Day 40 highlights of the Corona Impeachment Trial: David versus Goliath

By Wilfred Avila

If this were a movie, it would have been a blockbuster. All tickets were gone even before the curtain rose at the Trial proper. Security was at an all time high. Police were everywhere, from the Supreme Court all the way to the Senate Grounds. The Senate Security was not to be outdone. Even well-known personalities who attended the hearings daily did not find it easy to enter the halls.

Tickets were given out to most (even to close friends) only to enter the Senate building but NOT to enter the Senate Hall. It was just impossible to do so. That many went home in frustration, is also true. Friends grumbled against friends for not being able to enter. I felt frustrated too because so many were asking me tickets and couldn’t satisfy my friends.

In the meantime, the cast of characters in the galleries is to be laughed off. Leah Navarro, Armida Siguion Reyna, Katrina Ponce Enrile, Bibeth Orteza, former Senators Kit Tatad and Ernie Maceda, the Basa Family, former congresswoman Risa Hontiveros, Congressman Serafin Cua, Leslie Bocobo, Camille Zamora, Bel Cunanan Olivares, Grace Go, Khalil, SG, Trixia, Julius and so many others were there. Many, many more were there. Why Leah Navarro kept speaking so loud and annoying everybody else is a big question mark.

At 10:00 am, a mass was being said at the Supreme Court for the Chief Justice. Various groups and Inter-faith congregation stood side-by-side with the Supreme Court Employees Association to hold a short show of support for the CJ.

On the other side, the Senator-Judges were holding a caucus to discuss the various issues facing them regarding the Impeachment case against the Chief Justice. Noteworthy is Senator Jinggoy Estrada who seem to be the only one who puts in more hours than anyone else in the Senate because he has to preside daily in the pleanary sessions.

At 12:30 pm, the Chief Justice boarded his Suburban (I think) Black vehicle to proceed to his destiny, if not his destination – the Senate. Led by a convoy of 30-40 motorcycle riders, he motored to the Senate non-stop. Along the streets he was greeted and waved at by well-wishers. The minutes were ticking so fast now.

At the Film Center area, where a phalanx of television vans, radio trucks covering the impending arrival of the CJ and some supporters who stood under the shade of trees to protect themselves from the heat of the sun. The ever imposing presence of policemen, protected to the hilt, were there to keep order.

At around 1:30 pm, the headlights of the motorcycles and police cars were seen turning into the GSIS grounds. Television covered the motorcade from the Supreme Court grounds all the way to the Senate. There was no stopping this motorcade with its precious cargo, the Chief Justice. The vehicles were directly ushered into the underground parking of the Senate Building. The Chief Justice was ushered into the Executive Canteen to protect him from the crowd and led after to the Defense Panel meeting room.

It was the day that David was to face his nemesis, Goliath! The hearing started at exactly 2:00 pm and with 23 Senator-Judges present. This is also the second time in the 40-day history of the hearings that this happened!

The Chief Justice was called to the stand by Lead Counsel Serafin Cuevas. The height of excitement increased to new heights as the Chirf Justice walked in. All eyes were fixed on him. Some glaring and others smiling depending on which side of the fence you were in.

He took his oath from the Clerk of Court who, for the first time, approached the witness stand to lead the oath! Immediately thereafter, the Chief justice asked permmission to deliver an opening statement. The Presiding Kudge, Juan Ponce Enrile granted it.

It was the longest opening statement I have ever heard, all of three hours! Whew! This man really came prepared. He spoke on his background, his roots, the family controversy. he kept his promise to talk about the various accounts attributed to him. he even brought his own Powerpoint presentation. (Better prepared and better understood, I must say!) He spoke of his family and the alleged 82 dollar accounts that the Ombudsman testified on and the alleged 45 preperties. In one short phrase, “It was all a lie,” he said.

The Private Prosecution lawyer, Mario Bautista, kept objecting to the long statement and was told by Enrile that it was all part of the evidence of the Defense. It was obvious that Bautista was not prepared to treat the Chief Justice with kid gloves. He, too was out for blood!

As the Chief Justice continued, he started to tear up on the witness stand, so did the Basas — relatives of his wife Cristina — who were seated in the VIP Gallery just behind him. The US-based Basas, who accused Corona of using his position in easing them out of the Basa Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI), came home to witness Corona’s testimony. The Basas and the Chief Justice’s family were seated together in the VIP Gallery, along with some members of the prosecution panel and former senators. This was so surreal. I could see that there was no love lost with the Basas because they kept sneering as the CJ spoke.

