MANILA, Philippines—Has Chief Justice Renato Corona just lost the possible vote of another senator-judge when his lawyers asked Senator Edgardo Angara to inhibit himself from the impeachment trial for alleged conflict of interest?
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile on Tuesday assailed defense lawyers for the call, saying they should just “attend to the defense of their client.”
“Why should he inhibit himself? His son is an adult. He is not a dependent of Senator Angara,” he told reporters, referring to Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, a spokesperson for the House prosecution panel.
The elder Angara vowed Tuesday to stay put and pointed out that Corona’s lawyers were not helping his case by “antagonizing” senators sitting as judges in the impeachment court.
“How would this tactic by his lawyers help his cause? Isn’t it that as a whole, this tactic is meant to antagonize the judge? So they shouldn’t say that they’re doing this to defend the rights of their client because on the contrary, the sum of all this is it antagonizes the senator sitting as a judge,” he said.
The Senate rule favors an impeached official in the sense that House prosecutors need at least 16 votes to secure a conviction. Since there are only 23 senators now sitting in the chamber, Corona would be acquitted if he could convince at least eight senators that he committed no impeachable offense.
An abstention is also seen as a move in favor of the impeached official because it would help keep the prosecution from getting the needed votes.
Angara acknowledged this scenario, saying, “It is more difficult to get the number for conviction… I think they should do their homework as the Senate president said yesterday,” he said.
Angara was the second senator defense lawyers had asked to inhibit. The first one was Sen. Franklin Drilon, an ally of President Aquino, for allegedly assisting House prosecutors by eliciting information from witnesses during trial.
The Senate simply ignored the inhibition call because the decision is left to the individual senator.
In the case of Angara, Corona’s lawyers cited “conflict of interest” for two reasons: his son’s work with the prosecution team, and the multibillion-peso projects approved by the government in his home province of Aurora.
Saying he was mandated by the Constitution to sit as a judge in the trial, Angara said his son’s appointment as prosecution spokesperson was an “independent action of a co-equal body in Congress, the House of Representatives.”
“I had nothing to do with the appointment of Congressman Sonny as spokesperson,” he said.
Among the projects in question are 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,” Corona’s lawyers said in their seven-page motion.
“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.”
Angara disowned two of the three projects.