by Wilfred Avila
This was a funny Monday, a very funny Monday. Everyone was eager to get on with the trial but felt lackadaisical to start moving. I certainly felt like continuing to prolong the one week break. While i looked forward to hearing the Defense panel begin its work, I just wanted the entire trial to stop and end its work. It just wasn’t going to end!
The trial began shortly after two with a prayer led by Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor Santiago. After the roll, we learned that 19 Senator-Judges were present. It would be nicer if they actually announced who were absent.
Majority Floor leader Vicente Sotto III announced decisions arrived at during the caucus the first being the defense outstanding motion to suppress evidence and the prosecutions formal offer of evidence. The Impeachment Court accepted the prosecution’s evidence but excluded evidence related to bribery charges against the Chief Justice.
The court as a a body decided not deliberate nor vote on Articles 1, 4, 5, 6 and 8 and will no longer accept evidence from either side related to the same. The Majority leader also announced that they would not issue subpoenas for members of the House of representatives.
Lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas asked for clarification on the court’s decision to deny affirmative evidence adding that the were “entirely hopeless,” specially in view of the fact that they were denied the request for preliminary trial was denied.
Presiding Judge Juan Ponce Enrile replied that the Articles of Impeachment have been verified and that it was too late to question the verification of the complaints at this point. Cuevas retorted that they had n time to do so as the complaint was “bulldozed” to the Senate with no time for the defense to refute the charges.
A lengthy discussion ensued as the Defense panel continued to question the validity of the Impeachment trial itself. This forced the Presiding Judge to call for a suspension of the trial to discuss the matter with the Senator-judges.
Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor-Santiago said that the motion to dismiss can be filed if the court had no jurisdiction over the accused or the issue. However, she said that the defense already accepted jurisdiction of court, and that they cannot turn around and repudiate it. Cuevas just sat down to submit the decision.
Senator-Judge Francis Escudero asked what the defense really wanted and Cuevas replied that they still wanted a preliminary hearing bearing in mind that the Defense had no time to answer the complaint since everything was rushed. Proof of this, he added, was the fact the the Congressmen themselves did not seem to know what the charges were when they began.
Senator-Judge Alan Peter Cayetano asked questions of the defense related to the validity of the complaint and what the defense thought of of the on-going trial. Wjile cayetano asks for more clarification, it seemed like he was impressing himself more rather than clarifying anything. He seemed to be always speaking for the benefit of the audience. That, of course, is just my opinion.
Senator-Judge Franklin Drilon took the stand and irritably said that the Impeachment Court categorically validated the verifcation of the complaint and seemed to say that that was that! Suddenly there was tension in the air. Cuevas said that they were worried that the Drilon’s statement could be taken as a statement from the prosecutor’s themselves. Drilon, almost livid, replied with eyes glaring that the defense statement was improper. One is led to ask the question of Drilon, “What is your problem?”
Presiding-Judge Enrile then ordered Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III to read the January 18, 2012 ruling of the court on the validity of the complaint.
Senator-Judge Joker Arroyo then asked the defense what their purpose was in resurrecting this topic once more. It showed that that Arroyo was bothered for Cuevas, who is a good friend of his.
More clarificatory questions were asked by Senator-Judge Aquilino Pimentel III as to the demands of Cuevas. He also asked whether the same questions were the topic of a case pending in the Supreme Court to which Cuevas answered in the affirmative.
This forced the hand of the Presiding Judge to make a definitive ruling denying the request for affirmative defense. Enrile clarifies that the Impeachment Court has its own set of rules distinct and separate from those of the Supreme Court and has the power to appreciate the Constitution according to its own mandate.
Defense finally presented its first witness, Navotas Representative Tobias Tiangco to lay the basis of Chief Justice Corona’s answer to Articles of Impeachment. The defense was handled by Attorney Dennis Manalo.
Before the questioning could even go on, Enrile reminded both sides that the court won’t allow presentation of evidence on Articles 1, 4, 5, 6, and 8. Manalo replied that the testimony will only cover the articles not yet withdrawn by prosecution and was told to proceed.
