It is just as well that the House prosecution panel has ceased releasing to the media evidence that it said it would use against Chief Justice Renato Corona in the impeachment trial. Such releases smack of trial by publicity and, according to Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, violate the rules and procedures of the impeachment trial formulated precisely to check further politicization of a process that is already heavily politically charged.
Earlier, the 11-member panel held a press conference where it disclosed Corona’s alleged purchase of a high-end penthouse and threatened to disclose his other alleged luxury purchases. The stunt drew flak from the senators, who said that the prosecutors violated Rule XVIII of the Rules of Procedure on Impeachment Trials. That rule states that the presiding officer (in this case, the Senate president) and the members of the Senate “shall refrain from making any comments and disclosures in public pertaining to the merits of a pending impeachment trial.” It adds that “(t)he same shall likewise apply to the prosecutors, to the person impeached, and to their respective counsel and witnesses.”
The head of the House prosecution panel, Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., defended the press conference and denied that the panel was preempting the Senate. But his defense—that there was no preempting the trial since “there was no entry of appearance yet by the prosecutors before the Senate”—was obviously a play on technicality, one of those tricks a lawyer usually pulls out from his bag of tricks. Enrile was not amused: “Does Tupas not understand he signed the impeachment complaint? He is a complainant! (The House prosecutors) should study the process if they are gentleman lawyers.” If the prosecutors will not stop, “they can withdraw the case from the (impeachment court) and try (Corona) in public,” he bristled.
The prosecutors were obviously grandstanding while increasing the political pressure on Corona to resign and spare himself from a particularly bruising impeachment ordeal. Puffed up with pride, or perhaps suffering a lack of it like gladiators building up their confidence in the arena before lions, foes and a rowdy coliseum, they were obviously pandering to the gallery, drawing its energy to their side.
Not that the senators weren’t grandstanding either. Sen. Panfilo Lacson suggested that senators “throw our impeachment rules out the window or straight at (the House prosecutors’) faces.” He volunteered to file a motion to cite the prosecutors for contempt “if this exercise persists.” Considering Lacson has long ago “telegraphed” his desire on what to do with Corona, his gesture was at best an attempt to show his dubious impartiality as well as to stop the prosecution from undermining its own chances of success at having the Chief Justice kicked out of the bench.
But since the senators will sit as judges, rule on procedures and decide the outcome, the prosecutors have no choice but to restrain their propensity for grandstanding so typical of politicians. What they should do is build up their case and prepare well. All the energy spent on organizing press conferences and strutting like prizefighters before the media would be better used to homework and legwork.
Corona’s prosecutors should perhaps emulate the behavior of Joseph Estrada’s prosecutors 10 years ago. It wouldn’t be difficult to do research since Speaker Feliciano Belmonte himself was a prosecutor then: he can provide neophytes and lightweights like Tupas some tips on how to build up the House case against the Chief Justice. Back then the prosecution credibly built up the case against Estrada by the timely release of data and evidence—not before—but during the trial. It is curious that just about the only senator-judge who did not comment on the antics of the prosecutors was Sen. Joker Arroyo, who incidentally was a prosecutor in the Estrada trial. Considering his politics, Arroyo must be laughing at the antics of the prosecutors and hoping for more of the same.
The main difference between the two trials is that while that in 2001 was against a sitting president, this one is against the country’s chief jurist, with the obvious support of the chief executive—which makes it appear that two of the political branches of government are ganging up on the head of the weakest political branch. And exactly because they have the sitting power behind them, the House members are displaying arrogant behavior and, ultimately, amateurish prosecution. They should spare the public their antics. Jan. 16 is a week away. They can have their circus then.
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