Analysis

100 witnesses a blackmail on Chief Justice

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House prosecutors have threatened to swamp the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona with a tidal wave of witnesses in a desperate attempt to regain the momentum in their faltering offensive to convict him before public opinion.

In a demonstration of firepower, the prosecution team of the House of Representatives served notice that it would present more than 100 witnesses to prove its case, after seven days of getting bogged down in its bid to uncover evidence of “ill-gotten  wealth” in Corona’s statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN).

The prosecution submitted its list of witnesses and documentary evidence to the impeachment court on Friday after an impatient Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, a judge in the trial, demanded that the prosecution and defense identify their witnesses.

The prosecution list of witnesses includes a broad section in government and in civil society. Among them are 13 Supreme Court justices, Supreme Court Administrator Midas Marquez, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, doctors of former President and now Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and journalists.

The prosecution said it had 300 documents as evidence against Corona on the charge of betrayal of public trust, culpable violation of the Constitution, and graft and corruption.

The volume of the documents to be examined and the number of witnesses requested to be summoned raised concerns that this deluge would cause a logjam in the trial and extend the proceedings beyond February.

‘Wantonly prepared’

Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding judge in the trial, was so staggered by the work overload involved in presenting 100 witnesses that he exclaimed, “Oh, my God!”

Sen. Sergio Osmeña III estimated that it would take over a month to present 100 witnesses.

Another senator-judge, Joker Arroyo, a critic of the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, pointed out that the impeachment trial was an imposition on the legislative duties of the Senate and asked if the prosecution needed 100 witnesses to remove Corona from office.

“At the rate the trial is proceeding, it can’t be finished before the end of 2012,” Osmeña said.

The Senate has been devoting 25 percent of its plenary time on legislation—its principal duty—and 75 percent of its time on the trial, an “incidental” function.

Arroyo said the trial was hampered not because the House prosecutors were not good, because they are, but because the articles of impeachment “were wantonly prepared, and the root cause of all arguments.”

Havoc on the court

Opposition figures criticized the introduction of too many witnesses as an “expanded fishing expedition,” with the inclusion of Supreme Court justices on the list of witnesses.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, recently minority leader, said calling the justices as witnesses would make them testify for or against the Chief Justice, wreaking havoc on the court.

Senator Arroyo was more concerned with the effort of the administration to mobilize the machinery and powers of the executive department to try and demolish Corona.

He blasted the administration for its “inordinate use of power” to dig dirt on Corona and completely vilify him before public opinion.

“We don’t want the public to think that the forces of government are being used to (persecute Corona),” Arroyo said.

The warning came after Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares testified last week on Corona’s income tax returns.

The concerns of Senator Arroyo appear to be shared by a growing number of people who have expressed alarm over the heavy-handed methods used by the administration.

Now, Corona appears to be the underdog in the administration’s drive to make officials of the previous Arroyo regime accountable for the scandals of corruption that rocked her nine-year presidency.

Body and soul

The explanation of the prosecution panel for swamping the tribunal with requests to serve summons on a large number of witnesses had an ominous ring.

Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III, a prosecution spokesperson, said his panel did not want to leave any stone unturned in supporting the eight articles of impeachment.

“We wanted to be thorough and put on a list all witnesses who could help in our search for the truth,”’ he said. He did not say whose testimony, among the 100 potential witnesses, would be the “truth.”

The requested subpoenas put the spotlight on the administration’s sadistic inclinations and punitive tactics, which appear to emphasize the total obliteration, body and soul, of the respondent.

This has involved a smear campaign and a barrage of derogatory material dumped in the mass media even ahead of the start of the impeachment trial on Jan. 16.

Even at this stage, there are already calls for Corona to resign, with threats that he would be subjected to further humiliation and personal degradation if he did not step down.

The threat of the testimony of the hundred witnesses is one such effort to blackmail him to throw in the towel. However, he has not succumbed to these threats and is not yielding to this blackmail.

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