It’s just as well that the prosecution has rested its case in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona. By its recent actions, the impeachment court supervised by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile appears to have ceded its “sole power” to try impeachment cases, having bowed more than once to the rulings of the Supreme Court on the crucial matters of who may testify (not the justices and personnel of the high court) and what may be presented as evidence (not documents pertaining to the dollar accounts of the accused). It’s reasonable to conclude that this disappointing state of affairs (where, for example, even process servers are prevented from testifying), as well as the less than sterling performance of the prosecutors in general (which has somewhat made the defense lawyers ably led by retired justice Serafin Cuevas look even smarter than they are), cannot lurch on interminably. Not in this murderous early summer heat, at any rate.
With its act, the prosecution appears to have thrown in the towel. But has it? It submits that it has presented strong evidence on Articles 2, 3 and 7; it can be said to have merely yielded to the wisdom of cutting its losses—a good enough move for the nonce considering, one, its ill-prepared impeachment complaint (as admitted by one of its members, Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas), and, two, the Supreme Court’s imperious rulings that the impeachment court has so quickly accepted, in keeping with its unabashedly diffident position that it will not engage in provocative behavior vis-à-vis the former.
Can attentive observers thus be faulted for concluding that procedural, more than substantive, issues are holding sway in the impeachment court? The trial of the Chief Justice may be a quasi-legal and quasi-political proceeding, as has been claimed, but it might as well be a criminal case being heard for all the evidence (or potential witnesses, as the Philippine Airlines executive who was to testify on the travel privileges enjoyed by Corona and his spouse while a case involving PAL was pending in the high court) deemed inadmissible. Along that line then, is the apprehension farfetched that the impeachment court would see its way clear to granting the defense’s motion that all evidence presented in connection with Article 2 (or Corona’s nondisclosure of his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth) be suppressed, excluded and expunged on grounds that it was illegally obtained?
In all the speeches he has delivered since his impeachment in December, the Chief Justice had been harping on a “proper time” to defend himself. It looks like that time has come. His lawyers may now shed their aggrieved posture; they no longer have to resort to startling Sunday-evening press conferences announcing the bribery of senator-judges to the tune of P100 million each and citing unimpeachable sources. (Speaking of which, it remains a source of wonder why not a peep was heard from the mercurial Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago regarding that clear assault on her virtue.) The public may now anticipate elegantly prepared and legally admissible presentations on why the Chief Justice’s cash and real estate holdings do not match the information in his SALNs, or why tens of millions of pesos were withdrawn from his bank accounts on the day he was impeached—all, hopefully, to explain not only to the senator-judges but also, and most importantly, to the people why he should be deemed morally fit to remain in his exalted post.
But the break called by the impeachment court is rather longish, and if it’s true that the defense will require four weeks to make its case (the prosecution took 25 days), it does not look like things will be sewn up before the Holy Week, as earlier hoped. It can’t be overemphasized: We need to get this done and out of the way so we can move forward. But it does not help that side issues are now drawing full attention, such as Santiago’s predictable harangue atop her soapbox on Wednesday, and the bold but not surprising response of prosecution member Vitaliano Aguirre. The weary observer could say that the senator had it coming, having laced her tirade with her usual hyperbole and histrionics to browbeat her audience in that fishmonger stance that effectively lays to waste her eloquence and considerable knowledge of the law. Enough already.
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