Corona could not control his emotions when he talked about their simple life as a family and recalled how his mother supposedly entrusted her assets to him before her death. He accused the Aquino administration of conspiring to remove him from office. The root of the family dispute, he said, is a property in Libis, Quezon City, which he claimed to be worth P2.5 billion.

In similar fashion, Corona accused Jose Maria of easing out Cristina’s mother Asuncion of the more expensive Libis property. “Ang kampo ni Jose Maria Basa III ang nang-api,” Corona said. “If I used my influence, matagal nang tapos ang mga kasong ito. Ang mga Basa ang nagpapatagal ng mga kaso,” said Corona.

In a short statement after the impeachment trial, a crying Carmen Basa — also Jose Maria’s daughter — called Corona “unkind.” “We are saddened with the development that the name of our good father is being dragged into these proceedings. He’s not here to defend himself. What he said was untrue, unkind, and shows his true character. As chief justice, he should know better,” she said.

“At this point, we’re not gonna go down to his level,” Carmen added. The Basas threatened to speak more after the Chief Justice completes his testimony on Wednesday, May 23.

On the other front, Roan Libarios, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, said that Corona will “lose his moral ascendancy” if he does not submit to cross-examination. This is the first time I hear Libarios speak this way as he is a known supporter of the CJ and the Rule of Law.

As the Chief Justice spoke, he delivered the coup de grace! He signed a waiver that would give everyone the opportunity to examine all his bank records. Wow! he faced them all and did it his way, so the song goes! There was loud applause in the galleries. But there was a caveat that took everybody, including myself, off our chairs. It was not expected!

In a great flourish and with great drama, he signed a prepared waiver and read its contents to the Court. You could hear a needle drop. What happened was a loud explosion! He delivered his challenge to the 189 Congressmen and one Senator to include the Prosecution to also sign their own individual waivers. Only then and only then would he allow his lawyers to release the waiver! Wow! He even mentioned Drilon in particular. He really went for the guts! As the saying goes, nakakalokah!!!!

This was followed immediately by a statement that simply said, “May I be excused?” What? Huh? What happened? Without a by-your-leave from the Court, the Chief Justice stood up and left the hall followed by his family.

Everyone was caught umprepared to include the Presiding-Judge and even the lead defense Counsel who bravely tried to rectify the situation. After he gathered his wits, Enrile ordered that all gates at the Senate grounds be closed.

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice went directly to the basement and preceeded to his vehicle but he was already feeling very bad. He was placed on a wheelchair to go back to the Senate all. By this time he was woozy and could not speak. He just sat through the debate. He was totally speaking for 3 straight hours. There was hate, contempt, love, sympathy, questions, challenges and ended up empty! That he was exhausted was obvious.

Presiding Judge Enrile told Cuevas that the Chief Justice must return for cross examination on Wednesday, or the court will erase from the record his 3-hour statement, and deem the case submitted for resolution. Enrile said that what Cuevas did was a gesture of disrespect for the impeachment court.

After about 45 minutes, Corona returned to the session hall in a wheelchair, and his son-in-law, a doctor, said he needed to be treated because Corona, a diabetic, felt faint when his blood sugar dipped.

Trial resumed at around 6 p.m., but adjourned after a few minutes following a request by lead counsel, Serafin Cuevas, to allow his client to rest. Enrile repeated his announcement that if Corona does not come back on Wednesday for the cross-examination, his three-hour testimony would be stricken out, and that the case would be put to a vote based on the evidence earlier presented in the trial.

“We will give him until tomorrow to return. If not, we will submit this case for resolution,” Enrile said. Enrile continued to berate Cuevas.

“I am the Chief Justice, and now may I be excused?” [Correction by editor: And now the Chief Justice wishes to be excused] Corona told the senator-judges even if he had yet to be discharged as a witness. An obviously stunned Enrile banged the gavel to silence the crowd, and told Enrile to instruct his client to return.

When Cuevas failed and appeared at a loss, Enrile ordered the building sealed to prevent anyone from leaving the premises, locking out temporarily some lawyers and reporters who were outside. Cuevas later apologized to the court and explained that the chief magistrate left the hall because he was already feeling dizzy.

