Barring any objection from defense and prosecution lawyers, the Senate impeachment court will hold marathon hearings starting Monday to be able to meet its self-imposed deadline for ending the trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona on March 23.
At a press conference following a caucus Tuesday, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile announced that a consensus was reached to hold hearings from 9 a.m. to noon and 2-5 p.m. from Monday to Thursday instead of the afternoon sessions in the past 26 trial days.
“Everybody wants to finish it before we go on a break, if we can do it,” Enrile told reporters. “We are trying to show to the people that the members of the Senate and the Senate are willing to work overtime to satisfy the desire of the public to finish this case the soonest possible time.”
Enrile said he would meet with defense and prosecution counsels on Friday to discuss the proposed hearing schedule. If rejected, the trial would continue its previous format. If this happened, he said he expected the trial to last until May.
If the new schedule is followed, senators will have to forego the daily legislative sessions, Enrile said.
According to Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, some senators had qualms about the marathon hearings.
“If it does not assure the completion of presentation of evidence by the defense, what’s the point of having a morning and afternoon hearing? We might as well continue with just the afternoon hearing,” Sotto said.
Clinic for older senators
While not opposed to the proposal, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago expressed apprehension at the logistical nightmare it would entail.
“You might as well have a mobile clinic on standby for the older senators,” quipped Santiago, who is suffering from fluctuating blood pressure.
The senator disclosed that the last time such an expedited trial was held was during martial law when she, as Quezon City Regional Trial Court judge, heard the case for alleged illegal assembly of students from the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University.
The students led by the late movie director Lino Brocka, Behn Cervantes, Cosme Garcia and Rodolfo Santos had demonstrated against the abuses being allegedly committed at the time by First Lady Imelda Marcos.
Not question of speed
Representative Erin Tañada, a prosecution spokesperson, welcomed the extended trial hours. “In my view, after Holy Week, the decision will be promulgated,” he said in a statement.
In a text message, defense lawyer Tranquil Salvador III said: “That will be hard since we still have to prepare our witnesses and documentary evidence for each day. I think it is unfair for the Chief Justice if the rules are changed in the middle of the proceedings … It is not a question of speed but ample right to be heard.”