Tiangco testified about the circumstances surrounding the filing of the complaint. He also spoke on his past experience in the impeachment complaint versus former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez. The tenor of the questioning was meant to elucidate the plan that was set in motion to unseat Corona by the majority and its connection to Malacanang. The questioning now touched on the impeachment complaint and the events surrounding the caucus where it was discussed.
Tiangco also discussed events surrounding the release of his PDAF and the veiled threat of its not being released at all. He also admitted that this was only released when the budget hearing was scheduled at the House in the Office of House Speaker Belmonte just when he was ready t confront Budget Secretary Abad on why that was being done to him bearing in mind his constituents in his district.
We noticed that there was too much familiarity between Tiangco and Prosecutor Representative Farinas leading the court to smile at their childish pranks at times. Yet, we also noticed, that this may have served Representative Tiangco in good stead since the prosecution went lighter on him.
Senator-Judge Francis Pangilinan stood up and asked about the relevance of the line of questioning by the defense. Manalo replied that the testimony is relevant because it showed that the grounds for impeachment was not substantial, not an impeachable offense, and it will put in question the integrity of the complaint and complainants. Enrile allowed the witness to stay and the questioning to remain. Pangilinan submits.
Cross examination by Prosecutor Representative Rodolfo Fariñas asked a few questions, mainly regarding the release of the PDAF. The main point of his questioning was that Tiangco did receive his PDAF. While Tiango insisted that he received way too late, Farinas exclaimed with finality that Tiangco did, in fact, receive it! Tiangco was excused from the witness stand and asked to return the following day.
The Court discussed the issuance of subpoenas for members of the House of Representatives. Senator-Judge Panfilo Lacson reminded the Court that they decided that they would not issue subpoenas for members of a co-equal branch of government. Sotto concurred and said it should be the defense or the prosecution that should invite them. more discussions on this will be held in a caucus.
Senator-Judge Jinggoy Estrada asked the defense, “May testigo ba kayo sa SALN ni CJ Corona?” On the first day and the first witness of the defense, Estrada seemed to suggest that the defense rest its case so that the Senatir-Judges could make a decision on whether to acquit or convict the Chief Justice. This took us by surprise, to say the least! While all of six weeks were given to the Prosecution panel to proved its case, why was the Defense being bamboozled to end its case? This is totally unheard of!
He compared the hearings to the impeachment trial of his father, former president Joseph Estrada of who he claims was railroaded in the hearings by then House Speaker and not Senator-Judge Manuel Villar. We personally failed to see the connection.
This, of course, got the ire of Senator-judge Manuel Villar who immediately stood up to rebut Estrada’s statement. Villar replied that the Estrada case in the House took all of one month in the House before it was sent to the Senate. He also clarified that if a President was impeached, those in the House who signed the petition immediately stopped getting their PDAF and other benefits unlike in the present case. The innuendo was very clear. There could have been more money exchanged to speed up the case of CJ Corona since it took all of two days to send the complaint to the Senate.
As in any collegial body, Estrada stood up to clarify that it was all in the past and that there was no rancor against Villar. He went over to Villar’s table to shake his hands. Alls well that ends well, I guess.
The defense was then asked by Enrile if they had any more witnesses and the Defense said they did not for that day but that they were presenting two additional lawmakers in the next hearing.
Prosecution then asked if the defense could disclose their order of presentation of the Articles of Impeachment so that they could be prepared to cross. Enrile rebuts that they should be prepared for cross examination since, after all, they filed the complaint. he also added, that this could be done should the defense agree but was quickly reminded that the defense was, in fact, instructed to do this.
The Majority leader then asked the presiding Judge for the ruling on the issue of Private prosecutor Attorney Vitaliano Aguirre who was caught covering his ear in defiance of Senator-Judge Miriam Defensor Santiago and the defense’s “P100-million bribe” press conference held at the Club Filipino. Both were cited for contempt. Roy’s punishment to be determined in caucus at a later date.
As it was then with the prosecution, it is now with the defense. The start was slow. This, however, give no Senator-Judge the right to demand that the Defense close its case. We should not allow the expediency of speed to rule the day when the Highest Magistrate’s position is at stake. We may be led to trivialize everything forgetting that justice has to be served, in fairness to all, and the rule of law must remain above all considerations.
As the song goes, Monday, Monday was not so good to me. It was a funny Monday!