justice Renato Corona! If at all, Cuevas has the charisma to handle himself and the legalese to assure himself of not being scolded by the Court for ineptness and of being unprepared. He has had a lot of practice, after all.

There are still a lot of issues to be resolved with the Supreme Court with a number of cases filed before it regarding the Impeachment trial. Also, there is the problem of
whether all of the evidence to be offered by the Prosecutor will be accepted by the Impeachment Court. The main issue here would be the spurious origin of the PSBank documents and the various properties of the Chief Justice. We shall see.

Collectively, the nation awaits the continuation of this trial and its natural conclusion – guilty or not guilty! The very person, integrity and honor of one man lies on the balance. That man, the Chief Justice of the Spreme Court, His Honor, Renato C. Corona!