Citing conflict of interest, defense lawyers on Monday moved to inhibit Senator Edgardo Angara from sitting as a judge in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
In a seven-page motion, the defense counsels said recent events, including the approval by the government of multibillion-peso projects in Angara’s home province of Aurora, may affect the senator’s “partiality in favor of the Liberal Party and President Benigno C. Aquino.”
Corona’s lawyers also noted that Angara’s son, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, was a member of House prosecution panel as a spokesman.
“Without doubt, the grounds for the inhibition of [Angara] are clear and unequivocal,” the lawyers said.
“The mere participation of [Angara’s son] in any aspect of these proceedings places [the senator] in a position of potential conflict. What seems to be missed in all this is that [Sonny] is the son and direct descendant of Senator-judge Angara,” they added.
The defense earlier called for the inhibition of Sen. Franklin Drilon, who had been accused of working with the prosecution lawyers.
The petition against Angara was signed by Corona’s lead counsel, retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Serafin Cuevas, and defense lawyers Noel Lazaro, Jose Roy III and Dennis Manalo.
“I won’t inhibit myself because it’s my constitutional duty, it’s a duty imposed on us not because we like it but because the Constitution says that senators be the judges in case of impeachment,” Angara told reporters.
“I had nothing to do with the appointment of my son as a spokesperson, even as a prosecutor,” he said. “Sonny is not a party litigant nor is he going to be substantially benefited by whatever is the outcome of the impeachment,” he said. “There’s no such conflict of interest. The grounds that they are citing … are without basis.”
The defense said “it cannot be denied” that Angara’s son had signified his intention to join the Liberal Party’s senatorial lineup in the 2013 elections.
It said the approval of the infrastructure projects that Angara “successfully worked for” would help Sonny’s political ambition and “will surely be claimed as accomplishments of the Angara political leadership in Aurora province.”
These projects included the P1.66-billion Baler-Casiguran Road Improvement Project and the P798.56-million Umiray Bridge Construction Project in Aurora and the P1.81-billion Samar Pacific Coastal Road Project in the Visayas region.
“The scale and timing of these projects appear more as political favors and inducements, rather than just honest-to-goodness responses to development concerns,” the defense said.
“While such projects may involve legitimate infrastructure projects, their approval seems timed to coincide with the voting period of the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona and in preparation for the forthcoming 2013 national elections.”
The defense stressed that the Code of Judicial Conduct clearly stipulated that a judge related by “consanguinity or affinity to a party litigant within the sixth degree or to counsel within the fourth degree” should not participate in a case involving relatives.
“There is no question that this mandatory prohibition applies to the instant case. This ground is singularly sufficient to warrant the recusal of Senator-judge Angara,” Corona’s counsels said.
They said that it was a “well-known rule that the lawyer and his agents are inseparable in legal effect and the conduct of one binds the other.”
In a press briefing, the younger Angara said the defense move was unfair and could mean a vote of acquittal for Corona.
Sonny Angara said it was also a strategy of the defense to prevent the prosecutors from getting the required 16 votes to convict Corona for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution.
He also dismissed speculations that his inclusion in the prosecution team as spokesman as well as President Aquino’s endorsement of him in a town fiesta as a Liberal Party senatorial candidate recently was meant to boost his chances in the 2013 elections.
“I don’t see it as an out-and-out endorsement because I don’t think the political season has begun,” he said.—With a report from Cynthia D. Balana