Prosecution short-circuiting impeachment court | Inquirer Opinion

Prosecution short-circuiting impeachment court

/ 09:39 PM January 05, 2012

For two days in a row, last Tuesday and Wednesday, the House prosecution panel unleashed to the unwary public an avalanche of documents it claimed to be part of its evidence to back a charge of graft and corruption against Chief Justice Renato Corona. This the panel did 11 days ahead of the start of Corona’s impeachment trial in the Senate on Jan. 16.

The documents purported to show premium properties purchased by Corona and his wife in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City, in December 2009. The premature disclosure of the documents caught the public dumbfounded, expecting that such evidence would be introduced at the trial. It was also quickly denounced by some senator-judges as a spiteful attempt to preempt a fair, objective and orderly trial for Corona. They expressed dismay at the disclosure of the documents by Iloilo Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., head of the House prosecution panel, at a hastily convened press conference in the midst of the yearend holiday break. The press conference misled some of the public to believe that the much-awaited trial had begun. Tupas, head of the House committee on justice, also led the attack in the House, which rushed and compressed in less than three hours the voting on the impeachment of Corona, without debate in both the committee and the plenary—a prerequisite in democratic parliamentary proceedings.

As if by habit or conditioned reflex, the House again attempted to short-circuit the Senate tribunal’s function to give a semblance of order, discipline and respect for evidence in its procedures that are supposed to put impeachment above the tumultuous lynch mob mode in the streets. When Tupas disclosed the documents at the press conference, he acted as though he was presenting exhibits in a courtroom trial, when in fact he was feeding the news media with unverified data, not included in its eight articles of impeachment against Corona. The disclosure and the method used were so offensive that they immediately were denounced as the opening salvo of a trial by publicity in a volatile forum, where a calm assessment of evidence is difficult to maintain. Some senators urged the House prosecutors not to be part of the lynch mob gang but to take a close look at Rule XVIII of the Rules of Procedure on Impeachment Trial.


They pointed out that Rule XVIII states that the presiding officer (i.e., the Senate president) and the members of the Senate “shall refrain from making any comments and disclosures in public pertaining to the merits of an impending impeachment trial.” It adds that “(t)hey shall likewise apply to prosecutors, to the person impeached, and to their respective counsels and witnesses.”


According to opposition Sen. Francis Escudero, chair of the Senate justice committee, the Senate would issue a gag order to the defense and prosecution to prevent them from giving information to the media that can muddle public opinion on the trial. “I think it is about time that we stop washing dirty linen in public and calling each other names,” Escudero said.

The disclosure opened the House panel to accusations by Corona’s lead counsel, retired Supreme Court Justice Serafin Cuevas, who said that the prosecution was “really trying to demonize the chief justice.” I hope I’m wrong,” he said, “but there could be no motive, except (to sway) public opinion and to portray Corona as a violator of the law and a tax evader.” There was no question that the disclosure was “tantamount to trial by publicity,” he said. “Do you still question that? But it’s not the general public that will decide. It’s the impeachment court.”

Cuevas said the defense would ask the Senate to “prohibit the House prosecutors from further presenting to the public the supposed evidence against Corona. My honest opinion is that the disclosure of the Corona Bellagio unit (in Bonifacio Global City) should not have been done because we are prohibited from discussing  in public the merits and demerits of our respective articulation or postulation.”

“That is not in accordance with the rules of the Senate. In doing so, it’s like they are arguing this case before the public.” He said, the defense will have to wait for the formal start of the trial before filing any pleading with the Senate. “We will definitely invite the attention of the impeachment court to stop this kind of trial (by publicity),” he said.

There’s doubt if the overzealous prosecutors would put a stop to their serial revelation of their evidence, partly because they consider themselves above the norms of fairness; because they have their own rules; and partly because they are driven by the objective to convict Corona at all costs, fair or foul—which is their marching order. The other apparent purpose in demonizing Corona ahead of the trial is to completely humiliate and crush him in what now appears as a scorched earth policy of total destruction, where no living creature can survive the government’s overwhelming firepower.

This zero-sum policy of government in destroying its targeted enemy has some drawbacks. The denial of due process in the impeachment trial can also demonstrate that any citizen who crosses the government or who opposes its policies and priorities can be denied his/her political rights.


The fall-out should never be ruled out that the more heavy-handed the government becomes in throwing the full weight of its powers to crush its victims, the more it is likely to lose some critical votes among the undecided in the Senate. They could tip the balance when the voting comes.

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TAGS: corona impeachment, featured columns, opinion, prosecution

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