On the eve of the defense panel’s presentation, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said he was open to summoning members of the House of Representatives but insisted that Chief Justice Renato Corona should testify in his impeachment trial and explain the existence of his dollar account.
The presiding officer of the Senate tribunal on Sunday also raised the possibility that relatives of Corona’s wife engaged in a running family feud over inheritance could be summoned to testify and elaborate on their allegations revealed in media interviews that Corona sought to refute last week in his “media-hopping.”
Enrile said he saw nothing wrong with Corona’s radio and TV interviews—
slammed by Malacañang as unbecoming of the Chief Justice. He pointed out that the prosecution had been engaging in the same exercise, bringing issues to the public via the media, outside the trial court.
“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” Enrile said. “I won’t ask (Corona) to keep silent. Let him reveal whatever he wants to reveal so long as it is relevant to the issue.”
“If I were his lawyer, I would present him. He is the principal actor who could shed light on the allegations against him. There’s no one else,” Enrile said in Filipino in an interview on dzBB radio.
The Senate President was reacting to the defense position that Corona would be made to appear only if “the need arises.” No less than Corona himself earlier promised to open his dollar deposits for scrutiny whatever the decision of the Supreme Court on the matter would be.
The senator noted that testimonies by officials of Philippine Savings Bank (PSBank) had already revealed the existence of Corona’s bank accounts, including his dollar deposits.
“The matter is there already. The Chief Justice now has to explain if he has dollar accounts or not. PSBank said he has one. There were account numbers. These can’t be hidden behind the technicalities of the rules of evidence,” he said.
The Senate earlier denied the defense motion to suppress evidence pertaining to Corona’s bank records, despite the finding that they had been leaked to prosecutors, who later submitted them to the impeachment court.
Enrile said the prosecution could present additional evidence on the dollar deposits later as “rebuttal evidence” but would need to seek permission from the impeachment court first.
No disrespect allowed
Enrile warned fellow senator-judges that he would not tolerate any show of disrespect to Corona, pointing out that he heads a coequal branch of government and is “presumed innocent until he is pronounced guilty.”
“If you disrespect him, it’s as if you have also disrespected your own country, your own Constitution,” he said.
“I will not allow him to be disrespected. I would resign (if they do so). I will tell my colleagues that we will judge him but we should not disrespect him,” he added.
Senator Franklin Drilon, a staunch ally of President Benigno Aquino III, earlier got criticized for extracting information from witnesses when prosecutors failed to do so.
Enrile said that if senators spoke out of turn, “I will rule them out of order. It’s up to them if they would remove me … What I’m saying is, if they would disrespect the magistrate of the Philippines, they should look for someone else who would sit as presiding officer. I will call their attention whoever they are.”
But Enrile said the impeachment court would not be just as “deferential” to Corona’s wife Cristina, who is set to testify on her husband’s bank deposits and their properties. He said she would be treated as an ordinary witness.
Enrile also did not close the door on the possibility of prosecutors presenting relatives of Corona’s wife in connection with the family feud over Basa-Guidote Enterprises Inc. (BGEI), later in the trial.
Denial of due process
The impeachment trial is set to resume at 2 p.m. Monday, with the Senate deciding on the prosecution’s formal offer of evidence and the defense’s motion to acquit Corona on the five articles of impeachment earlier withdrawn by his accusers.
Defense counsels will then begin presenting their own evidence, beginning with the argument that Corona was denied due process when House members prepared the verified complaint that led to his impeachment on December 12 last year.
Enrile said the court would be “liberal” and accommodate the defense’s bid to summon certain House members to testify after discussion in a caucus. But he said it would be better if the congressmen would “volunteer” to appear.
“We will not limit the defense … I will allow their evidence. It’s up to the court to examine which among them would be used or not.”
Tranquil Salvador III, one of Corona’s counsels, said the defense would present at least two lawmakers as witnesses to testify that the verified impeachment complaint was “defective.”
“This is part of our affirmative defense. We’ve been preparing for this in the several meetings we had during and before the break in the trial,” Salvador said in a mobile phone interview.
He declined to identify the congressmen. A Philippine Daily Inquirer source in Corona’s camp said Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco and Batangas Representative Hermilando Mandanas had reportedly agreed to testify for the defense. The two bolted the majority coalition to protest the alleged railroading of the impeachment complaint. With a report from Marlon Ramos
Originally posted: 7:02 pm | Sunday, March 11th, 2012