But Enrile did not seem persuaded that a medical emergency had just taken place. He told Cuevas: “We did not volunteer to be judges here. . . . I respect the Chief Justice and the institution he represents, but I equally demand respect for this institution that I represent and I’m not going to allow any slight or any abuse of authority against this court for as long as I am the presiding officer,” Enrile said. “Wag nyo kaming babastusin, hindi ko papayagan na bastusin ang husgadong ito ng sinuman. “Don’t disrespect us. I won’t allow anyone to disrespect this court,” he said.

The Chief Justice was wheeled out of the Senate Hall straight to the basement parking lot to be put in his car. His family joined him. He was brought immediately to a nearby hospital where he was checked. At 12:00 md, he was rushed to the Medical City hospital emergency room.

On the other hand, earlier in the day, Chief Justice Renato Corona has reiterated his call for the Supreme Court to stop the impeachment trial against him, saying his right to due process has been violated by the partiiality of some senator-judges. In his petition, Corona cited the following instances in the impeachment trial where Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Teofisto Guingona III, Alan Peter Cayetano, Ralph Recto, and Sergio Osmeña III have purportedly aided the prosecution:

a. Drilon asked Supreme Court Clerk of Court Enriqueta Vidal to submit the chief magistrate’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth to the impeachment court on January 18 “to remedy the ineptness of the prosecution from obtaining relevant evidence;”

b. Drilon inquired from the Register of Deeds of Taguig on January 19 if Corona’s name appeared as “attorney-in-fact” in the Deed of Sale for a Mckinley Hills lot said to be owned by Corona’s daughter, Charina;

c. Recto asked Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares about the taxes paid by Corona from 2002-2010 after private prosecutor Arthur Lim had a hard time getting the same information;

d.Osmeña and Pangilinan continued with the “direct examination” of Megaworld marketing executive Noli Hernandez on January 31, saying the unit purchased by Corona at a discount of 40% was not semi-bare and suffered only minimal damage following a typhoon. Hernandez testified that Megaworld lowered the price of its condominium unit from P24-M to P19.6-M because the unit suffered from water leakage after a typhoon in 2008;

e. Guingona and Pangilinan argued that the SC is not more superior than the impeachment court, after Corona sought a temporary restraining order from the SC on Feb. 7 to stop the impeachment proceedings; and

f. Osmeña, Drilon and Pangilinan asked BPI and PSBank – where Corona has bank accounts – to submit documents other than those specified in the subpoena.

Except for Cayetano, the senator-judges mentioned by Corona campaigned for President Benigno Aquino III in the 2010 presidential race. Cayetano then supported Aquino’s chief rival, Sen. Manuel Villar.

Corona also pointed out in his supplementary petition that Rep. Niel Tupas, the lead prosecutor, is Drilon’s godson. Corona’s lawyers earlier moved for Drilon’s inhibition, but the senator has refused to do so.

The chief magistrate said that the 5 senator-judges have asked questions benefiting the prosecution when they should only be asking clarificatory questions. He added that his counsels could not stop this because they are barred from objecting to the queries of the senator-judges. Because of these, Corona said his right to due process has been violated.

Two hours later, 2:00 am, he was brought the the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital because it was determined that he was suffering from a heart attack! As of this writing, Corona is still there.

Now we are left with more questions. That the Chief Justice carried himself well and defended his position, there is no question about that. That he proved that all he said was true from day one is not even a question. That the Chief Justice doubted his accusers and more so the Judges in their honesty and fairness leaves no doubts.

Yet …… the Chief Justice must face his accusers and the Judges at sometime in the near future. Needless to say, ther is nothing anyone can do to alleviate the hand of destiny in all of this circus. That he became ill, almost to the point of death, cannot be controlled by anyone much less the Presiding Judge Enrile and/or the Prosecution and/or the Senator-Judges and, most specially, the people. It happens and we sincerely pary for the best ending in all of this. We specially pray for the Chief Justice’s fast recovery.

Did David meets his Goliath? I say … partly. To fully vanquish the bigger and stronger Goliath would necessitate a meeting head-on. There can be no short cuts. In the same token, we cannot just keep mouthing “we have been fair to you all along.” We must sincerely show it and say it with true honesty, Mr. Presiding Judge. Your posturings will not help any in healing the wounds of our nation. Yes, you too, are part of the problem.

The nation cannot just sit down and watch a well-orchestrated and designed drama, though it may be, to just pass us by. We too, as citizens have a lot to say and following is a few of them!

May 22 Senate impeachment court record