Senate losing patience, warns House panelBy Cathy C. Yamsuan, Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Patience is running low among some members of the Senate impeachment court as prosecutors from the House of Representatives defy the rules by presenting before the media evidence against Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Senator Gregorio Honasan on Thursday warned that senators might impose disciplinary action if the prosecutors led by Representative Niel Tupas Jr. would not abide by the impeachment rule against disclosing in public “the merits of a pending impeachment trial.”
“If some senator-judges lose their patience, the prosecution [could be disciplined],” he told the Inquirer by phone.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III was similarly incensed, especially after the House prosecutors came out with a report on another condominium unit supposedly owned by Corona. This time, the story cited a source from the 11-member prosecuting panel.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile urged Tupas to study the rules of the impeachment court.
“Does Tupas not understand he signed the impeachment complaint? Tupas should study the rules. He is a complainant! (House prosecutors) should study the process if they are gentleman lawyers!” said Enrile, who will sit as presiding officer of the impeachment court.
Tupas earlier explained that he could not be accused of preempting the trial when he revealed Corona’s ownership of the penthouse unit at The Bellagio’s Tower I since he had yet to enter his appearance as lead prosecutor in the impeachment.
In a phone interview, Enrile said it was “inevitable” that the senator-judges would raise whether sanctions would be imposed on Tupas and other House prosecutors involved in the news conference where the condo unit was revealed.
“What will we do with that (premature disclosure)? We will discuss how to deal with (Tupas). He cannot say the impeachment court does not have jurisdiction on him since he has no entry of appearance,” the Senate President said.
Still, Enrile indicated willingness to be “lenient” toward Tupas and company for the moment.
“The real problem is that they are telegraphing their punches. Aside from the fact that their actions might not sit well with the impeachment court. Unless their real audience is the public and media and not us!” Sotto said in a text message.
House prosecutors on Tuesday revealed Corona’s ownership of a 303.5-square-meter unit at Tower I of The Bellagio at Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City.
Honasan criticized the latest report coming from an anonymous source, which claimed that Corona owned a two-bedroom condo unit worth P5 million to P8 million at Bonifacio Ridge in Taguig City.
“It’s like you’re conditioning the public mind that this person is already guilty. The rule now is shoot first and then continue,” he said.
A source on the House panel disclosed two other properties allegedly owned by Corona—another condominium unit in Makati City and a house and lot in Quezon City.
Honasan castigated Tupas who insisted that he and fellow prosecutors did not violate the impeachment rules by talking about the merits of the case in public before the actual trial.
“They’re now interpreting the rules? Who authorized them to interpret the rules?” the senator said.
No more disclosure
Tupas said the members of the prosecution panel would stop disclosing to the public any additional pieces of evidence against Corona in deference to some senator-judges who cried foul.
“No more disclosure (of documents) for the meantime or until January 16 when the formal trial begins. The public, at least, is well-informed of our position,” Tupas told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara, the panel’s deputy spokesperson, said the panel did not want to antagonize the Senate.
“I don’t think there will be anymore release officially of documents. We do not want to incur the ire not of the Senate but of some senators,” Angara told the Inquirer.
“We will respect the Senate rules with respect to the parties who are barred from speaking on the merits of the impeachment case,” he added.
Angara, however, said that the panel would continue to inform the public about the purpose and progress of the case.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III warned that repeated antics by the House panel could merit punitive action.
Senator Panfilo Lacson volunteered to file the motion to cite prosecutors for contempt “if this exercise persists.”
Pimentel said once “an abusive pattern” was established, “prosecutors should prepare to be disciplined… With one action at the boundary of the rules of allowable pronouncement, they can get away with it.”
“But the moment we establish a pattern, the (impeachment) court can declare abuse and implement discipline. They should face the consequences of their acts,” he added.
Enrile suggested that if prosecutors could not help themselves and produce more damning evidence against Corona, “they can withdraw the case from the (impeachment court) and try him in public… I appeal to the prosecutors, if they have evidence, not to use it outside the impeachment trial.”
Much as the senator-judges would like to “exercise fairness,” Enrile added that the Senate sitting as an impeachment court “has the power to cite (Tupas) in contempt… If they are going to try (Corona) in public, why do we need (senator)-judges for?”
In Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda dared Corona to instruct the executive clerk of court of the Supreme Court to make public the Chief Justice’s statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) to settle once and for all whether his P14-million condominium unit at The Bellagio was not ill-gotten.
Lacierda said Malacañang could not rely on the statement of Court Administrator Midas Marquez that Corona had enough financial resources to afford the purchase of the penthouse.
“My plea to the Supreme Court, rather to the Chief Justice, is that if Midas Marquez claims that you have sufficient financial resources to pay for the property, then why is it taking you so long to produce your SALN,” he added. With reports from Cynthia D. Balana and Norman Bordadora