Sen. Santiago: Only I can scream here and my fellow judges!
Leave it to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago to get the snail-paced impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona moving.
Scolding private prosecutor Arthur Lim, Santiago said: “Please don’t treat me as a mere observer. I am a judge in this proceeding! In any trial court, … you should not speak, you should not take any behavior at all unless with the consent of the presiding judge. Don’t drown me out by screaming in this courtroom! Only I can scream here and my fellow judges!”
Thus did Santiago deal a sudden end to the back-and-forth discussion among Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer; lead defense counsel Serafin Cuevas, and Lim over whether Internal Commissioner Kim Henares could testify on the income tax returns (ITRs) of Corona and his family.
Lim, who entered his appearance at the court for the first time Wednesday, had been assigned by the prosecution to present Henares to the impeachment court.
In the beginning of the sixth day of the impeachment trial, Enrile ruled that the prosecution could not present evidence on Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth. This triggered a tense exchange between Cuevas and Lim.
It was Santiago who dominated the first hour of the three-hour hearing. Speaking rapid-fire, she silenced Cuevas and Lim, but her demeanor elicited laughter from almost everyone in the Senate session hall.
“May I request the opportunity to speak. I have been here for five minutes. Out of courtesy to me as a senator of the land, will you please keep quiet until the Senate president has acted [on my request],” she said at one point.
Said Enrile: “I apologize for not seeing the lady senator.”
But Santiago was not easily appeased. “We have agreed among ourselves that to be visible to the Senate president, we shall stand up even if he has not yet recognized us,” she said.
Santiago, however, was actually supportive of Enrile’s ruling allowing the presentation of evidence only if this concerned allegations on Corona’s non-filing of his statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALNs), and the non-inclusion in these documents of the properties linked to the Chief Justice and his family.
Santiago blew her top over Lim’s failure to promptly recognize that Henares could not testify on the issue of ill-gotten wealth.
“I already made the point that [the witness] can’t possibly testify as to whether the allegations in the [ITRs] of the respondent are true or not,” Santiago said.
Santiago likened Henares to an “attesting officer,” not an expert witness.
She summarized for the defense and the prosecution what the hearing was all about with respect to Corona’s SALNs.
She said that the two panels should have already agreed on what evidence to admit, and that if the prosecution had been “on its toes,” it should have said: “This is the income tax return filed by the Chief Justice in the [Bureau of Internal Revenue]. Would you agree or not?”
“Then that’s the end of the discussion because that’s the only thing that the witness will testify on,” she added. “[The witness] cannot say whether these allegations are true or not because she did not investigate.”
Santiago said only a court, after the filing of a complaint by a fiscal, could rule on whether an accused had indeed evaded paying taxes.
She said it was the court that was empowered to ascertain whether “it is true that the person lied to the BIR, or it was an error by the BIR.”
“[Those issues] should not be tackled here!” she said.
Santiago praised the defense for posing no objection to the admission as evidence of the ITRs even without testimony from Henares.
But she trained her guns on Lim for supposedly engaging in oratory: “This proceeding has been consuming too much time because some [in the prosecution] are engaging in orations. You don’t hold orations here! This is not a school of oratorical skills. This is a school of logic and experience.”
Santiago said that if Lim’s “main story” was that “the Chief Justice stole money,” the prosecution’s line of questioning should be on whether Corona had enriched himself while in office.
“So this person is suspicious and should not remain as Chief Justice. That should be the kind of questions [being raised]. We should not quarrel over other points. You’re confusing the public. They’re already mad at you!” she said.
Also on Wednesday, Santiago denied that her scolding on Tuesday of Iloilo Representative Niel Tupas Jr., the lead prosecutor, was connected to the political rivalries in the province.
“I don’t meddle in local politics,” she said, sounding amused, in an interview with radio station Bombo Radyo Iloilo.
The Ilonggo senator had given Tupas a talking-to for not knowing exactly how many witnesses and pieces of documentary evidence the prosecution was planning to present.
In Wednesday’s radio interview, she said the prosecution should always come prepared so as not to “waste the time of the senators and the public.”
Santiago said she only wanted a speedy trial and was not motivated by political biases. “It has nothing to do with the political rivalry between my cousin (Iloilo Governor Arthur Defensor) and his family and the Tupas family,” she said.
Defensor, a member of the former ruling party Lakas-Kampi, defeated former Barotac Viejo Mayor Raul Tupas, the younger brother of Niel Tupas, in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
His son and namesake, Iloilo Representative Arthur Defensor Jr., also defeated Rene Villa, a close ally of the Tupas family and President Aquino in the Liberal Party, as representative of Iloilo’s third congressional district.
Villa was appointed chairman of the Local Water Utilities Administration last year.
Santiago said she wanted national officials from Iloilo to unite and help find funds for projects and programs for the province and for Western Visayas.
Last year, she passed a resolution against a controversial gun ban in Iloilo’s fifth congressional district, the bailiwick of the Tupas clan.
The selective gun ban was imposed on eight of the 11 towns of the district. Niel Tupas’ hometown, Barotac Viejo, was among the three towns excluded from it.
Defensor had said that politics could be behind the selective gun ban. Niel Tupas had supported the gun ban but denied that he had asked the Philippine National Police to impose it.
The gun ban was lifted after it drew strong opposition from Defensor and other members of the provincial peace and order council, municipal mayors and village captains. With a report from Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.