Just seven days into the impeachment trial, cracks are already showing among members of the House of Representatives seeking to unseat Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Saying he was no mere “decoration,” Ilocos Norte Representative Rodolfo Fariñas walked out on his fellow prosecutors in the middle of Corona’s impeachment trial Thursday, just as his colleagues were being bombarded with questions over their “faulty” preparation.
“Bahala na kayo dyan (It’s all up to you),” Fariñas was heard telling the prosecutors as he left the session hall.
The move so surprised the prosecution that Representative Elpidio Barzaga Jr. rushed to follow Fariñas, who went straight to the toilet.
Representative Niel Tupas Jr., the lead prosecutor, began phoning Fariñas shortly afterward, just as Fariñas was talking to reporters.
Barzaga tried to shield Fariñas from the media and attempted to escort him back to the session hall. But Fariñas stayed on and lingered in front of the elevators outside.
“You didn’t walk out right? You just went to the CR,” Barzaga told him. “Pañero, let’s go.”
Fariñas sought to downplay the incident, saying he was just taking a break. But the Philippine Daily Inquirer heard him complaining to Jose Justiniano, one of the private counsels assisting the House prosecutors, about the way his colleagues had been handling the proceedings.
“Puro sila (They’re all) ‘we submit,’” a dismayed Fariñas said in apparent reference to the House panel’s failure to get its way in the trial so far.
Court very liberal
Earlier in the trial, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago raised the possibility of the prosecution having to amend the articles of impeachment to accommodate the inclusion of evidence against Corona’s alleged ill-gotten wealth.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer, told prosecutors that the court was being “very liberal” in allowing evidence to be introduced in connection with Paragraphs 2.2 and 2.3 under Article 2.
But senators disallowed such documents and testimonies related to Paragraph 2.4, which alleged that Corona was “suspected and accused of having accumulated ill-gotten wealth, acquiring assets of high values and keeping bank accounts with huge deposits.”
“I’m sad to say that there was fault in the crafting of the pleading. And that is why we had to correct it in a caucus,” Enrile said.
Adding to the prosecution’s woes was Senator Joker Arroyo’s reminder that private prosecutors were not allowed to argue “points of law” during the trial. He recalled an existing ruling that their role was limited to conducting an examination of witnesses.
Used to being in charge
Until that time, it was private lawyer Arthur Lim arguing the prosecution’s case on behalf of Tupas and the other House members.
Fariñas, who was among the House prosecutors with actual trial experience, said he wanted to take up the cudgels for the panel since no one was standing up. But he said he was asked not to.
“I’m having a difficult time because I’m used to being in charge,” he told reporters in Filipino. “Now, I’m a member and they’re telling me not to. That’s not my style.”
But the congressman said he was not quitting the prosecution. He noted that he was elected to the panel even if he did not sign the verified complaint against Corona.
Asked if he would rejoin the panel when trial resumes on Monday, he said: “If they still need me. If not, what would I be? A decoration?”
Outside the hall, Fariñas was conferring with Justiniano on how Tupas and the rest should have been arguing their position. Justiniano himself looked a bit exasperated and was agreeing with the congressman.
Fariñas told Justiniano that there was no need to amend the complaint because the charge of ill-gotten wealth was already “alleged in the complaint.”
“We cannot be technical here because what do you want? We will file another impeachment (case) 11 months from now? Let’s hear the case now because if we would file again, we will just be repeating the procedure,” he said.
Fariñas said this position—plus the fact that 188 House members had signed and verified the complaint—“could not be argued, explained in the Senate” by the other prosecutors.
Save for the fact that the trial pushed through and Corona’s tax records and alleged properties were discussed in the proceedings, Tupas and company have been under scrutiny for their apparent blunders.
They have been repeatedly scolded during the trial, from the way they asked questions to their supposed strategy of arguing their case in press conferences and press releases. On several occasions, they were asked to “reform” their questions.
Tupas later announced that Fariñas had been named deputy chief prosecutor and would be actively involved next week. With a report from Cynthia D. Balana