Should Chief Justice Renato Corona be removed from office in connection with a “collegial” Supreme Court resolution allowing former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to seek medical treatment abroad last year?
A day after suffering a significant defeat on the third impeachment article, prosecutors on Wednesday began arguing their case that Corona betrayed the public trust “through his partiality” in granting temporary restraining order (TRO) in favor of Arroyo.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima took the witness stand and detailed the circumstances surrounding the issuance of the TRO on November 15 last year and why she opted not to follow it and instead prevented the departure of Arroyo and her entourage that day.
“In my own appreciation of what happened, the developments, actions, what I read in the opinions, yes,” De Lima said when questioned by the chief defense counsel, Serafin Cuevas, if Corona wanted to help Arroyo escape.
She said the proof was the court order allowing the government only three days, instead of the standard 10 days, to respond to the November 15 temporary restraining order, and setting the oral arguments in a few days’ time.
“In the issuance of the TRO, it was November 15, and we were given a limited period to file a comment in three days, due on November 18, and then they set the oral arguments on November 22. That’s not common, sir. Normally the respondents are given a period of 10 days to file a comment, and after which, if the court so desires, we set the case for oral argument,” she said.
“If they intended to get a comment from us in three days, and they intended to hear us out in oral arguments, why issue the TRO on November 15?”
In one of his uncharacteristically few objections on Day 22 of the impeachment trial, Cuevas questioned the “relevance” of De Lima’s testimony.
He said it was “practically amending, criticizing the decision” of the high tribunal.
“It has nothing to do with the impeachment complaint against Chief Justice Corona,” he told the court, before reciting the charge contained in Article 7.
“Thus far, nothing has surfaced to this effect. What is being discussed, with due respect to the witness, are matters that are entirely irrelevant and impertinent,” he said.
Cuevas added: “We have been very tolerant in this matter because we were at a loss as to the real purpose of the introduction of the honorable secretary in connection with these matters.”
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, the presiding officer in the impeachment trial, noted the objection but allowed De Lima to continue her narration.
He was generally polite and accommodating of both the prosecution and De Lima, after he scolded prosecutors over their faulty articles of impeachment on Tuesday.
Enrile asked if De Lima knew of “any instance in this entire proceeding … when the respondent acted alone in issuing any order, any process or any resolution bearing on this particular instance.”
De Lima said “no” but she asked the court to look into dissenting opinions in connection with the TRO, particularly that of Associate Justice Lourdes Sereno, President Benigno Aquino III’s first appointee to the high tribunal.
De Lima also cited Sereno’s account on how Corona purportedly tried to make it appear that Arroyo had complied with all the conditions set in the TRO.
The order was to take effect only if Arroyo and her husband would post a P2-million cash bond, appoint a legal representative, and report to the Philippine embassy or consulate in the country they were planning to visit.
De Lima referred to Sereno’s opinion revealing that the court, voting 7-6, had ruled that that the Arroyos did not comply with the second condition.
“They didn’t have to say if the TRO was suspended because it was clear, common sense, (to quote) one of the justices, that it was understood that because the TRO was subject to certain conditions pending compliance with those conditions, it cannot be considered as already effective,” said the justice secretary.
Cuevas, who allowed De Lima to talk at length without any interruption from the defense, later told the impeachment court: “There can be no restraining order on any decision that can come out without the majority participating therein, whether it’s an en banc decision or merely a decision in division.”
Enrile asked De Lima if her department would have allowed Arroyo to leave if all the conditions of the TRO were met.
“Maybe or maybe not,” she replied, “because my view is that the TRO was improper in the sense that a TRO… is supposed to preserve the status quo pending the disposition of the merits of the main petition.”
De Lima argued that the November 15 TRO “had the effect of rendering the disposition of the main petition illusory or ineffectual because it is as if you granted already the petition because the main issue really is—should we allow the former President to leave the country despite the pendency of these big cases against her.”
When asked by Cuevas if there was a conspiracy among justices that led to the issuance of the TRO, De Lima said:
“The conspiracy because they issued the questionable TRO? Well, the Chief Justice is only one vote of course when it comes to decisions. But there are other things, there are other duties, functions and powers of the Chief Justice as primus inter pares.”
Cuevas cut her off and said she was not responding to the question.
He then asked her: “This TRO could not have come into effect were it not for a fact that the majority of the court en banc decided to grant the same? It could not have been possible by the mere say so of Chief Justice Corona, is it not?” De Lima replied yes to both.
Cuevas followed up by asking her if the responsibility was shouldered then by all signatories to the TRO.
De Lima said: “If we talk only about voting, and the position with respect to the propriety of the TRO with eight of them concurring that TRO at the time was proper in their view… that’s their position as the majority, then yes.”