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A ruling with social implication

/ 09:12 PM January 19, 2012

The Senate impeachment court decisively struck down on Tuesday the prosecution’s move to compel Chief Justice Renato Corona and members of his family to testify at his trial.

The rebuff came on the second day of the impeachment trial in which the prosecution was shown up to be unprepared to prosecute Corona on Article 1 of the impeachment complaint (partiality in cases involving the Arroyo administration). The prosecution said then that it was ready to prosecute him on Article 2 (failure to disclose his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth), but it had no witnesses to authenticate the documents it intended to present as evidence.

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The thrashing of the request by the prosecution to subpoena Corona and members of his family was more than an initial setback for the prosecution. It has a wider social implication: The tribunal’s ruling served notice at an early stage of the trial, that it was not going to make the trial as an opening for the state to use its coercive powers to break up the cohesion of the family as the basic foundation of Filipino society—by compelling family members to squeal and betray each other in order to serve the limited political aims of a sitting government seeking to clean up corruption in public service.

This is why this corner considers that the ruling, handed down by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding judge of the impeachment tribunal, is its most important ruling so far in the trial now on its third sitting.

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In a 14-6 vote, the senator-judges denied the prosecution’s request that Corona and his family be compelled to appear at the trial and produce documentary evidence to prove the prosecution’s charge of graft and corruption against Corona. Enrile’s eight-page ruling was at first read at the start of last Jan. 17’s hearing, But after Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, also a senator-judge, contested the ruling, Enrile submitted it to a vote.  The vote showed a strong conviction on the part of the senator-judges in support of Enrile’s opinion. The ruling minced no words in rejecting the proposal, which reeks with the reprehensible practices associated with totalitarian dictatorships that have historically used police state methods to make family members spy on each other and give evidence for the dossiers of political dissidents tagged as “enemies of the state.”

The Enrile ruling said that compelling Corona to appear in his own trial would violate the rule against self-incrimination. He said summoning Corona’s wife Cristina, and their daughter Carla and husband, their son Francis and Charina would go against “parental and filial privilege.” He said that “The request for issuance of subpoenas… is denied for lack of merit.

“It would violate the constitutional right of respondent Chief Justice against self-incrimination if he would be compelled to appear and testify against himself by virtue of a subpoena directed to him by this court upon the request of the prosecution.

“This court finds the request for subpoena …without legal justification.”

Those who voted against Enrile’s ruling were Cayetano and Senator-judges Antonio Trillanes IV, Aquilino Pimentel III, Teofisto Guingona III, Manuel Villar and Pia Cayetano. This vote is by no means an indication of how they would vote on the central issue of the guilt or innocence of Corona on the eight articles of impeachment against him. “The ruling of the chair is sustained so it stays as the ruling of the Senate,” Enrile said. In refusing to subpoena Cristina Corona, Enrile cited a provision in the Revised Rules of Court barring a spouse from testifying against the other during marriage, “except in civil case by one against the other, or in a criminal case for a crime committed by one against the other or the latter’s direct descendants or ascendants.”

Under the concept of “parental and filial privilege,” Enrile cited the rule that “no person may be compelled to testify against his parents, other direct ascendants, children of other direct descendants.”

Enrile said that “I would like to state for the record, that the chair has no intention of shackling the prosecution from obtaining evidence to prove its case…. I think that the prosecution  has all the means to obtain the evidence properly if they apply the rules of evidence.”

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A member of the defense panel, Jose Roy III,  said before the ruling was made, that the rule prohibiting a person from testifying against a relative was a “globally recognized” jurisprudence.

“It’s a longstanding rule not just in Philippine laws, he said. The reason behind the ruling, he said, is “to preserve family relations. You don’t want a situation where witnesses and family members are not free to share things with one another.”

Rep. Niel Tupas Jr., head of the prosecution panel, said after the hearing that the non-appearance of the Coronas “won’t affect our case. We can still prove that he amassed ill-gotten wealth even without the testimony of his family.” Why, then, did the prosecution ask for a subpoena to compel the Coronas to testify?

There appears to be a mean and malicious streak in this move. Apparently, the purpose is not to extract evidence to confirm its allegations of “ill-gotten wealth” against Corona. The purpose was to humiliate them before the public during the trial in a pitch to further demonize them before the public. Nobody is safe from these foul and dirty tricks. The purpose of the prosecution is to dehumanize its targets in the battle for public opinion where non-combatants are butchered by the state’s apparatus of coercion.

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TAGS: corona impeachment, family ties, featured columns, opinion, subpoena
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